The Guardian • Issue #2066

Nurses against subs

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2066

NSW Nurses and Midwives Association delegates call for spending on healthcare, education, and the environment – not nuclear submarines. The NSWNMA has joined growing public opposition to AUKUS, the “security pact” between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.

Joining AUKUS comes with a minimum $368 billion price tag – the official cost to Australian taxpayers of acquiring more than a dozen nuclear submarines capable of operating in waters near China.

As part of the deal, US and UK nuclear submarines (likely carrying nuclear weapons) will routinely begin accessing Australian ports from 2027. AUKUS will put Australia on the front line of any US-led war against China, critics say.

The AUKUS deal was negotiated in secret and announced by former Prime Minister Morrison in 2021 with no parliamentary discussion. Anthony Albanese immediately declared Labor’s full support and reaffirmed that support in March 2023.

In May, the NSWNMA’s Committee of Delegates supported a motion from Westmead Hospital branch calling on the Association to publicly oppose AUKUS and assist members to lobby federal Labor government MPs on the issue.

A sample letter drafted for the use of NSWNMA members calls on MPs to urge the government to withdraw from AUKUS, end the commitment to acquire nuclear submarines and direct money saved to healthcare, education, and protection of the environment.

The $368 billion (minimum) submarine cost would fund construction of about 550 big-city hospitals (on the scale of Sydney’s Northern Beaches hospital, which cost $660 million) or employ 65,000 nurses for about 30 years.

The federal government says it will build a nuclear submarine base on the east coast of Australia, and Port Kembla near Wollongong is widely considered the preferred location.

The South Coast Labour Council, which represents unions in the Wollongong area, opposes the submarine base as a threat to proposed job-creating offshore wind projects that would use Port Kembla harbour.

Secretary of the NSWNMA’s Wollongong Hospital branch, Jamie Roberts, lives near Port Kembla and has a military background.

Jamie was in army signals intelligence for more than seven years before taking up a nursing career. She supports military spending to give Australia a strong defence capability but does not agree that Australia needs nuclear submarines.

She would like to see open discussion of conventionally powered alternatives to replace the existing Collins class submarines – as also advocated by former Labor PM Paul Keating.

Conventional subs would be cheaper, make us less of a nuclear target and probably do a better job of defending Australia, Jamie believes.

“$368 billion is just the starting price for the nuclear subs – that amount is guaranteed to increase,” she says.

“Meanwhile, our state hospital system is crumbling and the federal health system is not being adequately funded.” Jamie says the Illawarra region’s hospital system is not equipped to handle a major accident at a nuclear submarine base.

“There are always incidents on any military base and any nuclear-related accident would be extremely serious. We just don’t have the local hospital infrastructure to cope with that.”

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