AUKUS is about more than just nuclear subs — it’s about defending the global rules-based order Bills

I think it’s appropriate, particularly as I look up in this chamber at the young people in the gallery, for an understanding of the history of Australia and our relationship with other nations to point out that when Australia was faced with invasion by a totalitarian regime of the imperialist Japanese government we called out, ‘Help!’ to the Americans, and they said, ‘We’ve got your back.’

Young men and women lost their lives.

The United States spent money, capital and lives helping to defend Australia and the region, and much of the prosperity and peace that has existed in the world for the 60 or 70 years since is because of the sacrifice and support of the people of the United States.

The Defence strategic update—and I acknowledge Senator Reynolds, who was then Minister for Defence, for her work in bringing that about—took a serious, unbiased look of the circumstances facing Australia.

It is clear that we face circumstances today that we have not faced since those dark days of World War II: grey zone activities and various economic coercive measures as well as the military build-up in our region.

The AUKUS agreement, far from being just about nuclear submarines, is about a system of collaboration and support between like-minded nations—nations that are characterised by the rule of law and that wish to work together to increase their collective resilience to stand against totalitarian states.

As well as the submarines, it covers a whole range of things, such as precision-guided munitions, undersea capabilities that are autonomous systems, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence and autonomy, advanced cyber, hypersonic and counterhypersonic capabilities, various forms of electronic warfare, and innovation and information sharing. That is partly because of the lessons we learned during COVID, when we found that supply chains were incredibly vulnerable and often very narrowly sourced to nations such as China, where the Chinese Communist Party are coercive in their behaviour.

We need to have supply chains and technology with allies that will enable us to maintain peace and stability in the region.

I’m attracted to the philosophy of President Roosevelt of the United States, who coopted an African saying: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.’ He described his style of foreign policy as ‘the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis’.

As practised by Roosevelt, so-called ‘big stick diplomacy’ had five components.

First, it was essential to possess serious military capability that would force an adversary to pay close attention, to calculate the risk. The other qualities—and these are not talked about as much, but they were important—were to act justly towards other nations, never to bluff, to strike only when prepared to strike hard and to be willing to allow the adversary to save face in defeat.

History teaches us that there are authoritarian powers that see weakness and a lack of commitment as a reason to act. The war in Ukraine that we’re seeing at the moment with the illegal and brutal invasion by Russia is a case in point.

But we can also look back through history.

The invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina on 2 April 1982 was because General Galtieri had seen that the British government were actually looking for potential ways to cede the Falkland Islands back to Argentina, if the people of the Falklands agree The assessment by people in strategic think tanks was that a military response to an invasion was impossible.

He saw that weakness. For domestic political reasons he acted. He invaded.

We know that history in part was because of the collaboration of the US and the UK and the industrial base in the UK that was able to co-opt a number of civil assets, particularly ships, to use in that conflict.

So AUKUS, far from being a tragedy, is actually about the exercise of intelligent aforethought and decisive action sufficiently in advance of any likely crisis so that any adversary will see that we have both the intent and the means to actually preserve the global rules based order that has led to peace and prosperity for tens of millions of people in the world.