Anthony Albanese is gearing up to make a major announcement on the path forward for Australia’s plan for nuclear powered submarines, but the government has yet to reveal the program’s eye-watering cost.
The Prime Minister left India on Saturday for the United States, where he will join President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego on Monday for the statement.
Leaked details from both sides of the Atlantic suggest Australia will buy two types of submarines from its AUKUS partners under a three phase plan to acquire nuclear submarines to counter China’s growing military might.
The cost of the program has yet to be officially confirmed. However, reports suggest it could cost the budget over $150bn over the next 30 years.
On Saturday, Mr Albanese was asked just how he will justify the mammoth cost of the project given the current state of the budget and cost of living pressures.
“Australia faces real challenges. We have said very clearly and explicitly that there are major pressures on expenditure, not just in defence, but in other areas as well,” he told reporters before leaving for the US.
“It’s why the ERC’s been meeting regularly. It’s why we need to be prepared to make some difficult decisions.”
While Coalition says it is in “lock-step” with the government over AUKUS, it cautioned it against raising taxes to foot the bill.
“When the coalition was in government, we took defence spending from 1938 levels to 2 per cent of GDP. We committed $270 billion worth of defence expenditure after 2013 and we do all of that without raising taxes,” he told Sky News.
“We want to see the purchase of the submarines (and) want to see the AUKUS program going forward.
“But we’ve demonstrated that you can provide for defence expenditure without raising taxes.”
The AUKUS security pact was unveiled in late 2021, with the US and UK agreeing to help Australia acquire nuclear powered submarines, scrapping a $90bn deal with France for conventional vessels.
The first phase will involve US-deployed submarines visiting Australian ports more regularly. Australia is also expected to buy up to five US Virginia class vessels as a stopgap measure before obtaining a fleet of British-designed boats to be built in South Australia.
Joe Courtney, a US congressman who served on the House Armed Services Committee, wouldn’t say if the boats offered to Australia would be new but assured his nation wouldn’t just be offloading clunkers.
“When it comes out, you’ll see. What I will tell you is what you will get is of the highest quality, and I say that sincerely. No-one will be foisting off clunkers on good friends and allies,” he told ABC’s Insiders.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly rejected criticism the program would undermine Australian sovereignty.
When asked, Mr Courtney said the notion of “joint crewing” had been “really overhyped”.
“Everyone understands we need to train up the Australian sailors and officers in terms of nuclear propulsion … and when the time comes for the title to be handed to the Government of Australia of a vessel … it is going to be totally with the full understanding that it is going to be under Australian control,” he added.