Albo in San Diego

AUKUS almost certainly means that Australia will sign and ratify the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is long overdue.

Watching Albo on the rostrum with Joe Biden and Rishi Sunakin in San Diego today, you had to think about Albo’s observation: ‘for my whole life people have underestimated me’, Whoever writes his biography will forever show how wrong those people were. Amongst other things Albo is one of the most competent and experienced politicians ever to become PM. He seems to have just the right touch while at the same time making an asset of his left wing origins and philosophy.

Albo’s mentor Tommy Uren backed him all the way against the doubters.

Tom was also a famous protester against uranium mining and nuclear development of any kind in Australia. Tom was a POW in Japan at the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He saw and heard the Nagasaki bomb. It totally shaped his politics and he was never afraid in any forum to make his views known on the need for nuclear disarmament.

What would Tom would have made of the announcement in San Diego? I think it would have been more complicated than many people might reckon. In the early 1990s Tom and I visited several think tanks in the US, many were more radical and outspoken than any Australian Labor Party forums at the time. Tom was very wise in the advice he gave to the Americans. He always said it was better to be inside political power structures than outside them. At the time I remember meeting Bernie Sanders who was then the only Communist member of Congress. He has since taken Tom’s advice and become more of a part of the Democratic Party than he was back then.

Tom would have supported Albo as a left wing Prime Minister working with the major world powers rather than standing outside the pact like New Zealand. In fact it may well be that if there is a significant security issue in our region, we may see the New Zealanders, like the recent Scandinavian move towards NATO, moving closer to the Australian Labor position of nuclear disarmament with nuclear propulsion technology in our future submarine fleet.

Albo is a patron of the Tom Uren Memorial Fund  which supports the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Australia as well as raising public awareness about nuclear dangers and building support for disarmament. ICAN opposes Australia’s reliance on ‘extended nuclear deterrence’ and is at the forefront of international efforts to achieve universal adherence to the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Tom would understand the need to strengthen our defence against a rising China. After all, at the tender age of 21 he was swept up by the Japanese invasion of Timor and he spent the entire war as a prisoner in many infamous prison camps. But I can imagine him shuddering at the idea of highly enriched weapons grade uranium having to be stored on Australian soil with all the dangers that ICAN have warned about.

So what does this mean? I think we will see Prime Minister Albanese moving for Australia to quickly ratify and sign the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) at the earliest opportunity. In fact the AUKUS agreement makes it a necessity. I would be surprised if the Prime Minister has not already confided in many of his colleagues that he intends to do so. It was only due to the fact that Australia has been dominated by conservative Federal governments (2013-2022) that this has not occurred.

While some hawks may see this as somehow weakening Australia’s future defence capability it is brilliant politics. The Prime Minister will completely blind side and neutralise the Opposition parties.


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Working Papers, 2023, 7.