Subs criticism rises as production line breaks surface
As Australia takes its first steps to establish to a nuclear-powered submarine production line, its announcement by federal Labor has been torpedoed by one of its own.
Former prime minister Paul Keating fired a withering salvo at his former party, labelling AUKUS the worst international decision by an ALP government in more than a century.
As Mr Keating unloaded over the deal on Wednesday, more questions were raised about its $368 billion price tag and how nuclear waste would be disposed of.
But the government shrugged off the criticism as it announced the Commonwealth would hand over defence land to South Australia to enable the Osborne shipyard to build the nuclear boats, alongside production lines in the US and UK.
The government will also back an additional 800 university places in South Australia for engineers and scientists. The first 200 students will start in 2024, with an academy be set up at Osborne for apprentices and trade training.
Australia, the UK and US have outlined the path to acquiring eight nuclear-powered submarines over the next three decades.
"Developing this capability for our nation will make our nation more safe. Developing this capacity for Australia will have us taken more seriously around the world," Defence Minister Richard Marles said.
"We have to take the step of developing the capability to operate a nuclear-powered submarine so that we can hand over a much more self-reliant nation to our children and to our grandchildren."
Mr Marles told ABC 7.30 the strategic intent of the submarines was to defend Australia and the government had engaged in a "massive diplomatic effort" to make this clear.
"This capability is the most important capability we will have in terms of making our contribution to regional security and to underpinning that (global rules-based) order," he said.
China warned the nuclear submarines were setting AUKUS on a "path of error and danger" that disregarded international concerns.
"We firmly oppose the three countries coercing the IAEA into it," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular news briefing.
Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie hit back at the comments, describing them as hypocritical.
"They are undergoing the biggest peacetime military expansion since the Second World War, which includes nuclear weapons. So to lecture us is rather ironic," he said.
Mr Hastie said it was important to maintain a relationship with China but the strategic environment was deteriorating.
Mr Keating said it was nonsense to suggest China was strategically interested in anything other than to "keep their front door clean".
He said China would relish a better relationship with Australia.
"We've manufactured a problem. Don't let the sleeping dogs lie, we're giving the old dog a kicking," he told the National Press Club.
The plan to dispose of nuclear waste from the submarines is also becoming a point of contention.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the government had been silent about how to dispose of the nuclear material powering the submarines.
Mr Marles said the waste would be stored on defence land and Australia had time to make sure the process was done properly.
A plan outlining how the waste will be handled is due to be released this year.
The massive price tag of up to $368 billion for the agreement has also been questioned, with independent senator David Pocock saying the government had continually pointed out how tight the budget was.
"We've heard we can't spend money on things that are really important to our communities and to our country. This is a massive spending commitment for decades to come," he said.
"Clearly that money has to come from somewhere."