Anthony Albanese has fielded multiple questions about AUKUS from within his own party room after one of his MPs publicly broke ranks over the multi-billion dollar nuclear-powered submarine deal.
Three Labor MPs raised the project at a caucus meeting on Tuesday, asking how it will be funded, how to respond to concerns about Australian sovereignty and how the country will sustain the massive workforce it requires to manufacture the vessels.
Australia’s nuclear submarine plans will cost the federal government up to $368bn over the next 30 years and include the purchase of between three and five midlife US Virginia-class nuclear submarines as a stop gap measure while the AUKUS-class fleet is built in Adelaide.
In response to the question in caucus about how the government would pay for the project, the Prime Minister repeated his talking points that the initial $9bn cost over the next four years will be fully offset and that defence spending needed to grow to be more than 2 per cent of GDP.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has fielded questions about the AUKUS pact from within Labor. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty
Mr Albanese also said AUKUS would be less than 10 per cent of the defence budget and referred to secondary economic benefits from manufacturing and jobs, with the project estimated to create 20,000 jobs over three decades.
Asked by an MP how they should respond to people who raise concerns about Australian sovereignty, Mr Albanese said there were “very few” pieces of equipment that were entirely designed and built in Australia and that had no negative effect.
Responding to the question about the AUKUS project taking workforce away from other parts of the economy, Mr Albanese said governments should “always do what is needed” to defend the country as well as deal with other priorities.
Higgins MP Michelle Ananda-Rajah was one of the MPs who asked a question about the project at the Labor caucus meeting, but she rejected suggestions she was opposed to the deal, saying: “I fully support the government’s announced AUKUS plan”.
Sky News reported earlier in the day that Dr Ananda-Rajah and Corangamite MP Libby Coker — who has been contacted for comment — directly raised concerns about AUKUS in the party room.
Mr Albanese and Labor Higgins MP Michelle Ananda-Rajah. Picture: Wendell Teodoro / AFP
Labor held its caucus meeting the day after Fremantle MP Josh Wilson became the first government MP to speak out publicly against AUKUS, telling parliament he was not convinced Australia should pursue nuclear-powered vessels.
“While I support the work of the government, I’m not completely convinced that nuclear propelled submarines are the only or best answer to our strategic needs,” Mr Wilson said in the House of Representatives on Monday night.
Mr Wilson, from Labor’s left faction, said he was also concerned about how Australia would manage the nuclear waste produced by the submarines it acquires under the trilateral security deal with the US and the UK.
“We haven’t yet managed a storage solution for low-level waste after 40 years and more than $50m,” he said.
“We haven’t yet commenced a proper process for the storage of intermediate level waste. Now we are taking on the challenge of safely disposing of high-level waste — a problem no country has solved.”
Their concerns come after former Labor prime minister Paul Keating savaged the Albanese government and its nuclear submarine plans in a National Press Club address last week.
Two unions and several Labor branches have also come out in opposition to the AUKUS pact, which the former Morrison government signed in 2021 and the Albanese government has stuck with.
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