Australia’s new security deal with the United States and United Kingdom is the worst international decision since conscription during World War I, Paul Keating says.
In a blistering attack on the agreement, the former prime minister launched salvos at Labor’s top ministers and withering assessments of US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Mr Keating told the National Press Club the landmark military deal was unnecessary.
As part of the AUKUS security arrangement Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades.
But Mr Keating insisted Australia would have been better off with the previous arrangement with the French, which was binned by former coalition prime minister Scott Morrison.
He called Prime Minister Anthony Albanese “accommodating” and said he was relying on the advice of “seriously unwise” Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
He skewered Mr Biden as being unable to string coherent sentences together and called Mr Sunak’s assessment of AUKUS “deeply pathetic”.
“Underlying all of this stuff about the need (for AUKUS) is the idea China is either threatening us, has threatened us or will threaten us,” Mr Keating said on Wednesday.
“This is a distortion and it’s untrue. The Chinese have never implied they would threaten us nor said it explicitly.”
He said the Albanese government had adopted the foreign policy of the former Liberal government without thinking about its implications for Australia’s sovereignty.
The former PM said under AUKUS, Australia had “locked in” the next half century as subordinate to the United States.
“What Anthony Albanese has done this week is screwed into place the last shackle in the long chain which the Americans have laid out to contain China,” he said.
“We are now part of a containment policy against China.”
Mr Keating said the arrangement leaves Australia in “deep doo-doo” and the defence force would be sucked into America’s control rather than maintaining sovereignty.
“It means we are in the ambit of the US strategic system … in other words, we don’t run the place ourselves any more.”
The massive price tag of up to $368 billion was also slammed by the one-time treasurer, who called it “off the scale” with little benefit to Australia’s defences.
“The proposal is irrational in every dimension and an affront to public administration,” he said.
Mr Albanese announced details of the deal on Tuesday alongside Mr Biden and Mr Sunak.
Mr Keating called the announcement “the kabuki show in San Diego” and claimed while there were three people there, only the Australian prime minister was paying.
“The US president and UK prime minister could barely conceal their joy with $368 billion heading the way to their defence companies,” he said.
“No wonder they were smiling and the band was playing.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton called on the government to rebuke Mr Keating’s “unhinged” comments.
He questioned what he was saying to senior Labor MPs in private if he was prepared to make such critical statements in public.
“They should be taking the advice of the military and the intelligence chiefs as opposed to Paul Keating,” Mr Dutton told reporters.
Mr Keating said while he previously found Mr Albanese “responsive” to their conversations, he had more recently received few responses to his correspondence.
He said Mr Albanese did not wish to hear the message or have the conversation.