AUKUS: A Three Fold Cord

Almost three thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote that ‘a threefold cord is not quickly broken’.

It’s ancient wisdom for our moment, as we embark on the next stage of AUKUS, and as our strategic circumstances become increasingly disorderly.

The dark new reality is that an impatient and belligerent China now challenges the regional order that has built eighty years of shared security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.

Australia, an island trading nation, must be able to defend itself in the two oceans that carry our livelihood.

It doesn’t have to be all-out war, which will always be too catastrophic to contemplate. Cyber and foreign interference in the shadows are consistent threats to us today. Supply chain disruption and blockades are also serious strategic risks.

We cannot allow ourselves to be held hostage by authoritarian powers or yield our sovereignty to their demands.

Our acquisition of nuclear propelled submarines—an investment in Australian hard power—is the necessary response to this darkening reality.

So, too, are our conscious decisions to deepen our partnerships with the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Government’s AUKUS announcements this week are only possible because the former Coalition government saw with vivid clarity the strategic reality and acted in the national interest.

Now, the baton has passed to the Albanese government, and we want it to succeed in delivering this important capability. Indeed, AUKUS is a nation-building task that will engage Australians across generations, parliaments and governments.

It’s high ambition, and it’s high risk. It faces many obstacles. Financial scarcity looms large, as do workforce and skills shortages and the sheer complexity of building one of the most intricate military machines ever invented.

We can do this, and we must. Failure is not an option.

And the price of inaction vastly outweighs the costs of what we must achieve.

Realising the full vision of AUKUS will require herculean levels of maturity, prudence and bipartisanship from our elected leaders. If parliamentarians cannot deliver on these virtues, then AUKUS and its capabilities will be put at great risk.

Our people and our nation—as well as our friends around the world—are counting on us to prevail.

I have no doubt that Australian defence personnel, industry workers, the business and education sectors will get on with the job.

There is vast opportunity for young Australians across the economy. Some may well spend a lifetime working on this project. Certainty and confidence are critical to this effort. The signals that political leaders send to the Australian people will have impact and significance across institutions and the economy.

Our assessment of the strategic situation demands clarity, as does the execution of the plan we have before us.

So, in the Commonwealth Parliament, we will need a tight weave of unity to protect AUKUS through the change of governments that is inevitable in the decades ahead.

That is why the Coalition is calling for a statutory Parliamentary Joint Committee for AUKUS (PJC-AUKUS). The world is changing around us, and Parliament must adapt to it.

There will be rigorous debate about AUKUS—disagreement perhaps, along the way—and we need a robust institution where those discussions can happen, away from the prying eyes of our adversaries.

As the former Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), I have seen firsthand the merits of a statutory committee that is constituted by the major parties of government, that is bounded by secrecy provisions, that can have robust debates on security without compromising the national interest.

We would not have been able to deliver the historic espionage and foreign interference laws in 2018 without the safeguards of the PJCIS construct. Even then, it was difficult. So it will be for the AUKUS project over the coming decades.

A PJC-AUKUS would send a signal to the Australian people—and importantly to our US and UK partners—that we are committed to the task before us.

That we are building institutions to ensure the survival of AUKUS, that we are elevating it above partisan politics, and thereby ensuring it endures through the tough challenges ahead.

My commitment is to see this job through as long as I serve in Parliament.