Doug Cameron warns Anthony Albanese of contest over nuke subs, Palestine at conference

Jul 24, 2023

The Australian

“Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni said “justice for Palestine” was clearly a priority” for Labor, noting the last federal conference called for recognition of a Palestinian state,” writes Packham, Brown & Panagopoulos.

By Ben Packham, Greg Brown & Joanna Panagopoulos

Left-wing former senator Doug Cameron has warned Anthony Albanese he faces a contest at the ALP national conference over nuclear submarines and Palestine.

Anthony Albanese has warned Labor’s powerful policy forum he wants the AUKUS nuclear submarine plan to go unchallenged at the ALP national conference, as hard-Left figures prepare to attack the government’s cornerstone national security policy.

Federal Labor MPs are working to head off disunity on AUKUS and Left-wing demands for a timeline on recognising Palestine, in line with the Prime Minister’s directions this month to Labor’s national policymaking committee.

Mr Cameron said he would be “gobsmacked” if national delegates listened to the PM’s calls not to challenge the issues when they meet in Brisbane next month.

“The ALP Left have a proud history of challenging bad policy at ALP Nat Conference,” Mr Cameron tweeted.

“Would be gobsmacked if nuclear subs, regressive tax cuts and Palestine are not debated. Political discipline does not mean the Left subjugate themselves to leadership decrees on what can be debated.”

Union members from Victoria, including members from ­construction, manufacturing, electrical and public transport, are planning to revisit the challenge when national delegates meet in Brisbane next month.

The move comes amid criticism of the AUKUS pact by senior party figures including Paul Keating, Bob Carr and Gareth Evans, who have argued the nuclear subs plan is ill-conceived, overpriced, and will bind Australia’s strategic fate to America’s.

A hostile motion on AUKUS would be embarrassing for Mr Albanese, who stood beside US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March to announce Australia would buy three to five US Virginia-class subs and build eight new UK-designed boats in Adelaide.

Any change to the party’s position on Palestine would also represent a challenge to the Prime Minister’s authority, and that of Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Supporters of Israel are concerned the government’s reluctance to debate AUKUS on the floor of the national conference could result in a deal in which the party calls on the government to recognise the Palestinian state within this term of parliament.

A similar motion passed at the Victorian ALP conference in a factional deal under which an anti-AUKUS motion pulled from the agenda at the last minute.

The withdrawn motion would have called on the federal government to “suspend any further involvement in the AUKUS pact, including the development of nuclear-powered submarines”.

A Victorian Labor source said “categorically” that a similar motion would be moved in Brisbane next month. There are concerns some Queensland delegates could also speak out against the nuclear submarine deal.

A US Virginia-class sub.
A US Virginia-class sub.


The state’s ALP conference in June voted down a motion “congratulating” the Albanese government on the AUKUS pact, with Queensland Labor president John Battams and two state MPs – Ali King and Jonty Bush – among those who voted against it.

Fears of policy brawls over AUKUS and Palestine have been compounded by the factional make-up of national conference delegates, with the Left to have a clear majority on the floor for the first time in decades.

However, the dynamics of the summit are difficult to predict, as Mr Albanese Senator Wong are both key figures within the Left faction. Senior Left-aligned MPs are also working hard to keep a lid on potential policy challenges.

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said the conference’s consideration of AUKUS loomed as a critical test for the Prime Minister. “It is a multigenerational pact that requires stewardship from the major parties, and our elected national leadership,” he said. “If he can’t deliver union support for AUKUS, how is he going to deliver nuclear submarines?”

Mr Albanese told Labor’s national policy forum in Sydney two weeks ago that he expected party delegates to toe the line, backing an updated national platform without controversy.

The platform says on AUKUS: “Our self-reliant defence policy will be enhanced by strong bilateral and multilateral defence relationships, including AUKUS. Where appropriate, Labor will strengthen existing defence ties with our key allies and through the United Nations, as well as building new and strengthening existing relationships within the Indo-Pacific region.”

On Palestine, it calls for the government “to recognise Palestine as a state”, and says it “expects that this issue will be an important priority for the Australian government”.

A Free Palestine rally for Gaza near Sydney Town Hall in August last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Seb Haggett
A Free Palestine rally for Gaza near Sydney Town Hall in August last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Seb Haggett


Strategic Analysis Australia director Peter Jennings said Mr Albanese needed to tackle any “rearguard action” on AUKUS.

“There’s already in American minds some degree of concern that some senior people on the Left of Australian politics don’t support AUKUS,” Mr Jennings said. “Albanese, I think, desperately needs to make a stand on this and be seen to be fighting inside the party for what he‘s been prepared to endorse.”

United States Studies Centre defence policy program director Peter Dean said opposition to AUKUS from Labor’s Left was expected.

“So far this has come from unions in Queensland and Victoria – states where AUKUS will have less of an impact in terms of jobs,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how the unions in SA and WA respond and how much the left of the party in NSW falls in behind the PM.

Professor Dean said the government needed to do more work to build greater social licence for AUKUS, given its strategic importance.

“This is the foundation for a program this size; the core of why we are embarking on such a large nation building program,” he said.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry chief executive Peter Wertheim urged ALP delegates to stick to Senator Wong’s position that recognition of a Palestinian state was “ultimately a decision … for government”.

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni said “justice for Palestine” was clearly a priority” for Labor, noting the last federal conference called for recognition of a Palestinian state.

Link to original source.