The relationship with Indonesia won’t suffer as Australia pursues the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says.

Indonesia is concerned about the use of nuclear technology and Australia’s plan to get nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS security pact.

Jakarta is taking the issue to a conference in New York which is reviewing the UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

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When asked if pursuing the nuclear submarines would damage relations with Indonesia, Mr Albanese said Australia enjoyed a “very positive” relationship with its northern neighbour.

“I made sure that my first bilateral visit as the new Australian prime minister was to Indonesia, to sit down one-on-one with President Widodo,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Those discussions were collegiate. They were constructive. And I believe that they advanced that relationship.”

Mr Albanese said he wouldn’t discuss “diplomatic measures” publicly.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said measures like welding shut the nuclear material in the submarines would make it easier to have “accountability and verification” of Australia’s handling of such materials.

“We’ve made it clear that a condition of moving down this path was that this did not contribute to proliferation – that’s a commitment we take very seriously,” Mr Marles told AAP.

“We’re confident of that both in terms of very stringent verification and accountability, but also making sure we’ll never develop the kind of capabilities in Australia which would be able to take this material further towards anything that looks like a weapon.

“All of that will satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency but we’re going to be working really closely with them to address the proliferation concerns and make sure the bar is set very high.”

It comes as former chief of the defence force Sir Angus Houston described the current global security climate as the the worst he had seen in his career and lifetime.

He along with former defence minister Stephen Smith will lead an eight-month strategic review of the nation’s defence force, and its “structure, posture and preparedness” in the face of an increasingly aggressive China and unstable region.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said the world had previously “come to the brink of catastrophe” and the nation had a responsibility to de-escalate regional tensions.

“We do not support Australia having a fleet of floating Chernobyls in the form of these submarines that could be bought,” he said. 

The former coalition government dumped a $90 billion submarine contract last year with France’s Naval Group in favour of the nuclear-powered vessels.

A review is in train to look at the suitability of British and American designs, while officials are also working with the international nuclear regulator.

Indonesia told the UN conference the use and sharing of nuclear technologies and materials for military purposes “could run counter to the spirit and objectives” of the non-proliferation treaty.

Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres told the conference Australia is committed to the non-proliferation treaty, and the procurement of such submarines will not violate its obligations.

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Peter Fray
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