At the time of writing, there is no available information as to the status of AUKUS: whether it’s a Treaty, with all the checks and balances that treaties entail on the one hand, or just an ‘understanding’. The terms ‘AUKUS framework’, ‘pact, ‘agreement’ and even ‘forever partnership’ have been bandied about but nothing is being said of its legal status.
For all the shortcomings of Australia’s system of government, there are processes and laws that detail the structure of our society and our relations with other countries. Australia’s relationship with other countries is based on treaties. We have treaties on all manner of things, from the ‘big ticket’ ones like the ANZUS Treaty, to the rather arcane (though no doubt important) like the one covering taxation arrangements with residents of the Isle of Man.
The process for Australia enacting treaties is very well regulated, and while of course backroom machinations are undertaken outside of parliament, there is the ability for treaties to be debated by our elected representatives before they are implemented, let alone ratified, entered into Australian law, and acted upon.
The issues surrounding Australia’s treaty making process are outlined in a Parliamentary Paper Treaty Making Options for Australia.
Presenting AUKUS as a fait accompli runs afoul of our democratic process. Further AUKUS seems to be breaking current Australian treaties such as 2018’s Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, not to mention the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
The lack of any official status of AUKUS leaves it open to be cited as a justification for any and every issue even marginally related to Australia’s military policy and engagement.
The Australian Government should detail the terms of the AUKUS pact in much the same way that other Australian military agreements such as ANZUS, the Pine Gap Agreement and the other 392 other defence related Treaties Australia is a party to.
A shift in Australia’s military position in the region should not be made without full discussion in Parliament. This would also give all political parties the opportunity of letting the public know where they stand on the issue.