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USUKA: The hidden history of AUKUS

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

With Scott Morrison's exit from politics, his legacy includes the very expensive and useless AUKUS deal, dubbed the 'worst deal in all history'. Dr John Jiggens writes.

ON 15 SEPTEMBER 2021, the ABC announced that Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, would be holding a press conference with British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and U.S. President Joe Biden.

The trio of Anglo-leaders gathered to announce the birth of AUKUS, an acronym formed from the initials of Australia, the UK and the U.S., arranged in that order because if you started with the US and the UK first, it spelled out the unfortunate – though more accurate – acronym, USUKA.

Those who watched that press conference found themselves bewildered spectators to a momentous occasion in Australian history, the big reveal of a clandestine scheme that was hatched by the secrecy-loving Scott Morrison with the aid of a tiny cabal of immensely powerful friends. A new security partnership was being launched — clearly aimed at China, though the name “China” was as unmentionable as Voldemort.

AUKUS was sprung on an unsuspecting Australian people, fully formed and completely out of the blue.

The occasion was a giddying success for Scott Morrison, though spoiled when President Biden began his AUKUS speech with one of his characteristic verbal stumbles, correctly remembering the name of UK PM, Boris Johnson, but fluffing Scott Morrison’s.

Unable to recall the name of the Australian Prime Minister, Biden introduced him as “that fella down under”, an ungrateful acknowledgement, given the key role Morrison played. John Howard called AUKUS Morrison’s greatest achievement, while Opposition Leader Peter Dutton listed it as the standout achievement of Morrison’s government, which it was, dwarfing even Robodebt. While two of the designers of AUKUS – Johnson and Morrison – were present, Biden was clearly somewhere other.

Before this carefully crafted reveal, only a very few had any inkling of the AUKUS project. The AUKUS deal was crafted in secret by Morrison, with no public discussion of AUKUS, no mention in the media, nor in the Parliament, nor in cabinet. It was another secret among the many Scott Morrison curated.

AUKUS was (and is) the most expensive project ever undertaken by an Australian government, yet only one Australian had input into the AUKUS planning — our secretive Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

Crucial details, such as the cost of the scheme and how the financial burden was to be shared, were concealed. AUKUS was mind-bogglingly expensive and, under Morrison’s deal, Australia would be the country footing the bill, placing our economy under enormous stress for decades while the U.S. and the UK would benefit handsomely through weapons sales.

The loser and the beneficiaries of the AUKUS deal remained another secret, buried deep in the big bag of secrets of Australia’s most surreptitious Prime Minister.

The worst deal ever

Like Morrison himself, AUKUS had numerous detractors. “The AUKUS nuclear submarine project will bleed the Australian Defence Force white,” prophesied former submariner and Senator, Rex Patrick. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating summed up AUKUS as “the worst deal in all history”.

The “worst deal ever” began its long life in 2009 as the Future Submarine Program, a modest and sensible proposal to purchase 20 off-the-shelf submarines for $30 billion to replace Australia’s aging Collins-class submarines, which were due for retirement in 2024. Japan, Germany and France were identified as potential suppliers, and they were given 15 months to submit their proposals, which Australia would evaluate before awarding the contract to the successful bidder to begin manufacture in 2016 for delivery in the 2020s.

Tony Abbott was the Australian Prime Minister in 2016 and it was widely expected he would award the submarine contract to the Japanese because Abbott was close to Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. However, as the ABC documentary Nemesis reveals, Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull were busy sharpening the knives.

Abbott’s political assassination by Turnbull and Morrison resulted in the Future Submarine contract being unexpectedly awarded to France, resulting in a further three-year delay.

When Morrison became Prime Minister in 2019, the Future Submarine Project was running well behind time, due largely to his successful undermining of Abbott. This spawned Morrison’s disastrous AUKUS response. And an American voice was in his ear, whispering of nuclear submarines.

Pompeo

The planning for AUKUS began under the Trump Administration, but Morrison didn't negotiate with President Trump. His AUKUS ally was Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director who Trump promoted to Secretary of State. According to Paul Kelly in his 2022 book, Morrison's Mission, Pompeo and Morrison shared phone calls every week and had a very intimate collaborative relationship, which Kelly attributed to their shared faith as both men are born-again evangelical Christians.

Other commentators believe their weekly discussions were concerned more with AUKUS than Jesus. The unholy trinity who secretly created AUKUS were Morrison, Johnson and Pompeo.

With the usual help from the mainstream media – who always loves a huge phallic symbol and grows wildly excited at the talk of war – Morrison somehow got away with his outrageously over-priced scheme, which was uncritically applauded. The Australian media sold AUKUS with a China scare and the spin that the U.S. was generously gifting Australia with nuclear submarines, which were really, really big toys.

The stealth Prime Minister

The portrait of Morrison that emerges from Nemesis is one of a behind-the-scenes operator, a Machiavellian plotter securing power by intrigue and manipulation, cunning, deceitful, conniving, a conspirator clothed in secrecy, whose ascension to the prime ministership was achieved through the stealthily executed dispatch of his leaders — Tony Abbott first, then Malcolm Turnbull.

In her Sky News response to Nemesis, Peta Credlin, Abbott’s dominatrix former chief of staff, pointed out that had Morrison not betrayed Abbott, the Japanese submarine deal would have gone ahead and the submarines would now be arriving at the modest cost of $50 billion, whereas Morrison’s economy-crippling AUKUS deal cost $368 billion (and rising) for eight submarines that won’t arrive till the 2040s.

Before his knifing of Turnbull, which would doom the $90 billion French bid and instigate Morrison’s wildly more expensive AUKUS deal, Morrison performed an outrageous act of duplicity. Smiling his smug crocodile smile, Morrison publicly declared his loyalty to his leader, even as he organised Turnbull’s political termination.

Asked to describe Scott Morrison in one word, Malcolm Turnbull chose: “Duplicitous.” Following the subsequent scrapping of the French submarine deal to make way for AUKUS, French President Emmanuel Macron denounced Morrison as a liar.

The afterlife of AUKUS

After the debacle of the 2022 Election, Morrison retired to the backbench while he pursued opportunities in global geostrategic affairs related to AUKUS, often teaming up with Mike Pompeo. It was his “dear friend” Mike Pompeo, in his role as Chair of the Strategic Advisory Board of the Hudson Institute’s China Centre, who invited Morrison to join the Strategic Advisory Board in November 2022.

On 23 January 2024, Morrison announced his departure from Parliament to take up:

‘...“a series of global strategic advisory roles and private boards, focused on the U.S. and Indo-Pacific” and drawing on his experience and networks in the region, in particular through AUKUS and the Quad diplomatic partnership.’

The private boards were American Global Strategies and DYNE Ventures, which also employed Mike Pompeo as a strategic advisor. DYNE Ventures boasted that it expected to profit from Mr Morrison’s role as architect of AUKUS.

A week after Morrison’s resignation, The Australian Citizens Party (ACP) wrote to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), requesting it to investigate former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to join private companies that will profit from the massive defence expenditure resulting from his decision to establish AUKUS.

ACP research director Robbie Barwick explained the ACP was referring Mr Morrison to the NACC because he was climbing aboard the AUKUS gravy train to personally cash in on his policy:

However, in this case, it is too shameless, and the stakes are too high — his agenda pushed us towards war with China! So, the ACP is asking the NACC to investigate Morrison and his buddy Mike Pompeo, and whether their current private business arrangements may have in any way influenced their secret plot which put the Australian taxpayer on the hook for $368 billion that they and their cronies are tapping into post-government.

Said Barwick:

Consider the optics here. The former Australian Prime Minister joining American Global Strategies! That is emblematic of everything that's happening to this country.

 

Given the intimate relationship between these two – they both secretively plotted to get AUKUS up – and now, hand in hand, they're moving into the private sector to make money out of AUKUS. We think that this smacks of potential corruption. And the NACC, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, needs to look at that relationship between Mike Pompeo and Scott Morrison.

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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