Prime Minister Scott Morrison has further damaged Australia's reputation both overseas and from within his own Government, writes John Wren.
MOST OF THE NEWS CYCLE over the last two weeks has been dominated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s duplicitous announcement of an intention to source nuclear submarines from either the USA or UK (or potentially both).
Like almost every single significant announcement Morrison has made over the last few years, it was first met with praise by Australia’s sycophantic media cohort, then after a few days of analysis and reflection a crescendo of criticism built that culminated in Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, highlighting the announcement’s myriad flaws and correctly identifying it as a security threat.
It’s typical of Morrison — management by announcement. It’s all about the marketing headline and always with little substance to back it up. In some respects, it’s a mirror of his “Back in Black” budget surplus announcement – premature – and as it happens, this week we also learned that rather than the promised surplus, he actually delivered the biggest deficit on record.
Yes, he’ll blame the pandemic, however, any economist will tell you Australia was well on the path to recession and an associated deficit long before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic – fortunately for Morrison, not so much for the rest of us – masked his fiscal incompetence.
But back to the submarines. There is no question that nuclear submarines are superior to conventionally powered submarines. They have greater range, can stay submerged for months if necessary and are stealthier (a key criterion for all submarines), however, they are also fiendishly more expensive and require a nuclear industry in order to keep them at sea.
However, Australia has no significant nuclear industry. It maintains one small very old reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney that mainly produces medical nuclear isotopes and for medical tracing and sterilisation.
The original French designed submarines that Morrison has spectacularly dumped were French Suffren-class nuclear-powered vessels that were (unbelievably) being retrofitted with diesel engines. The reason the French subs were not originally specified with nuclear power was Australia’s lack of a local nuclear industry. The French ships use lower grade nuclear fuel than American designs so need a local industry to provide the necessary enriched uranium to power them.
The American submarines actually use weapons-grade uranium, largely sourced from decommissioned nuclear warheads. Because they use a higher-grade fuel, the submarines can be supplied with a reactor that needs no new fuel for over 30 years, the effective life of the submarine. This means that Australia would not need a local nuclear industry to fuel its ships.
It does, however, mean we would not be able to service our vessels in Australia. The ships would need to spend significant time periodically in U.S. (or UK) shipyards for reactor maintenance. Australia would lose effective sovereignty of its submarine fleet.
Not only that, but it has now been revealed that Morrison’s announcement was little more than an intention to source said submarines. The exact model and specifications have not even been decided and won’t be yet for many months. Even then, we won’t take delivery of our first submarine for 20 years. This leaves Australia with only its aging Collins-class submarines as a “deterrent” for at least a decade past their effective use-by dates. Hence the decision leaves a significant flaw in our already stretched defences for many years. It is why Turnbull legitimately described the announcement as a security threat.
But perhaps what’s even worse about this decision is the deceitfulness Morrison has shown to the French. Right up until the announcement, the French submarine builders were being assured nothing was awry. Morrison even claimed he had discussed the matter with French President Emmanuel Macron when they met in Paris earlier this year.
As with all things, there are unintended consequences. Any competent diplomat would have seen the link between not upsetting the EU’s most important member and the only member with its own sovereign nuclear weapons, and the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. That FTA will almost certainly not go ahead any time soon. Macron is apparently not even taking Morrison’s calls. And any chance Australia has of negotiating an exemption for the coming carbon taxes on imports to Europe have largely been frittered away by Morrisons’s perfidy.
But Morrison is far from a competent diplomat. He is an international buffoon, who most world leaders trust as little as most Australians do. U.S. President Joe Biden keeps him at arms-length. Biden can see a populist right-wing evangelical coming a mile away. He has dealt with them his entire political career. Morrison’s only real international friend is fellow conservative clown, UK PM Boris Johnson. And even he is putting immense pressure on Morrison to come to the party on climate change.
This brings us to Morrison’s domestic challenge on climate change. He “leads” a Party horribly divided on the issue, that is in turn married to a minor Party that is pathologically obsessed with coal and vehemently opposed to taking any action on climate change. Morrison wants to commit to net zero by 2050 so that he can participate at the coming Glasgow Climate Summit, but doing so risks blowing up his Government. Morrison is so compromised he is now considering not even attending the summit. Should he not attend, it will confirm Australia is an international climate pariah.
And climate pariahs like Australia will become the new apartheid regimes; as South Africa was in the 1970s and 80s, we will increasingly be subjected to economic sanctions (such as the European carbon taxes), travel restrictions and sporting and cultural boycotts. Our standard of living and way of life will erode.
It is now a matter of urgency that the corrupt Morrison regime is removed from power. Our very future is at stake.
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