By Staff Writer.
Australia is to spend billions building a nuclear-powered submarine fleet base on the east coast as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country is facing its most dangerous and challenging security environment in 80 years.
In a speech to Sydney’s Lowy Institute on Monday, Mr Morrison warned of an arc of autocracy in which Russia and China seek to reset the world order in their own image.
“We face the spectre of a transactional world, devoid of principle, accountability and transparency, where state sovereignty, territorial integrity and liberty are surrendered for respite from coercion and intimidation, or economic entrapment dressed up as economic reward, ” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Morrison also confirmed a future east coast $10 billion fleet base for the nuclear-powered submarines. Last September, Australia dropped a multi-billion deal with France’s Naval Group to build French attack-class submarines in favour of acquiring an as-yet-unspecified nuclear-powered submarine fleet under the new AUKUS defence partnership.
The Department of Defence canvassed 19 fleet base sites, including Sydney, Jervis Bay and Western Port Bay, before shortlisting Brisbane, Newcastle or Port Kembla as the preferred locations.
Defence says the shortlisted sites made the cut owing to submarine base criteria, which included access to exercise operating areas, proximity to industrial infrastructure, and significant population centres to support personnel and recruitment.
The Australian Government expects groundworks to the chosen site to begin by the end of 2023. Already, Port Kembla is fast shaping up as the preferred choice.
Relatively shallow waters around Brisbane and distance from Defence’s key ammunition dump in southern New South Wales reportedly work against the Queensland capital city.
China Merchants Port Holdings Company’s 50% holding in Newcastle’s port may rule out Newcastle. However, speaking on ABC Radio on Tuesday, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said this wasn’t necessarily the case.
“The Defence Department has gone through a process to shortlist where locations could be and come up with these three sites. The Government’s work is now to go along with the expert advice from Defence.”
Also speaking on Tuesday morning, Independent Senator and former submariner Rex Patrick was highly critical of the nuclear-powered submarines not arriving until 2040.
“What is happening in Ukraine, which could cause the spark to light the tinderbox between China and Taiwan; we’ve had Chinese naval ships off the coast in the Arafura Sea in the last two weeks and Chinese warships regularly venturing into Australia’s economic exclusion zone,” Senator Patrick said. “Everything is happening now. But the Prime Minister wants to have submarines delivered in 2040.”
Senator Patrick says the Defence study of possible submarine fleet base sites found Sydney the optimal location, followed by Jervis Bay. The three shortlisted sites scored low in the analysis. He argues the shortlisted sites are based on politics rather than other criteria.
But Prime Minister Morrison says building the new submarine base is an enormous undertaking. Mr Morrison also argued there is more to rebuffing any arc of autocracy than just building submarines. The PM also underscored the importance of partnerships, infrastructure, and adherence to rules-based global order as short to medium term mitigating elements.
“Our decisions are underpinned by our values as a liberal, democratic country,” the Prime Minister said in reference to his national security agenda. “It extends far beyond the prospect of fighting wars. It is about seeking to shape the changing world we live in to promote peace.”