By David C. Paull
As recent foreign policy developments show, Australia has abandoned any notion of an independent defence policy to one of strategic offence as part of a new US-UK alliance, fulfilling a long-standing desire by the US for Australia to be a client state.
A recent article published (June 2021) in the Australian Journal of Politics and History has for the first time reviewed diplomatic cables from US official archives from the 1970s. It highlighted the extent to which Hawke was a primary informant to US diplomats during this time, a relationship the US was keen to nurture given the growing importance of Labor in national Australian politics following the Menzies era and its relationship with the labour movement. The article contends that this relationship was key to the shaping of policy under the Hawke-Keating Government and beyond, particularly, by ensuring Australia remains within the US sphere of military influence.
The article by historian Cameron Coventry comes not long after earlier insights into the relationship between US intelligence and Australia revealed in Brian Toohey’s 2019 book ‘Secret’, shedding light, among other things, onto the active role US intelligence played in trying to oust the Whitlam Government, largely due to his wish for greater transparency into the operations of the US military and CIA on our shores. As it turned out Buckingham Place delivered the coup d’grace a year later.
The close relationship between actors in Australian and US intelligence of course goes back prior to the Prime Ministership of Whitlam, as evidenced by Australia’s secret role in the overthrowal of the Allende Government in Chile and the Sukarno Government in Indonesia.
It is clear from the Toohey disclosures that the US considers Australia as vital in maintaining its strategic position in the world, particularly through its bases at Pine Gap and the North West Cape. However, the Coventry article shows how much the US was interested in influencing government policy in Australia, particularly in the areas of industrial relations, macroeconomics as well as foreign policy. The role played by Hawke as an informer, while certainly not the only one, appears to be a crucial factor for the US and its successful maintenance of its corporate and military interests during the Hawke-Keating era and subsequent governments.
Robert Hawke is on the record for being a strong supporter of the American alliance, while the extensive diplomatic cables from 1973-79, released by the US Government during the period 2004-15, do not reveal his words, they do record the main concerns of the US and how American diplomats responded to this relationship.
The cables show US diplomats recognised Hawke’s ambition to become the nation’s leader and his unequalled ability to deal with union affairs, particularly during his role as ACTU head. Hawke provided information regarding union disputes with multinational corporates such as the Ford Motor Company1. US diplomats lauded Hawke for his ability to keep them abreast of labour developments and his ability to keep militant unions at bay.
Perhaps Hawke was most useful to the US in his attitude to foreign affairs and the bilateral relationship. Tensions with Whitlam had emerged over the bases and with a perceived shift in public opinion2. But as the cables show Hawke came to the rescue pacifying any anti-American sentiment which may have come from his Labor colleagues even to the point of denying any CIA activity in Australia3. Hawke even warned the US when installations were to be targeted by union activity.
It was also widely known that Hawke was zealously pro-Israel, Whitlam thought this was blatant electioneering because of the high number of Jewish voters in Melbourne, but Hawke pulled in the bucks, even interfered with Whitlam’s negotiations with Arafat by involving US diplomatic staff 4. This pro-Israel tradition has also come down through the decades.
What is clear from the cables is that US diplomats maintained a belief in Hawke’s ability to maintain US global interests, while publicly he projected a desire for “an independent non-aligned Australia”, privately, he wanted to expand ANZUS beyond a “purely defensive military alliance” 5.
Is this what has been realised under Prime Minister Morrison? The original deal with the French of 12 diesel submarines was clearly about patrolling Australian waters and providing a strong deterrence to incursions into our waters. There was less requirement for stealth, more for covering a large territory with the ability for more frequent re-fueling and easing any requirement for this task to be undertaken by allies.
Nuclear powered submarines will have a longer range capacity and a greater stealth abilities, more suited to assisting offensive operations. On top of this the US intends to step up military presence on our shores with more troops and operational capability. The whole package of AUKUS must be taken as a re-alignment of Australia’s security policy, with all the implications still not apparent, though New Zealand seems to have been cast aside.
One implication is for a proliferation of nuclear infrastructure within Australia. The reactors used in U.S. nuclear submarines require highly enriched uranium, and it makes little sense that Australia should not do this from its own shores. Although this is being denied now, Australia will gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. The greater U.S. and British willingness to transfer highly sensitive technologies to Australia suggests that we will see increased capacity to service the submarines on our won shores.
The legacy of the Hawke/US relationship lives with us today. Under Howard, the groundwork had already been done, the Coalition continued to wind back union rights, increase neoliberal corporatization of the economy and follow the US into any war they saw fit.
Today, US corporate financial, water and property interest in Australia has never been stronger. Now the military connections have been stepped up such that our sovereignty has become blurred, as Keating points out.
As the war hawks today swirl at the spectre of a Chinese paper tiger, it seems we are locked into a more offensive UK-US alliance structure and a government determined to undermine our rights and welfare at every turn. What a betrayal those days of Hawke now seem to those who long for a country that supports social justice and an independent foreign policy. Surely this is the task of a new Labor Government.
1 Coventry, C.M., 2021. The “Eloquence” of Robert J. Hawke: United States informer, 1973–79. p. 7
2 ibid, p. 18
3 ibid, p. 18
4 ibid, p. 22
5 ibid, p. 20
Like what we do at The AIMN?
You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.
Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!