16 September 2021
South Australian Senator Rex Patrick has responded to the joint announcement of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, United States President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a partnership that will enable Australia to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
“This is a very big strategic decision with long term national security, geopolitical, and economic consequences that must be the subject to rigorous and wide-ranging scrutiny,” Senator Patrick said.
“In these circumstances the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee should open an immediate inquiry to ensure that all the angles, including alternative conventionally-powered submarine procurement options, are fully explored and understood. The Committee should produce an initial report prior to the federal election.”
“I’ve been a strong critic of the French submarine deal. The delays and cost overruns are huge and unacceptable.”
“But we have to be careful we don’t move from one massive procurement disaster into something else that hasn’t been thought through properly.”
“There are huge uncertainties about this announcement – including the selection of a US or British submarine, numbers, cost and schedule of acquisition and delivery.”
“The proposed initial US-UK-Australia joint study to be undertaken over the next eighteen months is a prudent step and will mean that further decisions will take place after Australia’s election.”
Prime Minister Morrison has indicated that these new nuclear-powered vessels will be built in Adelaide. It is unclear whether this would involve manufacturing or just assembly of pre-manufactured modules supplied from the US or UK.”
“Either way there would be nuclear reactors sitting on hard-stands at Osborne and moored in the Port River.
“Acquiring, operating and maintaining a nuclear submarine fleet without a domestic nuclear power industry is a challenge that must not be underestimated.”
“The nuclear safety and non-proliferation safeguards issues are unquestionably complex and likely to be controversial.”
“This proposed project would also most likely require new treaty level agreements with the United States and/or the United Kingdom, requiring Congressional and Parliamentary approval.”
“There are many significant issues that will need to be properly considered and I fear that they haven’t yet.”
“The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee will need to undertake a wide ranging and rigorous inquiry to inform Government, Opposition, the Parliament and most importantly the Australian people before the next election.”
“I’ve said it’s a huge decision, taken as a consequence of an absolute procurement shambles by the Turnbull and Morrison Liberal Governments."
"We don’t want an even bigger repeat of that failure and this massive project should not proceed further without full transparency and scrutiny.”