Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s decision to disclose sensitive talks with the United States over the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines has raised concerns he may have jeopardized plans for a deal spouse by the end of the year.
- Opposition Leader Peter Dutton used a newspaper opinion piece to say he was confident he could secure two nuclear submarines by 2030.
- Officials and academics have expressed concern over the decision
- There are also fears that it has upset the delicate AUKUS partnership negotiations with the UK and the US.
The former defense minister – and now leader of the opposition – used an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper on Thursday to say he was confident of securing two US Virginia-class nuclear submarines by 2030.
Under the AUKUS partnership unveiled in September last year, Australia is working with the UK and US to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines to replace the aging Collins-class boats of this country.
Mr Dutton then insisted that had the Coalition remained in power it might have been ‘able to make an announcement around July-August’ and he now feared Labor might consider building instead more conventionally powered submarines.
“I really fear that Labor is now walking away from AUKUS, from the submarine deal, and that is clearly not in our national interest,” he told Sydney Radio 2GB.
Several figures linked to the AUKUS partnership have privately expressed concern over Mr Dutton’s disclosure of defense advice, which included his fears that the “Collins-class diesel-electric submarines will not be able to compete with the Chinese in the South China Sea beyond 2035”. .
A Coalition adviser who worked on AUKUS said it was unwise for Mr Dutton to discuss how aging Australian submarines could soon be detected by emerging radar technologies because they need to come to the surface to “sniff” (recharge their batteries).
Another figure, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr Dutton’s op-ed had ‘shoved’ plans for a joint announcement by the end of the year between Australia , the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The United States can’t even do what Mr. Dutton claims he can do, which is to supply two nuclear boats off the production line in Connecticut,” the official added.
The chair of defense studies at the University of Western Australia, Dr Peter Dean, echoed concerns about Mr Dutton’s comments.
“I’m sure the UK would not be happy to learn from a newspaper article that potentially their submarine is not an option and I’m sure there are a lot of people in Congress American, Pentagon and other parts of the United States who were very interested in reading about these possible developments,” Dr. Dean said.
“These are sensitive negotiations and I think the big concern here is that Peter Dutton has fundamentally worked against the national interest in an attempt to score national political points.”
On Wednesday, the new Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, hit out at his predecessor’s “lax” remarks, saying they undermined the tripartite security agreement between the UK, the United States USA and Australia.
“This is rank politics and is completely inconsistent with everything Peter Dutton was doing and saying in government,” Mr Marles said.
“The government has made no decision on the preferred submarine. All options remain on the table.
“The Coalition’s ability to talk tough and beat its chest without delivering is only on display when it’s in opposition.”
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Canberra declined to comment on the controversy and the Ministry of Defense responded to questions from the ABC.