Malcolm Turnbull has become the second former prime minister in as many days to slam the government’s historic AUKUS nuclear submarines deal.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a $368billion deal with the United States and the United Kingdom on Tuesday, securing eight high-tech submarines over the next 30 years.
On Wednesday, ex-Labor PM Paul Keating described AUKUS as ‘the worst deal since World War 1’.
Mr Turnbull apologised on ABC Radio for not being able to ‘express his concerns as colourfully as Paul’s’, before going on to also savage the deal.
‘The reality is this will take a lot more time, cost a great deal more money – have a lot more risk and cost a lot more money than if we had proceeded with the submarine project we had with France, that Morrison recklessly cancelled,’ he said.
Mr Turnbull also raised doubts over the UK’s ability to uphold their end of the deal – which involves starting to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarine by the end of this decade.
‘The bottom line is their economy is sick. It’s got fundamental, sort of existential problems,’ he said.
Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades under a fast-tracked plan to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific
‘You’ve got to ask yourself, whether Britain is going to be able to sustain investment in its navy and its military in the years ahead, given the huge demand that they’ve got elsewhere.’
The UK’s economy has suffered repeated blows on the back of Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine and instability from constant leadership changes.
Despite his qualms, Mr Turnbull noted the AUKUS deal is ‘done and set’.
‘I don’t think there’s any turning back from it,’ he said
Mr Turnbull, who was PM as leader of the Liberal Party from 2015 to 2018, also questioned whether there had been a thorough risk assessment.
‘This is not a criticism, it’s an observation of reality. Every new class of naval vessel carries with it enormous risks,’ he said.
But he rejected Mr Keating’s description of the deal as ‘the worst since WW1’, arguing: ‘I wouldn’t buy into that. My concerns are more limited.’
Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating lashed the Albanese government over the AUKUS defence pact
Malcolm Turnbull has become the second former prime minister in as many days to slam the government’s historic AUKUS nuclear submarines deal
Mr Turnbull said there had not been enough discussion about the pros and cons of the deal beforehand.
‘Morrison deceived the French, misled the Americans, shocking business. He did it all in secret. He boasts about it… He had an obsession with secrecy.
‘There has not been a fully transparent public debate about these issues. We’ve been caught up in this hoopla and everyone who expresses any concerns it is implied they’re lacking patriotism.
‘I think there are big issues.’
Nevertheless, the criticism pales in comparison to the comments made by Mr Keating on Wednesday.
During an appearance at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the famously acid-tongued ex-PM took swipes at Anthony Albanese, Richard Marles, Penny Wong, US President Joe Biden, intelligence agencies and virtually any reporter who dared ask him a question.
‘Because I’ve got a brain. Principally,’ he said. ‘And I can think. And I can read. And I read every day.
‘I mean, why would China want to threaten… What would be the point? They get the iron ore, the coal, the wheat.
‘What would be the point of China wanting to occupy Sydney and Melbourne? Militarily?’
‘And could they ever do it? Could they ever bring the numbers here? It would be an armada of troop ships to do it.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a $368billion deal with the United States and the United Kingdom on Tuesday, securing eight high-tech submarines over the next 30 years
‘So you don’t need a briefing from the dopey security agencies that we have in Canberra to tell you that. I mean, I know you’re trying to ask a question, but the question is so dumb, it’s hardly worth an answer.’
But Mr Albanese hit back on Thursday, arguing Australia’s relationship with China is markedly different to what it was three decades ago.
‘The world has changed,’ he told 3AW radio.
‘China has changed his posture, and its position in world affairs since the 1990s when Paul Keating was active in politics, as a parliamentarian and as a leader.
‘My job is to govern Australia in 2023 based upon what we see is the facts before us.’
Mr Keating accused the Albanese government of accepting the $360 billion deal, which was negotiated by the preceding Morrison government, in just 24 hours.
‘How would you do this in 24 hours?’ Mr Keating asked.
‘You can only do it if you have no perceptive ability to understand the weight of the decisions you’re being asked to make.
What is AUKUS?
- AUKUS is a trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States aimed at deterring Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.
- Mr Albanese revealed $368billion will be spent on eight nuclear-powered submarines including three US Virginia-class nuclear submarines and a range of new SSN-AUKUS-class hybrid vessels.
- Australian submariners are already training in nuclear submarine technology in the US with the aim to eventually build the vessels on home soil by the 2040s.
‘It’s what other people call incompetence. I’ll call it maybe ‘trying’.’
Calling it the worst decision by a Labor government since World War I when Prime Minister Billy Hughes supported conscription, Mr Keating said the whole deal was based on the false notion that China posed a direct threat to Australia.
‘This is a distortion and it’s untrue,’ Mr Keating said of this idea. ‘The Chinese have never implied that they would threaten us or said it explicitly.’
Mr Keating ridiculed the notion that the submarines would protect Australia from a Chinese invasion.
‘The idea that we need American submarines to protect us, if we buy eight, three are at sea,’ he said.
‘Three are going to protect us from the might of China. Really! I mean, the rubbish of it. The rubbish.’
Mr Keating argued that all the deal did was pull Australia into the US strategic orbit to maintain their dominance of the Asia Pacific region but leaving the national interest in ‘deep doo-doo’.
Mr Keating also took aim at Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong saying the AUKUS deal was a failure of strategic thinking.
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