Remember the patriotic fervour when the Future Submarine Program was announced?
“Australian built, Australian jobs, Australian steel, here right where we stand “crowed PM Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne at the announcement of the $50 billion project awarded to French company DCNS.
Sold as an essential element of our national security requirements, this vote buying exercise soon became a byword for political and financial mismanagement.
Within the blink of an eye the $50 billion price tag became $90 billion, and DCNS announced the amount of Australian built componentry would be less than first envisaged.
The 2030 to 2050 timeline for delivery of the 12 submarines would ensure they were rendered obsolete by unmanned drones and cyber warfare long before they entered the water.
Cost and function be damned, our sovereignty obsessed federal government persisted.
The supply contract with the French had a clause naming September 2021 as the point at which Australia could exit the contract for a large penalty or exit past September for a colossal penalty.
And let’s not forget these French submarines were designed for nuclear power but now were to be re-engineered to diesel electric power at Australia’s request.
Which brings us to where we are now – with no confirmation of the cost of breaking the contract (French media is reporting at least AU$140 million) and the government anchoring us to nuclear powered submarines via the new AUKUS pact with the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
The press conference language was heavy on strategic alliance, national interests and volatile regional pressures, yet light on specifics such as costs and timeline. Certainly there was no mention of against whom the submarines would be deployed.
The submarines on our shopping list are the US Virginia class or British Astute class submarines, both are First Strike Weapons with the ability to carry nuclear missiles. Australia is slated to build 8 submarines in South Australia, and according to PM Morrison “maximising the use of Australian workers.”
Morrison lauded the stealth, endurance and speed capabilities that nuclear power brings to ‘’protect shared values and promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.’’
Morrison denied there is any plan to acquire nuclear weapons, claiming Australia will stick to its nuclear non-proliferation commitments. Morrison has given no detail on where the nuclear engineering expertise to manufacture and maintain what he called ‘’next generation’’ onboard reactors will come from.
So, to be clear, the Federal Government botched the French deal, committed us to submarines that are designed for nuclear weapons but won’t have them, doesn’t have clarity on the expertise to manufacture and maintain nuclear reactors, wants to keep the late 2030’s timeline quiet, but is happy to bask in the reflected patriotism of the AUKUS pact.
This same government has the power to decide amongst itself if Australia goes to war: no consultation with the Australian people is required.
None of the AUKUS pageantry or press releases named the real reason for phase 2 of the submarine boondoggle – China.
The expanding military presence of China in the South China Sea and increased cyber attacks by China on Western corporations and infrastructure (coupled with a dose of xenophobia and Covid conspiracy theory) is fuelling tension with the United States; or what Morrison calls Indo-Pacific security challenges.
Minister of Defence Peter Dutton on the other hand has recently been increasingly strident in his criticism of China, even going as far as not ruling out the prospect of war with China and that conflict was a risk Australia had to be prepared for.
Having just exited a failed invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, wouldn’t this be the perfect time for a period of introspection on the part of the West?
As for Afghanistan, the question must be asked – what does the West think war with China looks like?
As former Prime Minister Paul Keating remarked last week, the Taliban used pickup trucks and AK47 rifles to force the surrender of the USA and its Allies; what are our chances against the vast Chinese military?
Is a ground invasion of China with the surrender of its 1.45 billion people part of the plan? Long range nuclear missiles? Neither of these scenarios have any basis in the real world. They certainly aren’t compatible with the long-term wellbeing of humanity.
We are at an unknown point in the timeline of a global pandemic, yet leaders including ex-Queensland copper Dutton and eschatologist Morrison chose this time to escalate tensions with our largest trading partner and further entangle us in blind American exceptionalism and profligate spending on the machinery of war.
Collateral damage to our historic relations with France and New Zealand was apparently an afterthought.
We lease part of the Darwin port and sell large agribusinesses to the Chinese in private, yet call China a sovereign threat in public. Via globalization we love cheaply made Chinese goods, whilst wanting a war with China to keep their trade routes to us open.
The whole situation would be farcical if it did not have deadly consequences. In the place of diplomacy, tolerance and forbearance, we are seeing Cold War era style posturing which will profit only war-mongers and power-hungry politicians.
Expecting more than posturing from our Prime Minister is foolhardy. Recently Morrison stage managed the song ‘Danger Zone’ from the Top Gun movie to be played on loudspeakers when he entered a hangar at Williamtown RAAF Base to view the first Australian F35 jet fighter. Morrison’s juvenile relationship to the military is obvious, and reminiscent of Trump’s ego-boosting theatrics.
Australians deserve a better quality of leadership than this.
By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.