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Sabtu, 18 September 2021

Australia 'upfront, open and honest' with France about submarine concerns, Peter Dutton says - ABC News

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has defended Australia's handling of a multi-billion-dollar submarine contract with France, describing his government as "upfront, open and honest" about its concerns with the deal.

France is furious about the federal government's decision to scrap the $90 billion project to build a fleet of conventional diesel-electric submarines and has taken the dramatic step of recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington.

The country's Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Australia told Paris about its plans one hour before Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a transcontinental media conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and United States President Joe Biden on Thursday.

"In a real alliance you talk to each other, you don't hide things, you respect the other party and that is why this is a real crisis," Mr Le Drian told France 2.

Mr Dutton said he understood why the French were upset but insisted the decision should not have come as a complete surprise.

"We conducted a review because over a couple of years now we have been concerned about the contract and the review very clearly indicated to us that nuclear-powered submarine was the best option to keep Australia safe and that is the decision we have taken," he told Sky News.

Tight shot of Dutton standing in front of an Australian flag. He is looking down towards a journalist (not in frame).
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said China was producing submarines, frigates and aircraft at a high rate. (

ABC News: Matt Roberts

)

"Suggestions that the concerns hadn't been flagged by the Australian government just defy what was on the public record and certainly what was said publicly over a long period of time.

"We have been upfront, open and honest."

While the federal government had publicly raised concerns about the $90 billion dollar deal, France was kept in the dark about Australia's discussions with the US and UK that led to a new deal to build nuclear-powered submarines.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government was upfront from the earliest possible time.

"Of course there have been enormous sensitivities to get to the point of being able to announce that discussion," he told Insiders.

Leasing submarines a possibility

It could take about 20 years to build Australia's nuclear-powered submarine fleet and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said the Prime Minister must be up-front with Australians about any "capability gap" the submarine deal would create.

"This is a very big decision, it's a momentous decision, it's a decision which does reflect advice about capability," she said.

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Simon Birmingham said France knew the contract would be cancelled before it was announced.

"Any capability gap that arises as a consequence of Mr Morrison's changes of plan is something the government needs to step up on."

The Collins class vessels were set to be retired in about 2026 but that has been extended until the 2030s. Mr Dutton said leasing submarines from the UK and US was a possibility to fill any potential equipment gaps.

"There is all of that discussion to take place in next 12 to 18 months and already obviously I've met with a number of my counterparts here from the secretary down in terms of those that are making decisions and we will have further discussions with the Brits as well," he said.

Mr Birmingham said it was not just leasing arrangements the government was considering.

"Whether it is lease arrangements or whether it is greater joint operations between our navies in the future that sees our sailors working more closely and indeed potentially on UK and US vessels to get that skill, that training, that knowledge," he said.

Nuclear powered submarines expensive but necessary, Dutton says

The Australian government insists investing in nuclear-powered submarines is essential because the strategic environment has changed and while senior ministers have been reluctant to name China, Mr Dutton made it clear the country was a growing threat to the region.

"There is a very changing and significantly changing circumstance taking place in the Indo Pacific," he told Sky News.

"The Chinese are pumping out submarines and frigates and aircraft carriers at a record rate.

"So the rest of world now for a period of time has really stepped up their production of those assets and that unfortunately is the dynamic in which we are operating in at the moment."

The government is yet to outline the price of the new deal but Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said it was a cost the government would be able to cover.

"We don't have all of the final costs because we are going through a comprehensive 12 to 18 month process in terms of assessing what type of platform, what type of design, what type of infrastructure is going to best be able to be transferred to Australia by the UK and US," he said.

Mr Dutton conceded it would be an expensive but necessary project.

"It is not going to be a cheap project but maintaining peace is not something that comes for free."

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2021-09-19 02:19:38Z
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