Anthony Albanese has indicated Labor’s commitment to stick with plans to acquire nuclear submarines under the AUKUS pact should the opposition win the federal election.
In a major foreign policy address, the Opposition leader said his party would back in the deal, even if an 18-month review of the project found difficulties or major issues.
“Undoubtedly, there will be some challenges, and we are aware of them, not the least of which is the capability gap,” he told the Lowy Institute.
“We are committed to the project based upon the advice that we received… we took that clear advice, and we made a very clear, sober decision.”
Mr Albanese pledged to look at ways to keep the current submarine fleet going to fill the gap before the nuclear-powered vessels are available in 2040.
One option touted was to attach Tomahawk missiles to the existing Collins class submarines.
Mr Albanese said plans were needed to address how submarines would be used in the almost-two decade interim.
“The entire episode is the greatest defence procurement disaster we have seen in the country,” he explained.
“After a production line of six defence ministers in this government, and two goes at landing on a model, we now have no contract for any submarine and a looming submarine-shaped capability gap.”
The opposition has also already committed to a defence-force posture review.
“In government, this review will provide a more reliable basis for decisions on the final location of a new submarine base,” Mr Albanese said.
The Morrison government earlier this week announced a shortlist of potential locations for the new nuclear submarine base.
Newcastle and Port Kembla have been considered in NSW, while Brisbane has also been shortlisted.
No decision on the final location is expected to be made until after the federal election, but initial work is slated to be completed by the end of next year.
Mr Albanese said while the government had been dropping hints about the submarines, no clarity had been offered.
“(The submarine base announcement) is driven by an election timetable rather than a full analysis of our overall force posture, which has not been done since Labor was last in power,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed the possibility of the Port of Brisbane submarine base with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Thursday.
“You need to be able to base these operations close to a major population centre,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
“That means you’re drawing on academic capabilities, scientific capabilities, universities, defence, industry.
“All of this is critical for the successful operation of a nuclear-propelled submarine base.”
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