Australia pays former US defence chiefs $7000 a day for advice

The federal government is paying retired senior American military officials up to $7500 a day for advice on major defence projects such as the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine pact.

The government this week announced that, following its sweeping defence strategic review, retired United States Navy vice admiral William Hilarides would be hired to lead a snap review of the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet.

The snap review of the navy’s surface fleet will examine planned purchases of Hunter-class frigates and offshore patrol vessels.

The review, to be handed to the government later this year, will examine whether planned fleets of Australian-made frigates and patrol vessels should be cut to free up money for smaller and more nimble vessels.

Hilarides has previously charged the Australian government US$4000 ($6000) a day for his consulting services, according to US Navy documents first reported by .

Hilarides has won naval consulting contracts from the federal government worth up to $1.6 million ($2.4 million) since 2016, according to figures from the Department of Defence.

Hilarides serves as chair of the Australian naval shipbuilding expert advisory panel and advised the government over the past 18 months while it finalised the deal with the United States and Britain to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy defended Hilarides’ appointment to the new navy fleet review this week, saying he had “a long association with Australia” and would do a good job.

In an investigation published last year described Hilarides, a career submariner, as part of a large group of former senior US officials that Australia had relied upon heavily to guide its naval policies.

“To an extraordinary degree in recent years, Australia has relied on high-priced American consultants to decide which ships and submarines to buy and how to manage strategic acquisition projects,” said.

Retired admiral John Richardson, who headed the United States Navy from 2015 to 2019, has received US$5000 ($7570) a day as a part-time consultant to the federal, according to documents released by the Pentagon to the US Congress.

Richardson was hired by the Department of Defence last November to provide advice on the best pathway for Australia to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

According to the documents, Richardson receives travel and lodging expenses to complete his work in Australia.

Richardson, the former US navy chief, told “I spent most of my life helping to keep America and our allies and partners safe and secure.

“It’s a privilege to be invited to be able to use my experience, and help where I can to continue that work.”

Defence Minister Richard Marles on Thursday said outside advice was crucial to ensuring the government makes the correct decisions about significant defence policies.

“When we seek expert advice in relation to critical issues and challenges that we face, we have a global perspective in terms of where we seek that advice from and that’s really important because we want the very best advice,” he said.

“We make no apology for that because the kinds of challenges and decisions we’re making are profoundly important for the future of our country and where we have sought advice from those former officials in the US Navy that has been on issues of profound importance for our nation’s future.”

Greens defence spokesman David Shoebridge said he was shocked that Australia could seemingly not find local experts available to do these jobs.

“If that is true then it’s a pretty extraordinary failure on the part of the government and the ADF,” he said.

“You can only really explain this by Defence’s ongoing dependence on, and deference to, the US.”

He said it was remarkable that the US government had been more transparent than Australian government contracts than the federal government.

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