Scott Morrison's AUKUS submarine deal and BFF theatre leaves Australia in a tricky spot

www.abc.net.au
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There are big, enduring questions hanging over the announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the UK and US — and they go to the heart of Australia's sovereign capability, writes Laura Tingle.
The federal Coalition have always been keen advocates of contracting things out.

It started in the Howard years, when the delivery of services was contracted out and, over the years, spread to contracting out policy advice — from the public service to richly rewarded consultants who sometimes produce little more than vacuous PowerPoint presentations.

The pandemic has shown the current government is willing to contract out responsibility for things like quarantine, vaccines, and vaccine mandating rules to the states.

But who would ever have thought it would contract out our national security and defence strategy?

For, in a nutshell, that's what has happened in the past week with the decision to embrace a new alliance with our old allies and "forever" friends, based on the decision to buy an (unspecified) nuclear submarine that won't go into service until 2040.

A capability gap

There is a vast amount to unpack in this decision, even amid a sense by the end of the week that the political caravan was moving on to climate change.

It is hard to think of a decision by Australia with such profound implications for our future that has been so redolent of symbolism, yet so completely lacking in substance.

A decision driven so much by valid concerns about defence capability, that leaves us so exposed as to not having any of that capability for the next 20 years — the time when the power balances in our region are going to be decided.

In short, a massive strategic step-up announced to cover a massive capability gap.

The majority view in the political and strategic establishment in Australia believes the strategic position has fundamentally shifted in the past five years and continues to rapidly evolve. China's capacity to scan the oceans, as well as both its military firepower and assertiveness, have all grown exponentially.

And most think that makes nuclear submarines, rather than conventionally powered ones, a rational decision.

It might also make sense to ramp…
Laura Tingle
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