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Tony Abbott slams Turnbull Government’s $50b submarine program

The Turnbull government last year signed a massive contract with French firm DCNS for 12 submarines, after also considering German and Japanese designs.

Mr Abbott is now repenting for his self-recognised failure of “not more robustly challenging the nuclear ‘no-go’ mindset”. In an 18-minute mea culpa speech on submarines, the former prime minister laid out what he describes as his “fears” for the $50-billion French submarine program locked in at the end of the Competitive Evaluation Process his Government had ordered.

“We’ve based our proposed sub on an existing design, but one that will need to be so extensively reworked that it’s effective a brand new submarine,” he fretted. He likened the conversion of the French nuclear Barracuda submarine to a conventional diesel-electric boat as “the naval version of putting a four-cylinder engine into an eight-cylinder car”.

Mr Abbott said the Shortfin Barracuda may not be available until the 2030s and would have “less power, less speed, less capability” than the nuclear French submarine on which it is based.

Mr Abbott this afternoon launched an extraordinary critique of the Turnbull government, telling the Centre for Independent Studies, Australia could consider asking the United States for nuclear powered submarines. He likened the conversion of the French nuclear Barracuda submarine to a conventional diesel-electric boat as “the naval version of putting a four-cylinder engine into an eight-cylinder car”.

The former PM said the French design process should continue, but made the case for a nuclear Plan B that could be developed in parallel.

“I’m not saying that we must go nuclear, but I am saying that we should at least consider the option before the opportunity is lost for another several decades,” he said.  Mr Abbott said he was confident a domestic military nuclear industry to supply fuel for the submarines could be cultivated in around a decade.

He said military purchases should prioritise cost and effectiveness over a desire to create local jobs, so the nuclear submarines could be purchased from the United States.

He said the submarines considered by the government — from France, Germany and Japan, were “excellent for their countries’ needs — but none, it seems, for ours”. “Instead of changing what we wanted, we’ve decided — again — to bring an orphan submarine into being,” he said.

Mr Abbott said the French-designed submarines were at early stages, with no contract for them to be built signed yet. “Not more robustly challenging the nuclear no-go mindset is probably the biggest regret I have from my time as PM,” he said. “We have nothing to lose from starting a discussion on this issue with our allies and friends — Britain and France — as well as primarily with the US.”

Senator Payne dismissed Mr Abbott’s suggestion that Australia could instead request nuclear submarines from the United States as expensive and unrealistic.

 

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