Opinion: You’ve missed Keating’s point

Art: Anh Noel

Concerns about AUKUS are plentiful. What is the opportunity cost of the $368 Billion price tag? Why are so sure that China is planning on starting a war? Why are we so sure The United States is not? Why is the United Kingdom involved? Why are we ignoring the presence France has in the region? Why the emphasis on submarines and not on say the air force?

Enter Paul Keating, who held no restraint at making his disgust with AUKUS known to the world last Wednesday at the National Press Club. Not only did he raise many of the aforementioned questions, but he would go on to ravage the decision by the Government to match their predecessors’ position on this matter as the worst decision by the Labor Party since conscription during World War One.

It is worth noting that Keating is not an aging commentator with a menial amount of political experience, he served as Treasurer for eight years and Prime Minister for five. Keating, in fact, served as Prime Minister for longer than Abbott, Gillard, Morrison, Rudd or Turnbull, and has arguably done more than any of his fellow living former prime ministers to shape the Australia we live in today. 

Throughout the interview, and the subsequent question & answer segment, Keating took aim at journalists, politicians and world leaders who imply, if not outright propagate the line, that China is planning on going to war with Australia. Not even a week before the interview the Sydney Morning Herald published a series of articles called ‘Red Alert’ by journalists Matthew Knott and Peter Hartcher, who warned that an armed conflict between Australia & China was likely to occur “within three years”. 

Keating took aim at the piece in the interview, labelling Hartcher as a “maniac” and a “psychopath” and telling Knott to “hang his head in shame”. Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong were also victims of Keating’s tirade, being labelled as “two seriously unwise ministers”. A sentiment which continued as President Biden was labelled one who can “barely string three sentences together” and Boris Johnson a “fool” who “destroyed [Britain’s] place in Europe”.

How has the media responded?

It’s a known fact that Keating is an impolite person. He’s on record calling then Prime Minister John Howard a ‘desiccated coconut’, former Treasurer Peter Costello a ‘talking knee’ and in 1995 told protestors to ‘get a job’. Unfortunately for Keating, it seems that he’s only spared when it’s popular to do so. As surmised in the words of SMH journalist, Bevan Shields “For years, we have laughed along with Keating as he hurls his trademark barbs. But it’s not funny any more”.

Since the interview we have been told it is best to ignore Keating because he’s like an annoying ex-husband according to SMH journalist Malcolm Knox, he’s a crazy old uncle according to opposition leader Peter Dutton, the world has changed since the 1990s according to Prime Minister Albanese and that he’s a defender of a genocidal dictatorship according to Andrew Bolt. 

Whilst Keating has been established as nothing more than a grumpy old man in the pocket of the CCP, there has been a shockingly absent attempt to actually address many of the points Keating sought to raise.

So, what’s been missed?

One significant revelation the interview brought to light was that at some point France had offered a revised deal that involved their own nuclear submarines shortly after AUKUS was announced. Even if such a deal was not publicly disclosed, or even not as good as Keating suggested, why should it not be investigated further? Does the Australian taxpayer not have the right to know if there were alternative deals? 

Keating also questioned the interests that The United Kingdom has in the region. This is an especially interesting point as Britain has just a single territory in the Pacific Ocean, being the Pitcairn Island group, housing a population of just 47. Meanwhile France, a country we have apparently ignored, has three territories spread across the Pacific, containing a collective population in excess of 500,000, with Canberra being physically closer to Noumea than it is to Perth or Darwin.

These two points are not even the start of the holes in the national security narrative that Keating sought to challenge. However, as this piece has thus far established, Nine-Fairfax (which owns The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age), News Corp (which owns Sky News and News.com.au) and both major parties are not at all concerned with tackling Keating’s points head on, and the silence of other organisations, such as Seven, to even discuss Keating’s points only reflect the shocking standard of journalism which exists in this country.