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News live updates: Australia’s nuclear submarine plans to be revealed at historic Aukus meeting


Welcome to a special edition of our Australia news live blog as we await the details of the Australia, UK and US strategic agreement, Aukus.

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Australia is about to learn the details of the nuclear-powered submarine plan, with the leaders of the three nations coming together in the US to officially make the announcement.

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The US president, Joe Biden, the British PM, Rishi Sunak, and the Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, are in the US for the photo op of photo ops – there has been immense speculation about this agreement – so this should answer *most* questions.

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We will bring you everything you need to know as soon as the embargo lifts. Our defence and foreign affairs correspondent, Daniel Hurst, will bring you the Australian angles as they emerge, while our UK and US colleagues will cover the international response.

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Ready?

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Let’s get into it.

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Key events

Once the dust has settled on this announcement, it is all going to be about how Australia pays for this.

Estimates have ranged from $170bn to $200bn over the next 30 years. That figure will probably end up looking conservative though –anyone with anything to do with defence contracts knows how these things tend to blow out the budget.

Peter Dutton on ABC 7.30 last night said the Coalition would be willing to provide bipartisan support to make the budget work, mentioning support for potential cuts to the national disability insurance scheme.

Paul Karp reports on that here:

Meanwhile, the Coalition is ready to go to war over super tax concession changes that will only impact earnings over $3m and has flat out dismissed any changes to the stage three tax cuts which are estimated to cost the budget $243bn in lost revenue over the next decade.

Anthony Albanese held a bilateral meeting with Rishi Sunak in San Diego yesterday, where the submarine announcement will be made in imminently.

Both were keen to emphasise “the region” in their comments.

Albanese:

Aukus has been a lot of hard work. But it is in the three countries’ interests. The sum of the three is more than one plus one plus one in this case. And I think that the cooperation we’ve had is really exciting. We see that this is an investment in our capability. But at the same time, of course, we’re investing in our relationships in the region as well. And I’ve been talking with other leaders in the region, as well, explaining our position. And it’s been well-received and understood why we’re doing this. It builds on our long-term relationship.

Sunak:

I know that we’re very excited about it. It’s about our commitment to the Pacific region, which, even though it’s geographically a long way from where we are, it’s important in a way to demonstrate our commitment to the values that we hold dear as countries. But also, it is a good year for UK-Australia more generally. We’ve got a free trade agreement, which is going to get passed through and be enforced. And also, hopefully we will get the English Lionesses to be raising the World Cup later. We’ll see how that goes. That should be exciting for us.

Daniel Hurst also sat down with the head of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine taskforce, V Adm Jonathan Mead, to talk about what this generational change will mean:

Australia will put nuclear safety “above all else” as it begins the “generational challenge” of building and operating nuclear-powered submarines under the Aukus pact, the government’s top adviser has said.

V Adm Jonathan Mead has moved to allay concerns – both at home and across the region – about nuclear safety as Australia, the US and the UK prepare to announce their detailed plans within days.

The head of the Australian government’s nuclear-powered submarine taskforce has also insisted that the likely presence of American and British personnel on Australian boats would not inhibit Australian command and control.

The Aukus agreement itself, which was signed by the previous prime minister Scott Morrison, has caused some reflection from the Albanese government, given what it means for Australia’s strategic step up, as Daniel Hurst examined a couple of days ago:

There was a moment in federal parliament this week when the seriousness of the looming Aukus announcement seemed to dawn on the defence minister, Richard Marles.

“It is difficult to overstate the step that, as a nation, we are about to take,” Marles, in the acting prime minister’s chair, solemnly told the chamber on Thursday.

“Australia will become just the seventh country to have the ability to operate a nuclear-powered submarine. We have never operated a military capability at this level before.”

The statement may not have been intended to raise doubts about whether Australia is up to the task – but it does happen to underline the extremely complex undertaking the country is about to pursue.

Defence watchers are keenly waiting to see how the agreement will play out for Australia:

Australia is set to within a couple of weeks learn some basic details about a program that could cost more than $170bn and will run for decades.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, this week warned against opting for a new UK design. For now though, the Aukus submarine program is a “black box”, says Tom Corben, a foreign policy and defence research fellow at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre.

“We’re just speculating until we get the announcement,” he says, adding that the secret has been very well kept, considering the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is set to go to the US to announce it in March.

And that speculation is running almost as hot as it was in 2016, when France, Germany and Japan were competing to build a replacement for Australia’s ageing Collins class fleet.

Before we get to the announcement, it is worth looking back at how we got here.

There have been some understandable jitters from our regional neighbours since the Aukus deal was announced, as Daniel Hurst has reported:

The Australian government has sought to assure south-east Asian and Pacific countries that its nuclear-powered submarine plan – to be announced early next week – aims to safeguard “the peace and the stability of our region”.

After a series of leaks about the potential shape of the Aukus deal, the opposition offered bipartisan support to the government’s overall decisions, while pledging to “fight to make sure the outcome is achieved as quickly as possible”.

The comments follow a report by the Guardian that the long-term plan for Australian nuclear-powered submarines would likely involve a British submarine design with heavy use of American technology.

We’ll get these answers very soon – but here is a list of questions ahead of the nuclear submarine announcement, including what we know so far and what we are still waiting to learn.

Good morning

Welcome to a special edition of our Australia news live blog as we await the details of the Australia, UK and US strategic agreement, Aukus.

Australia is about to learn the details of the nuclear-powered submarine plan, with the leaders of the three nations coming together in the US to officially make the announcement.

The US president, Joe Biden, the British PM, Rishi Sunak, and the Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, are in the US for the photo op of photo ops – there has been immense speculation about this agreement – so this should answer *most* questions.

We will bring you everything you need to know as soon as the embargo lifts. Our defence and foreign affairs correspondent, Daniel Hurst, will bring you the Australian angles as they emerge, while our UK and US colleagues will cover the international response.

Ready?

Let’s get into it.



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