Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has questioned whether Australia will have full control over the nuclear submarines it is set to acquire under the AUKUS pact.
Australia is expected to announce its submarine plans as early as next month after signing up to the security agreement with the US and UK to pursue the acquisition of nuclear-powered vessels.
Mr Turnbull emphasised what he said was the need for Australia to retain sovereign capability under the deal, rather than be supervised by the US.
“America is our closest ally, and our most important ally, but I think we are a better ally if we are thoroughly sovereign,” Mr Turnbull told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“The fundamental question is, if US technical support, supervision and oversight — given these are weapons grade reactors — if that were withdrawn, would we be able to operate the submarines?”
Defence Minister Richard Marles has said he is confident the AUKUS submarines can be delivered. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Mr Turnbull said if the Commonwealth was going to invest 1 per cent of its gross domestic product in the submarine program, Australians needed to know the vessels could be operated “thoroughly autonomously” in the future.
Mr Turnbull has previously savaged his predecessor as Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison over his handling of signing onto the AUKUS agreement in 2021.
Australia tore up a $90bn contract with French company Naval Group in favour of pursuing nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS pact.
Speaking at the National Press Club in September 2021, Mr Turnbull said Mr Morrison’s conduct had been devious and amounted to an “appalling episode in Australia’s international affairs”.
Anthony Albanese has recently patched up diplomatic relations between Canberra and Paris, which deteriorated when French President Emmanuel Macron said the Morrison government never informed him a nuclear option was being explored.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has raised questions about the AUKUS pact in an interview with ABC Radio. Credit: ABC
ABC News has reported The Prime Minister is expected to detail Australia’s preferred nuclear submarine option in America next month, alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Defence Minister Richard Marles had already said the federal government would unveil the type of nuclear submarines Australia will acquire under the AUKUS security pact by March 2023.
Mr Marles more recently said he was “confident” the vessels could be delivered for Australia on time, as he hinted all three allied nations could have a say in their design.
“What you’ll see is when we ultimately do announce the optimal pathway that we’ve been working on with both the United States and the United Kingdom,” he told ABC Radio earlier this month.
“It really is, is a genuinely trilateral effort to see both the UK and the US provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine capability.”
Mr Marles has also previously said he’d like to see the new submarines constructed in Australia as part of a broader strengthening of its domestic defence manufacturing capability and create jobs.
Labor committed soon after the election to following through with the former Morrison government’s ambitions to acquire nuclear-powered vessels under the AUKUS agreement to replace Australia’s ageing Collins Class submarines.
The Albanese government is expected to decide in March whether Australia will need and interim fleet of conventionally powered submarines before the AUKUS vessels are ready, which may not be for another 20 years.