Australia AUKUS: another Morrison masterclass in big words, poor leadership and dud deals
Australia to acquire nuclear submarines as part of new AUKUS defence pact
Australia, US and Britain have announced a far-reaching defence pact to counter China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, hailed as the most significant in decades.Australia is set to acquire its first fleet of highly prized nuclear-powered submarines as part of a historic new defence pact proposed by Scott Morrison to Joe Biden and Boris Johnson to counter China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
It’s taken 24 hours, and the emergence of some actual details, to realise just how awful a decision Scott Morrison has made to embrace nuclear submarines. It’s as if this government has a default setting of making the worst possible decisions when it comes to submarines.
A simple recitation of the facts of AUKUS will illustrate this. Morrison has:
- Torn up the existing submarine contract, based on majority-local build, five years and $2b-plus in, with a break fee of at least $500 million to come
- Gone back to square one with an 18-month study
- That study will examine how Australia will buy fewer subs, for even more money, most of which will be built overseas a decade later
- Those subs will require more than twice as many people to crew and a whole new industry to maintain, when Australia can barely crew its existing fleet
- Australia will have no option but to accept the least-worst option the study comes up with
- The country with whom the existing contract was signed was completely blindsided and holds the whip hand over a trade deal with Europe and the potential for carbon tariffs on Australian exports. It’s also a country we’ve been working hard to get more engaged in our own region. France is mortally offended and unlikely to forget being stabbed in the back by ourselves and the Americans.
It would have been straightforward to do this very differently: conduct the 18-month study of nuclear vessels in secret, present the results to Naval Group — a manufacturer of nuclear-powered submarines — and ask if it can match or beat it, injecting some competitive tension into the process, and not enraging the French who would have had a crack at retaining a subs contract. There’d have been no additional delay.
Taking the nuclear option
Good morning, early birds. China says Australia's new security pact with the UK and US could severely damage regional peace and intensify the arms race, and 70% of Australians over the age of 16 have now had their first COVID vaccine dose. It's the news you need to know, with Emma Elsworthy.AUKUS — our most significant security development since WWII, Morrison reckons — will see Australia become one of seven countries with nuclear submarines (US has 68, Russia 29, China 12, UK 11, France 8, and India 1). So why nuclear submarines? They can stay underwater for months and shoot missiles further (not that we’ve said we’ll put nuclear weapons on them).
But as we’ve learnt about the prime minister, he’s all about announcements. Actual competent management is beyond him.
Somehow we’ve ended up locked into the outcome of an unknown process that will inevitably deliver a program worse than the existing one in every single way — cost, timing, local content, number of boats. The Americans or the British — most likely the Americans — can present us with whatever deal they like, confident we’re not going to refuse. We can’t go back to Naval Group in 2023 and ask it to revive the contract — not without a 20% hike in costs, total humiliation and a break fee with two extra zeroes on it.
Morrison will be long gone from politics by the time construction starts — in Virginia and Connecticut, not Adelaide — and safely beyond the reach of any political accountability. His successors, however, will be stuck with a decrepit fleet of Collins-class vessels filling in another extra decade.
Successful deterrence: Why AUKUS is good news for Taiwan
Australia's description of Taiwan last week as a "critical partner" marks a significant shift in language, one that will not have gone unnoticed in Beijing.In the joint statement from Australian and US defence and foreign ministers, Taiwan is described - for the first time - as "a leading democracy and a critical partner for both countries". This follows the Prime Minister's commitment to co-ordinate action with other liberal democracies in the region.
Perhaps we can politely ask China to hold off on any further aggression for a couple of decades while we get our act together.
They’ll also be stuck with the problem of where to get more than twice the number of submariners in a shrinking employment market as the world population ages. The usual Liberal solution is to simply bring in more foreign labour sourced from developing countries, but that’s probably not workable aboard our prize nuclear-powered strategic assets. The government is already budgeting a cost of $1 million per migrant to bring the talent needed to maintain these vessels to Australia. And it can’t think of a way to pay for what will be a $100+ billion program without dramatically lifting immigration.
The press gallery reaction has been fascinating. Mainstream media journalists been almost completely taken in by the glamour of the announcement — don’t we love it when the Americans take notice of us — and missed the lack of substance and the managerial incompetence on display.
North Korea warns AUKUS nuclear submarine pact could trigger 'nuclear arms race'
North Korea says a new security alliance between Australia, the US and the UK could trigger a "nuclear arms race" in the region.Under the defence pact announced last week, known as AUKUS, the US will supply Australia with nuclear submarines, adding Australia to a small group of countries equipped with that military capability.
Earlier this year, on a very different issue — Morrison’s profound deafness on gender issues — where coverage was led by female journalists in the gallery, every Morrison announcement was regarded with scepticism and his tendency to treat every issue as a political problem that could be dealt with via a media release was placed under real scrutiny.
Yesterday, on an issue where coverage was led by male journalists in the defence, foreign policy and general politics rounds, they were almost as one entirely gullible. Boys and their toys?
Readers and audiences have been badly served. But not remotely as badly as taxpayers have been and will be for decades.
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‘No timeframe, let alone a date': France has no immediate plans to speak to Canberra .
Meantime, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson have moved to heal a damaging rift triggered by the Morrison government's AUKUS pact.France has no immediate plans to restore diplomatic relations with Australia, as Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson move to heal a damaging rift triggered by the Morrison government's new pact to counter China.