Paul Keating’s AUKUS blast last week put the spotlight on the geopolitics of the defence arrangement — but with that brief interruption over it’s now time to get down to business.
Shifting in behind Keating and into the National Press Club (NPC) today is one Richard V Spencer.
Spencer certainly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to AUKUS. He is a former secretary of the US Navy, a post he left in 2019 after running aground with the Trump administration.
But here’s the rub: Spencer is also the global chair of Bondi Partners, the transnational consultancy set up by former treasurer Joe Hockey, soon after he ceased his role as Australia’s ambassador in Washington DC.
Spencer and Joe Hockey have been early movers when it comes to AUKUS.
Former ambassador to the US, and Bondi Partners president Joe Hockey (Image: (dingofied) AAP/Mick Tsikas)
Back in 2021, Bondi Partners teamed up with the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia (AmCham) to host a webinar titled “AUKUS: Business Opportunities Beyond Submarines”.
Proving that it’s never too early to look for the defence dollar, AmCham and Bondi Partners held the event three months after Scott Morrison sprang the AUKUS announcement on Australia.
Who knew that 18 months later the cost — and the attendant business opportunities — would soar to almost $370 billion?
The Hockey group is well-positioned for the bonanza, having built its own small platoon of former defence and national security types.
The Bondi team includes:
Mark Watson – senior national security “executive” at the Australian embassy in Washington. He was responsible for developing partnerships with US national security agencies
Air vice-marshal (retired) Gavin Turnbull AM — former deputy chief of Air Force and Australia’s air commander, where he oversaw the performance and strategic direction of the RAAF, Australian Defence Force and defence industry
Gus McLachlan – a former major general with the Australian army responsible for capability in cyberspace, electronic warfare and command and control systems
Air vice-marshal (retired) Peter Yates AM, CSC — former program manager for Defence’s Enterprise Resource and Planning Project
Rear admiral (retired) Mark Purcell AM – described by Bondi Partners as having experience with some of Defence Australia’s “largest and most complex acquisition and sustainment undertakings”.
Bondi Partners has also picked up former politicians from both sides of the aisle, in the former of former Coalition MP Peter McGauran and former Queensland Labor premier Peter Beattie.
But none of these should overshadow the two big names at the front of the shop. Joe Hockey retains his title of “ambassador”, despite having departed life on the taxpayer dollar three years ago.
There is more to Richard V Spencer, too. The former US Navy secretary’s bio records that he is a managing director of Pallas Ventures, a private investment fund dedicated to growing dual-use technology companies. Pallas says it advises on “complex national and international security dynamics”.
In a newspaper interview late last year, Spencer suggested that Australian investment in expanding US industrial capability to build submarines would help the US to deliver Australian submarines faster. The comments have proved prescient.
According to the advance sizzle, Spencer’s address to the National Press Club today is a sold-out event.
And why not?
AUKUS is a big deal in all respects — and not the least for the card-carrying supporters of the NPC. With little fanfare, the club, which was established for journalists, has also become a welcome place for the bevy of Canberra-based defence contractors.
The NPC’s corporate members include defence industry players Thales, Saab and Leidos – making at least three things the journalists’ club has in common with the Defence Department-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The mash-up of interests is well and truly on.
Investigations Editor @d_hardaker