Defence minister defends $4.6 billion payment to bail out 'stretched' UK

Richard Marles says Labor knew the UK and the US were both 'stretched' when signing the $368 billion AUKUS deal last year.

Defence Minister Richard Marles says the Labor government knew the US and UK were "stretched" when striking the AUKUS submarine deal 12 months ago.

The deal, which has a predicted overall cost of $368 billion, has a host of critics who fear the deal, which will only see Australia deliver its own nuclear-powered submarines after 2040, is too ambitious and too much of a gamble.

On Friday, Australia announced it would give $4.6 billion to the UK to help keep the timeline for the subs on track. Nuclear reactors for the subs being built in Adelaide are to come from a UK facility. On Sunday, Marles denied Australia was at the back of the queue in the UK with its shipbuilding industry facing a backlog.

Richard Marles defended the latest payment overseas as part of the AUKUS deal. Source: ABC
Richard Marles defended the latest payment overseas as part of the AUKUS deal. Source: ABC

"We knew that the industrial base was stretched, which is why we made the decision last year to make a contribution to the industrial bases of [the UK and the US] in order to allow them to do what they needed to do to enable Australia to acquire this capability," Marles told the ABC's Insiders.

"The biggest gamble of all would be to not seek to acquire a capable, highly capable, long-range submarine capability for the future."

Questions AUKUS nuclear subs will never arrive

While Marles said the contribution gives Australia "comfort" the deal will deliver on track, Hugh White, emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at ANU, questioned last month whether the submarines would ever be delivered.

He questioned why Australia didn't opt for conventionally-powered submarines with one eye on China's ever-increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

"We can get a big fleet in the next 20 years rather than the next 40 or 50, and we'll do it with a lot less risk the whole project goes sideways," he told the ABC.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge said the latest AUKUS payment overseas was further proof the deal was "bleeding Australian taxpayers dry".

A nuclear submarine above water.
Australia is due to acquire three Virginia-class nuclear powered submarines from the US by 2033. Source: Getty

"Remarkably, we have an Australian government celebrating sending some $5 billion of Australian taxpayers' money to the United Kingdom to prop up their failing nuclear industry," he told reporters.

But Marles on Sunday said the budget for AUKUS is exactly where the government believed, and had announced, it would be.

The Global Times, China's outspoken nationalistic tabloid, said it was clear Australia faced "many difficulties" in rolling out the submarine deal. "The project has a high degree of uncertainty and may ultimately come to nothing," it said, pointing to a possible change in government in the US.

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