Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not commit to building Australia’s nuclear powered submarines locally, saying any industry development considerations will be trumped by the need to acquire the capability as soon as possible.
The refusal, made Wednesday as the AUKUS arrangement was expanded to other technologies, follows Defence Minister Peter Dutton also flagging Australia would need to “get the balance right” between supporting local industry and securing capabilities in response to rising foreign threats.
The AUKUS arrangement was announced in September and the “intent” to build new nuclear powered submarines in Australia was a welcome direction for the local defence industry because the new plan also meant the previous submarine program was being scrapped.
A taskforce is continuing to assess options for acquiring the new submarines, including which vessel type and where they will be built.
In February, Defence Minister Peter Dutton had to address concerns about local industry missing out after a high-ranking Defence official told an industry conference the department is “maturing beyond ascribing a percentage” of local industry involvement and was unlikely to set a minimum like previous major ship builds.
A few weeks later the minister suggested a decision on submarine type would be revealed before the election after the taskforce made significant progress earlier this year.
But he was promptly contradicted by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said a decision was not anticipated before the election because of the processes that would be required stretching into a caretaker period.
On Wednesday, during an announcement about the expansion of the AUKUS arrangement to hypersonic technologies and electronic warfare, the Prime Minister backed away from any commitment to local industry.
He was asked if he could guarantee if the new submarines, beyond the nuclear reactor, would be built in Australia.
“We’re working through all of those issues at present what, and that is certainly our intention to maximise all of that [local manufacturing]. Of course it is,” he told reporters.
“But it’s also the paramount goal is to ensure we get that capability as soon as we can, and it’s in the best form that it can be working with our partners.”
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