Mercury (Hobart)

Nuke subs tie Aussies to US war machine ... With Trump still in the wings

Warns of an avalanche of dangers that will come tumbling Down Under if Australia buys into hi-tech British and American industrial warfare


THE decision by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to cancel the $90 billion French built submarine project is dangerous in many ways.

It is a first step to Australia losing its independen­t military and foreign affairs policies and handing it to the US.

Second, it is moving down the road to nuclear power.

Third, it makes us a target for any conflict between China and the US and we will be as dispensabl­e as Taiwan or Afghanista­n.

Fourth, our reputation for contracts and agreements is put at risk. Who would want to sign a large contract with Australia, given that $2.4 billion has been spent on the cancelled French contract and litigation has not even started.

The PM wants a khaki election — one centred on military and security issues.

A khaki election allows government­s to dress in the flag and nationalis­m. It allows them to place expenditur­e, mainly military, wherever it likes with almost no scrutiny about value. Any questions are dismissed as security in confidence, or commercial in confidence. Watch how many times the PM uses those terms over the next few months.

Virtually every big military project I have seen up close has had cost overruns that would not be tolerated in civilian projects. Overruns can at times be justified. Defence needs change as new enemies emerge or technology leaps ahead.

Or, the decision is rushed and the builders have to do too many difficult things. For example, the original design of the French submarines was based on nuclear propulsion and significan­t engineerin­g changes were needed to convert them to diesel electric.

Have no doubt, the competitio­n for a $90billion contract is vicious and losers do not give up. It would be interestin­g to see why the UK is back in the ring as part of the new security deal in what is now being called AUKUS.

In terms of nuclear energy propelling the proposed new subs, it is worth reminding people that nuclear-powered subs are generally preferable to diesel electric power in terms of speed and capacity to stay under water longer but are less effective, because of their bulk, than diesel electrics in coastal waters or estuaries. They also need concentrat­ed uranium/plutonium as their power plants and this creates safety issues should an accident occur or fuel is stolen and used in weapons.

In terms of maintenanc­e the proposed new nuclearpow­ered subs will be reliant on the US for parts, maintenanc­e and developmen­t support let alone nuclear energy required.

The new subs and locking step with the US makes us a satellite of a useful friend but a bad master. Our experience in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanista­n shows us the US can get it badly wrong. If we proceed with the six or so subs and the security deal we will be a potential target if we go to war with China.

China has over 60 subs and forward bases in Asia that will be used against us as a US ally. Chinese strategist­s will not differenti­ate between Aussie subs in Perth or in the Derwent, especially if we continue to enmesh ourselves with a difficult ally. Think Trump and think about the possible return of an even crazier Trump in three years. This makes it even more

important that we rely on building diplomatic alliances with other neighbours in our region. Building subs does not necessaril­y do that.

The Australian government has told us they will not arm our proposed new subs with nuclear weapons or build a nuclear industry to support it.

That is a fallacy. This government has a history of incrementa­l creep — bit by bit, changing policies and bringing in the next option.

Just look at the national security powers that have allowed all citizens phones to be watched without a warrant and the aggressive powers of arrest over security leaks.

If we move to have nuclear power in order to help supply and maintain our subs we hand that option to our nearest neighbours.

Take the volatile politics of Islamic Indonesia which might feel the need to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Bit by bit, Southeast Asia becomes nuclear weaponised.

Nuclear safety and waste disposal is also a critical issue.

From nuclear reactor accidents at Five Mile Island to Chernobyl to Fukushima and accidents in nuclear subs such as the Kursk, the nuclear industry has a lamentable safety record. If radiation levels are very high in Sweden after the Chernobyl reactor breakdown in then Russian Chernobyl, other citizens suffer let alone those near the blast or meltdown.

I am not a Luddite, opposing new technologi­es but I did spend a great deal of time on the Senate Committee on Foreigh Affairs and Defence where we conducted a long, detailed probe into the issue of nuclear armed and propelled ships in our ports.

When we were introducin­g small safety changes, like recommendi­ng that nuclear ships entering Hobart should stay away from the hospital and anchor in the Derwent, the New Zealanders put in place a permanent ban on nuclear ships entering their ports.

The port of Darwin was sold to the Chinese by the same government now spending $90 billion on subs that will not be ready for 20 years. Does that make sense?

Terry Aulich is a former Labor senator and now runs Aulich & Co, a Hobart based internatio­nal privacy company.

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