Greens Pledge to Cancel AUKUS, Cut Australian Defence Spending Amid China Tensions

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
October 18, 2021 Updated: October 20, 2021

The Australian Greens have pledged to push for sweeping changes to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) if they hold the balance of power at the next election, including cuts to defence spending and cancellation of the AUKUS alliance.

However, such a pledge would come amid ongoing tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, including Beijing’s militarisation in the South China Sea.

Western Australian Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John said the party would push for the defence budget to be cut by one percent of GDP by 2026 to ensure Australia had a light and “highly mobile force” commensurate to the size of the country.

Further, the left-leaning party would close all foreign military bases in Australia and renegotiate the ANZUS alliance with New Zealand and the United States, while prioritising “peaceful efforts” in the region to tackle climate change.

“The Greens are committed to reducing defence spending; this will make $312 billion available over the next decade for essential services our community needs,” Steele-John said in a statement on Oct. 19. “We can build one million homes, ending homelessness. We could improve ventilation in schools, making our kids safe.”

“We could get dental and mental health into Medicare. We could increase income support, so no one in the country needs to live in poverty,” he added.

“Our community does not want our future to be at the behest of the United States of America,” he said. “The Australian Greens are committed to re-negotiating the ANZUS alliance, we will not proceed with the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal, and we will close all foreign military bases across Australia.”

The party also pledged to push for a ban on the development of lethal autonomous weapons.

The Greens have gained an increasing foothold over the years across Australia’s state and federal parliaments—boasting nine federal senators following the most recent 2019 election. The federal Senate holds 76 seats.

Greens MPs have for years been strong advocates for environmental policy and human rights issues, speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) persecution of the Uyghurs and Falun Gong practitioners.

However, the comments from the Greens party come as relations between the CCP and Australia soured last year after calls by Foreign Minister Marise Payne for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in April.

In the following months, the CCP implemented a series of bans, suspensions, and regulatory hurdles on Australian coal, wine, beef, barley, lobster, timber, lamb, and cotton exports to the country.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg estimated that trade exports saw a drop of $5.4 billion in the year to June 2021. However, during the same period, “exports of those goods to the rest of the world have increased by $4.4 billion,” he told the Australian National University’s Crawford Leadership Forum on Sept. 6.

At the same time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his federal counterparts have toughened their stance against CCP aggression in the Indo-Pacific, warning the region is the “epicentre of rising strategic competition.”

Beijing has increased its weapons development, built military bases in the South China Sea, and launched frequent incursions into Taiwanese airspace.

The government has been shoring up foreign alliances to counteract the CCP’s hegemony with the ongoing Quadrilateral Security Alliance and the recently announced AUKUS alliance with the United Kingdom and the United States.

NSW Senator Jim Molan has previously warned that the ADF was underprepared for any potential outbreak of conflict saying that despite increased defence spending from the federal government, it still left Australia “with a defence force that is not lethal enough.”

“It’s not sustainable enough, and it can’t fight for a long period of time … A lot of people say they are a one-shot defence force,” he told Emeritus Professor of Law David Flint in an episode of Australia Calling.

Meanwhile, the AUKUS pact will not only see the U.S. and UK governments assist Australia with acquiring nuclear-powered submarines—a move that will significantly change the power balance in the Indo-Pacific—it will also spur greater collaboration on development in cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities.

The U.S. and UK militaries will also look at stationing more troops and military forces permanently in Australia.