Richard Marles lashes AUKUS ‘mess’ left behind by Morrison government

Courtney GouldNCA NewsWire
A timeline to acquire nuclear submarines by next decade has been lashed as “optimism in the extreme,” by the defence minister. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
Camera IconA timeline to acquire nuclear submarines by next decade has been lashed as “optimism in the extreme,” by the defence minister. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

A timeline to acquire nuclear submarines by next decade has been lashed as “optimism in the extreme,” by the new defence minister.

Plans for Australia's future submarines are expected to be unveiled by March next year.

But a claim from the former Morrison government that the nuclear power vessels could be delivered by 2030 has been trashed by Labor’s Richard Marles.

“The truth of where the former government left us at the time of the election is that they were looking at a new nuclear submarine in the 2040s,” he said.

NEW MPs
Camera IconMr Marles said the timeline set by the previous government was “optimism in the extreme”. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

“That’s where they were at.

“We will be looking at every option available to try and bring that time forward. I think bringing it forward to eight years from now would be extremely optimistic.”

He heaped the blame on his predecessors leaving behind a “mess” that set up a capability gap between the retirement of the ageing Collins class and the new vessels.

“Their inaction, their failures, their bangles effectively opened up a 20-year capability (gap) and what now that’s a gap that we intend to do our best to close,” Mr Marles said.

Defence’s nuclear submarine task force is midway through its 18-month “scoping plan” to decide which vessel Australia will go with.

Mr Marles said the study was on track to meet the deadline set by the former government, and he would then have a better idea on whether an “interim” conventionally powered submarine will be required to fill the gap.

“We need to look at options of bringing all of that forward … (and) how we can get that submarine in service sooner rather than later,” he said.

Mr Marles comments come as Malaysia’s Foreign Minister raised concerns about the AUKUS agreement signed last year.

Saifuddin Abdullah has previously noted the security arrangements had the potential to risk a regional arms race.

PRIME MINISTER
Camera IconThe AUKUS deal signed last year by Scott Morrison raised eyebrows of some of our neighbours. Newswire/Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

In a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Penny Wong, he told reporters he had communicated that Malaysia’s position remained unchanged.

“We want to maintain the South China Sea in particular and the region as a whole as a region of peace, of commerce, of prosperity,” he said.

“We had a very candid discussion on Aukus just now and I thank (Australia’s) foreign minister for explaining the government’s position. Malaysia’s position remains the same. I have mentioned that to the foreign minister.”

NEW MPs
Camera IconMr Marles sought to downplay concerns on Wednesday. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

On Wednesday, Mr Marles – who is currently the acting Prime Minister while Anthony Albanese is abroad – sought to hose down Malaysia’s concerns of nuclear proliferation.

“We’re really confident that the way in which we will be pursuing this does not do that. It is a very important principle,” he said.

“No precedents are going to be set. It is important that as we modernise our military as we spend more on defence, that we are transparent about that.

“That we accompany that with reassuring statecraft so that our neighbours do have a sense of confidence about why we are acquiring the capabilities that we are and for what purpose.”

Originally published as Richard Marles lashes AUKUS ‘mess’ left behind by Morrison government

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