ENOUGH of the cute codes and doublespeak. Making Perth home to a mammoth nuclear aircraft carrier fleet would amount to an American base in Australia, plain and simple.

The government needs to come clean with its military plans, given Australia has already agreed to host US marines near Darwin – and US bombers, spy drones and the existing ”joint facilities” often overlooked.

Time to stop pretending this is just business as usual. Are we preparing to help Washington use the threat of force to contain China in the region?

That is certainly the impression. It is also the prevailing wisdom in Beijing. And at least some Americans seem to be banking on Australia to play a role in containing China, too.

There is a big debate to be had here, one that should not be shut down with rhetorical parlour tricks to dismiss questions as ”anti-Americanism”. Everyone deserves a say. Maybe the new Defence white paper, due next year, will give that chance. But not if the decisions have already been made.

And while ever ministers insist a deployment of soldiers is not a ”base” or that a negotiation about access to facilities is merely a ”conversation”, the public gets a confused picture about what Australia is signing up to.

Surely it is not in Australia’s interest to fuel an unnecessary rivalry between two major powers in the neighbourhood – one that happens to be our biggest trading partner, the other our chief military ally.

Let’s step back for a moment. This idea of stationing a carrier fleet in Western Australia is only one option to give teeth in a supposed US ”pivot” towards Asia. The proposal has been floated by think tank, a favourite haunt for ex-officials in Washington hiding out before the next change of administration.

That gives the Obama administration – and Canberra – a plausible excuse to say this is not an official plan. It is not.

But don’t assume that means the plan won’t be seriously considered, having been commissioned by the Pentagon and submitted with a secret annex. Contracting out strategic thinking is common practice.

This is part of the game in defence circles, to telegraph ideas without scaring other countries with an out-of-the-blue announcement.

The prospect of more US warships putting in at HMAS Stirling in Perth has been tossed around by officials for months. Expanding the wharfs and dredging a new shipping channel at the base was discussed in the March publication of Australia’s own review of forces.

What is worrying is what it is all for. The basic question, why do it, has not been answered.

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