Another ex-PM questions AUKUS subs deal

A day after former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating savaged the Albanese Government’s AUKUS nuclear submarines deal, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says it comes with a “very high risk” of failure and there should be more public debate.

Mar 16, 2023, updated Mar 16, 2023
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announce the AUKUS submarines deal on Tuesday. Photo AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announce the AUKUS submarines deal on Tuesday. Photo AAP

Paul Keating on Wednesday branded the Albanese Government’s AUKUS arrangement to spend up to $368 billion over 30 years to buy and then build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines the “worst decision” by a Labor government since World War One, saying it risked ceding sovereignty to US control.

On Thursday, Malcolm Turnbull said Australia would need to train thousands of skilled workers, who then faced a challenge of finding work in a relevant field after the project finished.

“The human resources challenges of this are really considerable, because we don’t have a nuclear industry in Australia,” he said.

The former Liberal leader said the deal came with a “very high risk” of failing to deliver, because the British submarines were yet to be designed.

Turnbull also questioned whether Britain was going to be “financially strong enough” to be Australia’s partner in delivering the boats, with the country’s economy forecast to be the worst-performing large advanced economy this year.

He said unlike the UK, France – which Australia tore up a $90 billion submarine deal with for AUKUS – was already in the Indo-Pacific and had millions of citizens located there.

Turnbull said all of these issues should have been publicly debated.

“We’ve been caught up in this hoopla where anyone that expresses any concerns about it is accused of being or implied that they’re lacking in patriotism,” he said.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said Keating remained a revered figure within the Labor Party and that it would not criticise him.

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“The Hawke-Keating government was the great peacetime, reformist, long-term government in our history,” Marles said.

“It’s a government that finished in 1996 (and) our responsibility is to be governing the country in the national interest in 2023.”

Marles said the government had worked hard to stabilise Australia’s diplomatic relations with China.

“We want to have a productive relationship with China, but we do observe that we are seeing the biggest conventional military build-up in the world today since the end of the Second World War,” he said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Keating’s comments showed there was division within the Labor Party over AUKUS.

“I think it is incumbent upon Richard Marles and others … to rebuke the unhinged comments of Mr Keating,” he said.

“(The government) should be taking the advice of the military and intelligence chiefs as opposed to Paul Keating.”

-with AAP

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