By Nick D
The evening of Friday 16 September saw the Sydney Anti-AUKUS Coalition (SAAC) hold a vibrant protest and candlelight vigil at Sydney Town Hall.
The action, attended by around 100 activists, was called to mark one year since the Morrison government signed the AUKUS military pact with the U.S. and UK.
Reflecting the SAAC Coalition’s diverse membership, the action brought together peace activists, trade unionists, socialist organisations and community groups.
The main union representation was by the NSW Teachers Federation while Solidarity and Socialist Alliance were both fairly well-represented. There were also members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and Trotskyist Platform in attendance, as well as Red Ant.
Community and peace groups included the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN), Anti-War West Sydney, Wage Peace and others.
The first speeches were made by Greens MP Jenny Leong, Wollongong Against War and Nukes activist Alexander Brown and a statement by Kelly Marks from the NSW Teachers Federation was read out.
Jenny Leong argued that hawkish, anti-China sentiment is so often peddled by people with links to weapons companies and the military industrial complex. She also highlighted the connection between the current massive anti-China propaganda campaign with racism in Australia.
Alex Brown spoke about rebuilding the peace movement in Wollongong since AUKUS was announced. He said the hard work of peace and anti-nuclear activists in building a solid network in Wollongong has meant they are prepared to wage a strong fight-back should Port Kembla be announced as a storage site for nuclear submarines.
The rally then marched from Town Hall to the so-called ‘Defence’ Plaza on Pitt Street in Sydney’s CBD. Chants included:
No Aukus! No War! This is what we’re fighting for!
Money for health and education! Not for war and devastation!
Former Federal Senator for Western Australia Jo Vallentine was the first speaker outside the Defence Plaza. Channelling the Book of Jeremiah, Vallentine lamented, and encouraged reflection upon, various transgressions such as militarism and nuclear testing in the Pacific.
The final speaker was Deputy National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Warren Smith. He was quick to point out the irony of naming a building – which is geared completely towards waging wars – a ‘Defence’ Plaza.
Warren labelled AUKUS a pact of war and neo-colonialism driven by corporate power and the want to access Chinese markets. He emphasised that, “there is nothing in this [AUKUS] for the people of Australia or the world.”
The 16 September action reflects the steady growth of the anti-AUKUS campaign in Sydney. Although far from being a mass movement, the willingness of different groups to work together to build the campaign is a positive trend.
Over 26,000 people have signed a Change.org petition against AUKUS, while 650 individuals and 78 organisations had signed onto a Australian Anti-AUKUS Coalition (AAAP) statement by early September.
This shows that there is fairly significant public sentiment against AUKUS. This existing anti-war sentiment presents an opportunity, if it can be harnessed, to build opposition to Australian imperialism’s war-mongering against China and stop the nuclear submarine building program.
The ability to reach even broader sections of the population and counter the massive pro-war and anti-China propaganda campaign in Australia will be key for the Anti-AUKUS campaign.
A massive step forward will be to win over significant numbers of people, not just by economic arguments such as the shameful waste of over $150 billion, but by political demands such as: The Chinese People Are Not Our Enemy! Cooperation not Confrontation!
The spread of anti-imperialist ideology among ordinary people, in spite of the ideological assault by the ruling class, would be a massive blow not just for the AUKUS pact, but Australian imperialism.