‘You can’t’: Waleed Aly confronts PM

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been grilled by Waleed Aly over Australia’s monumental nuclear submarine deal and the possibility of war with China.

The PM fronted the panel of The Project on Thursday night, squashing fears put by former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull that Australia could be at war with the superpower within the next three years.

When grilled on the topic by Aly, Mr Albanese referenced a “very constructive meeting” with President Xi Jinping last year and emphasised the importance of keeping a friendly relationship with Australia’s major trading partner.

“I don‘t think it is constructive to talk about war. I think what’s constructive is to make sure that we have the best defence capacity possible to make sure that we put in place an optimum path way for that defence strategy and that‘s what we’re doing but we want peace and security in the region,” he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was grilled on The Project.Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was grilled on The Project.

“That’s why at the same time as we’re investing in defence we are investing in relationships. I had a very constructive meeting with President Xi last year.

“We have had our foreign ministers meet, including Penny Wong visiting Beijing in December for the 50th anniversary of relations between our two countries. Our Defence Ministers have met, our trade ministers will meet soon.

“We’ve seen some of the impediments to trade between our two countries be removed. They are our major trading partner. We want friendly relationships, we want to cooperate wherever we can but we will disagree where we must.

“We do have different values, we have different political systems and we take that into account as well.”

Aly then pointed out to the Prime Minister that “you can’t spend this much money on weapons of war and say you don’t want to talk about war”.

Mr Albanese skirted the question and said Australia needed to “act diplomatically” with China and “point out differences that are there”.

Aly then said: “But you don’t buy weapons of this nature unless you are preparing for the possibility of war.”

Mr Albanese replied that nuclear submarines were “just better” than conventional submarines, because they are faster, quieter and can stay at sea for longer.

“When you get that assessment from the defence experts then you have a responsibility to act,” he said.

United States Submarine USS Ashville in Perth following the AUKUS announcementUnited States Submarine USS Ashville in Perth following the AUKUS announcement

He also addressed former prime minister Paul Keating’s criticisms of the nuclear submarine deal this week. Mr Keating suggested that anyone “with a brain” could see that China would gain very little from occupying Australia’s biggest cities.

Mr Albanese said: “I don‘t think anyone has suggested that China or anyone else seeks to occupy Sydney or Melbourne. The truth is though that China‘s posture internationally has changed.

“They are more forward leaning. If you look at what’s happened in the South China Sea for example, it is a different circumstance from that which then Prime Minister Paul Keating confronted between 1991 and 1996.”

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said Australia “can’t afford not to” undertake the next stage in the AUKUS endeavour confirmed by Mr Albanese alongside UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden in San Diego on Tuesday morning.

Under the “optimal pathway” revealed by the three leaders, Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines under the trilateral security agreement will cost $268bn to $368bn over the next 30 years.

Speaking to reporters in Western Australia after the Prime Minister’s announcement, Dr Chalmers acknowledged the AUKUS project involved a “big investment” but said it would “be worth every cent” by delivering “huge returns” for Australia’s national security and its economy.

China's President Xi Jinping. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / POOL / AFP)China’s President Xi Jinping. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / POOL / AFP)

Australia plans to purchase up to five US-made Virginia-class submarines as a stopgap measure before eight AUKUS-class submarines based on a British design are built in Adelaide, with the first to be completed by 2042.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Richard Marles stopped short of ruling out cutting public services to fund AUKUS and wouldn’t be drawn on how the commonwealth could afford it.

“I’m not about to turn (this) into a press conference about what the budget looks like,” Mr Marles told reporters who pressed him on the issue on Tuesday morning.

“The important point to make about the cost in respect of forward estimates is that Defence is covering it – Defence is cost neutral with this over the forward estimates.”

Read related topics:Anthony AlbaneseChina

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