Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched a fresh broadside against the former coalition government’s handling of the AUKUS security pact, arguing it made the country less safe.
As Anthony Albanese prepares to meet French President Emmanuel Macron this week, Mr Turnbull said the new prime minister would be able to mend the relationship following tensions over a submarine deal.
“Prime Minister Albanese can … turn the page, the events that have occurred obviously can’t be forgotten,” he told ABC TV on Wednesday.
“There’s nothing easy, but Scott Morrison’s departure obviously assists things.”
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Relations with France hit a low point following Australia’s decision to scrap an existing submarine contract in favour of nuclear-powered vessels as part of the AUKUS security pact with the US and UK.
Mr Turnbull is confident the relationship can be repaired, but said Australia would be exposed by not having new submarines under the deal until at least 2040.
“There’s not many Australian governments in my lifetime of which you can say they made Australia less safe, but that’s exactly what Morrison did,” Mr Turnbull said.
“This is where Morrison totally abandoned Australian sovereignty. We love the US, they’re our ally, we’re probably their best ally, but Australia is an independent nation, and we should have our sovereignty.”
Defence Minister Richard Marles said a proposed timeline to acquire a nuclear submarine by 2030 to fill the capability gap was “optimistic”.
“What we were left with by the former government was a real mess in this area and the solution to that mess is answering each of those questions,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
“We need to look at options of bringing all of that forward … (and) how we can get that submarine in service sooner rather than later.”
Defence heads previously told government officials there was an aim to have at least one nuclear-powered submarine in the water by 2040.
The defence minister is reviewing whether to go with a US or UK submarine plan, with the 18-month assessment due in March 2023, when he will also know when the new vessels will be operational.
Part of the review includes bringing forward the time frame within which submarines could be delivered, and stemming from that, what capability gaps would arise.
Despite suggestions by former defence minister Peter Dutton that Australia could acquire US nuclear submarines to fill the capability gaps, Mr Turnbull said it was not a credible idea.
“We are going to have a capability gap in the 2030s, for which there is no solution offered by Dutton or Morrison,” he said.