Opposition leader Peter Dutton has doubled down on his comments that Australia should seek to acquire America’s Virginia class nuclear submarines, rather than a British or new trilateral design.
Mr Dutton said that if the goal was to achieve a nuclear submarine capability as quickly as possible, then America’s existing Virginia class submarines are “the best option”.
“There is great capacity in the American system, particularly if we are able to pay for additional lines in Connecticut and elsewhere, including in Australia, to build blocks here, to support the program development otherwise,” Mr Dutton said.
The Liberal leader also warned that going with a new design rather than an existing class of submarine would lead to time and cost blowouts.
“The first of anything in defence is always problematic,” he said.
“If you’re talking about a frigate, if you’re talking about a tank, if you’re talking about a submarine, the new design always comes with delay and with additional cost.
“That was the problem with the French proposal – the design takes years and years and years.
“And that’s the risk around the [nuclear submarine] project.”
This contrasts with recent comments by Defence Minister Richard Marles, who said the “optimal path” for Australia’s nuclear submarine program was a “truly trilateral” solution – comments that suggest a new design.
Despite his preference for America’s Virginia class submarines, Mr Dutton said the opposition would support whatever decision the government makes.
“If they decide to go with the Brits, if they decide to go with co-design, if they decide to go with the American Virginia class, we will support that decision because we want that acquisition as quickly as possible,” he said.
On Wednesday the Liberal leader said that when he was defence minister in the previous government the advice to him was that there was no extra capacity in the UK submarine program to support additional demand from Australia.
This led Labor’s Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy to accuse Dutton of being “incredibly irresponsible”
“I think those comments from Peter Dutton are incredibly irresponsible. This was a man who received classified briefings up until the 21st of May on this program,” Mr Conroy said.
“He is either being mischievous or he isn’t privy to the latest information.”
Mr Dutton rejected the criticism, calling Mr Conroy a “junior Woodchuck” sent out because Defence Minister Richard Marles “didn’t want to come out himself.”