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AUKUS in the dock

Questions and challenges for the Albanese government
June 2024, no. 465

AUKUS in the dock

Questions and challenges for the Albanese government
June 2024, no. 465

When the former Labor prime minister Paul Keating appeared at the National Press Club in March 2023 to savage the bipartisan commitment to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS agreement, he did so only days after Anthony Albanese had stood alongside his British counterpart Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden in San Diego to announce the ‘optimal pathway’ for the agreement. Fluttering above them were the respective flags of the three nations. In the background lay berthed the USS Missouri, a Virginia class submarine lined with American sailors and festooned with its own bunting. But as Keating noted in typically pungent fashion, on that day ‘there was only one payer: the Australian prime minister … there’s three leaders standing there … [but] only one is paying … our bloke, Albo. The other two, they’ve got the band playing, happy days are here again.’

Happy days are most certainly not here again for AUKUS, especially for its Pillar One component, which envisages Australia acquiring between three and five US Virginia class submarines from the United States in the early 2030s, and then, from the early 2040s, eight new SSN-AUKUS submarines: British designed, partly Australian built, and with an American weapons and combat system. But the spectre of cost blowouts and production delays already haunts the agreement. The Australian government will hand over around $5billion to the British government over the next decade to subsidise an expansion of British submarine production capacity and a down payment on design work for the new SSN AUKUS. That comes on top of the $6.81 billion Canberra will be pay to Washington over the period 2024-33 to assist America’s submarine industrial production line

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Comments (3)

  • There are many issues with this program - from the enormous cost to the nation to the fundamental question of recruiting submariners, a current problem that will only worsen. It is too ambitious for Australia on many fronts. It raises our nation's profile in a way I would rather not have it raised. Aren't our greatest security issues likely to be the potential for failed states in our immediate neighbourhood? What role would a nuclear-powered submarine play in those scenarios? Was this just a male ego trip gone too far? And how will the investment required rob more essential parts of the ADF of the funding it needs? The decision raises too many questions without adequate answers. I for one hope it unravels.
    Posted by Judith Masters
    06 June 2024
  • In fact, James, the 'major problem with AUKUS' is the intellectually barren discussion that it has generated in the community. There has been neither a substantive position demonstrated that the threat is in fact real, nor has there been any quantification of how in any sense a few slightly more elusive submarines will in any way remediate the alleged threat.
    Posted by Patrick Hockey
    31 May 2024
  • Great article, James. Unfortunately, I have to agree with your analysis and conclusions. Neville would be proud of this article.
    Posted by John Feenie
    30 May 2024

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