Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says it is “truly remarkable” the renewed debate about acquiring United States submarines has not considered how significantly it would undermine Australia’s sovereignty.
The federal government will within months announce its nuclear submarine plan, with both AUKUS partners – the US and the United Kingdom – in the running for supplying vessels to Australia until domestic industry is capable.
It’s been revealed, however, that key United States senators have voiced their concern about being the chosen partner.
Jack Reed and former senator James Inhofe wrote US President Joe Biden a letter in December, which has leaked online, which says they – members of the armed services committee – wanted a “sober assessment” of the submarine component of the AUKUS deal.
They wrote that providing Australia with Virginia-class submarines risked tipping the US industry to “breaking point” and could undermine US security.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has maintained he remains “positive” about the AUKUS deal, and that Australia would ramp up its industrial contribution for the partnership.
But Mr Turnbull, taking to Twitter, said Australia was “completely overlooking” the fact that nuclear powered submarines acquired from the US “will not be able to be operated or maintained without the supervision of the US Navy”.
“It is surely remarkable that this abdication of Australian sovereignty was effected by the Morrison government and now, apparently, endorsed and adopted by the Albanese government,” he wrote.
“AUKUS is a worthwhile and natural enhancement of already intimate security and intelligence relationships, but the submarine element of the agreement delays vital capabilities and diminishes Australian sovereignty.”
On Saturday, Mr Albanese and Defence Minister Richard Marles said Australia’s relationship with the US remained strong, and the AUKUS partnership would benefit all members.
“We’re very confident that it’s in the interests of Australia, but also in the interests of the US and the interests of the United Kingdom,” Mr Albanese said.
“When we talk about optimal pathway, we talk about not just the issue of what is built, but how it is built, as well as the optimal pathway in building a capacity of skills in the Australian workforce.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has urged Mr Albanese to “press the case” to purchase submarines off the shelf from the US, saying there was “no question” in his mind that option was still on the table.
On Sunday, Mr Dutton said Australia’s ability to keep the region safe was “really dependent” on the acquisition of the US submarines.
“I hope that the Prime Minister is able to continue to press the case because when we negotiated AUKUS, when the Coalition negotiated AUKUS, it was clear to us, as it’s now clear to the government, that the intelligence is that we live in a very uncertain time, the most uncertain time since the Second World War and the sooner that we can acquire that capability, it is in Australia‘s interests, it’s in the United States’ interests, it’s in our partners interests within the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“That’s why we should continue to work very closely to achieve an outcome and to acknowledge from the US, and other partners, that they have their own obligations and their own needs, but we are a trusted and reliable partner and that’s why the AUKUS deal was struck in the first place.”