The United Kingdom’s top envoy in Australia has slapped down Peter Dutton for saying Australia should not acquire nuclear-powered submarines from Britain under the AUKUS pact, personally telling the opposition leader his remarks were unhelpful.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to San Diego next week to announce the type of submarine technology Australia will purchase through the AUKUS partnership with the United States and UK.
Dutton, who was defence minister when AUKUS was announced in September 2021, last week warned against acquiring a future fleet from the UK, saying he thought the American Virginia-class submarines were the best option for Australia.
“The beauty in my mind with the American model, of the Virginia class, was that it was a proven design, it gave us interoperability with the Americans and there will be more American subs in the Indo-Pacific than there will be British submarines,” Dutton said.
Asked about Dutton’s remarks during an appearance at the National Press Club, UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadell said: “I told Mr Dutton myself last night that I didn’t agree with his view”.
Treadell said Dutton was “commenting on an outcome he doesn’t yet know” and added: “I did not think such expressions were helpful on what is a genuine trilateral partnership started under his government.”
Defence Minister Richard Marles has said the AUKUS submarine program will be a “genuine three-country collaboration”, raising expectations the boats will feature both British and American components.
There has been growing speculation Australia could choose a British-designed submarine that is currently under development as the basis of its preferred model.
Nick Childs, a naval expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in January that “there have recently been indications that a design based more on the UK’s planned next-generation submarine, currently dubbed SSNR, has been finding favour, and could potentially be developed further under AUKUS. This may ultimately be the foundation for the plan that eventually breaks surface”.
Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy slammed Dutton’s remarks as “incredibly irresponsible” and “completely unhelpful”.
“He is either being mischievous or he isn’t privy to the latest information,” he said.
With the submarine announcement imminent, federal politicians have been invited to join a new parliamentary friends of AUKUS group to promote the importance of the partnership.
Liberal MP Aaron Violi said the US congress and UK parliament already had similar groups and it was important for Australian politicians to have their own.
“We would like to engage with experts on the rapidly developing opportunities and implications of the AUKUS partnership, including the aspects relating to quantum technology, AI, undersea warfare and hypersonics,” Violi said in a letter to fellow MPs on Wednesday.
“We envisage we would act as a forum for policy discussion among senators and members on overcoming the challenges of the AUKUS partnership.”
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