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Defence Minister insists AUKUS will enhance Australia’s sovereignty, not dependence on US

Australians are being assured the controversial AUKUS pact will not undermine this country’s sovereignty or increase military dependence on the United States, as an announcement looms on the nuclear submarine project.

Key points:
A retired former US naval chief believes it is possible for the subs to be in the water within 30 years
The AUKUS agreement has been criticised by former prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating
Mr Marles will argue the submarines will increase our sovereignty

In an address to Parliament on Thursday, Richard Marles will hit back at critics including former prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating, by arguing the controversial partnership “expands strategic options”.

Next month the federal government is due to reveal the “optimal pathway” for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which Mr Marles has indicated could be a new design between all three countries.

“The capability decisions we will make in the context of AUKUS are about strengthening our sovereignty,” Mr Marles will argue, according to speaking notes distributed by his office ahead of his speech.

“Some argue that Australia’s reliance on our partners for the acquisition of naval nuclear-propulsion technology gives rise to a dependence that undermines Australia’s sovereignty.”

Opponents of the AUKUS project warn the project breaches Australia’s international nuclear non-proliferation obligations and undermine this country’s sovereignty, an assertion the Defence Minister rejects.

“The reality is that almost all of Australia’s high-end capability is developed in cooperation with our partners,” Mr Marles is expected to say.

“Submarines are no exception. And that dramatically enhanced capability dramatically enhances our sovereignty,” the Defence Minister will tell the House of Representatives.

“We need to leverage expertise from the United Kingdom and the United States to help us along our optimal pathway — and building capability with them means we are better able to shape, deter and respond within our strategic landscape.”

When the AUKUS partnership was unveiled in 2021 former prime minister Keating warned it would lead to a “a further dramatic loss of Australian sovereignty, as material dependency on the US robbed Australia of any freedom or choice in any engagement Australia may deem appropriate”.

His view is shared by Mr Turnbull, who argues “nuclear-powered submarines to be acquired from the US will not be able to be operated or maintained without the supervision of the US Navy”.

Could be in the water within 30 years
One of the most respected naval figures in the United States has predicted an Australian nuclear-powered submarine could be developed within 30 years, far sooner than many experts anticipate.

Retired Admiral Harry Harris, a former commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, has urged the AUKUS partners to speed up delivery of the fleet which he said would change the balance of power in the region.

“You know some people — the Chief of Naval Operations — have said it could be 30 years before we see an Australian nuclear submarine underway in the Indian Ocean,” Admiral Harris told a Congressional hearing.

“I said that if we put our hearts and minds to it, and our resources to it — and by ‘ours’ I mean ours, the United States’, the UK’s and Australia’s — we can do this faster than that.

“I mean, we put a man on the moon in eight years, and we developed a COVID vaccine in one year. We can do this, but we’re going to have to put our shoulders to the task.”

source: abc