The US and UK will give nuclear propulsion information to Australia following a legally binding agreement that marks a first for the two nations sharing the sensitive classified knowledge with a third country.
The agreement to share the naval information, tabled in parliament on Monday, is another step towards Australia bringing its new AUKUS submarine deal to life.
Defence minister Peter Dutton said the agreement would enable Australia to undertake an 18-month long examination of the requirements to deliver nuclear-powered submarines.
“The United Kingdom and the United States will be able to share naval nuclear propulsion information with Australia, which they cannot with any other country, in the determination of the optimal pathway to acquire nuclear-powered submarines for operation by the Royal Australian Navy,” Dutton said.
“With access to the information, this agreement delivers, coupled with the decades of naval nuclear-powered experience our UK and US partners have, Australia will also be positioned to be responsible and reliable stewards of this technology.”
The agreement was tabled in parliament for consideration by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on Monday.
Under the agreement, Australian personnel will also access training and education from UK and US counterparts as they move towards safely and effectively building, operating and supporting nuclear-powered submarines.
A statement from Dutton made clear the agreement only covered the sharing of naval nuclear propulsion information, and no nuclear equipment could be transferred.
The government has been at pains to point out the vessels will be conventionally armed — with Australia not seeking nuclear weapons — as required by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
“This agreement will assist Australia to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to create a world-class regulatory and safety regime required for the safe operation of naval nuclear propulsion,” Dutton said.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said on Monday the agreement was “not a defence alliance or security pact”.
“Australia will fully and absolutely meet all of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as I’ve made very clear to many leaders around the world,” he said.
“This is an important, a very important, agreement for Australia’s future security.”