Australia has expressed confidence that its plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines from the United States will withstand decades of risk as a high-level delegation heads down under.
American officials from the State Department, Energy Department and National Security Council will be in Australia this week following Defence Minister Richard Marles’ return from Washington and London.
But legislation to implement the AUKUS pact by reducing arms export controls and allowing Australia to buy the Virginia class nuclear submarines has stalled in the US Congress.
The laws will also give Australia the green light to invest billions in the domestic US shipbuilding industry to make sure it has the capacity to deliver the submarines on time.
No timeline has been put on the funds being transferred amid concerns in the US over the weakening of the American fleet.
“We very much respect the process which still has to play out but there was an overwhelming sense of bipartisan support for the alliance with Australia,” Mr Marles told reporters outside a defence conference in Sydney on Tuesday.
“We are as hopeful as we’ve ever been that we really are on the verge of something which is very different.”
The war in Gaza “does remind us about the fragility of peace”, Mr Marles said as more than 800 defence industry companies, representatives from 40 navies and more than 20 international navy chiefs came together for the Indo Pac conference.
It came at a time when the international rules-based order in the Pacific was under attack, he said.
A review of Australia’s surface navy fleet has been handed to the minister and the government is considering its findings.
“Together what we are doing in respect of our submarines, what we are doing in relation to our surface fleet will define the Royal Australian Navy for the first half of this century,” he said.
“So this conference today could not come at a more significant moment for Australia’s national interest.”
Representatives from China were absent as there was no navy-to-navy relationship between Beijing and Canberra, Australian navy chief Mark Hammond said.
Vice Admiral Hammond also defended the recruitment process for the nuclear submarine and shipbuilding programs as the wider defence force struggled to attract and retain staff.
There had been overwhelming interest in the programs and the separation rate for the navy – the number of people leaving – was only 8.5 per cent and dropping, he said.
“The challenge in front of us is to explain to young Australians, in particular, the opportunities of service in the Royal Australian Navy,” he said.
(Australian Associated Press)