A new base on Australia’s east coast for the nation’s future nuclear-powered submarines will receive a $10 billion funding commitment from the federal government.
Prime minister Scott Morrison is due to announce the new base in a virtual address to the Lowy Institute on Monday.
The Defence Department has examined 19 possible locations for the base and shortlisted sites in Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla.
The new site will be in addition to, not a replacement of, the Fleet Base West in WA. The base, on Garden Island off Perth, is currently home to Australia’s Collins Class submarines.
The prime minister is expected to tell the institute that “Australia faces its most difficult and dangerous security environment in 80 years”.
“To support our decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, establishing a second submarine base on our east coast will enhance our strategic deterrent capability, with significant advantages in operational, training, personnel and industrial terms,” Morrison says in extracts of the speech released to media.
The government aims for initial work to be completed by the end of 2023, with the project billed as the first major new base since Robertson Barracks in Darwin in the 1990s.
The new base would provide the submarines with specialised wharves, maintenance, facilities, administrative and logistics support and accommodation for submarine crews and support staff.
The Australian government controversially scrapped a $90 billion contract with France in September last year to build 12 diesel-powered submarines, instead choosing to pursue a nuclear-powered fleet in a defence program with the US and UK coined AUKUS.
Independent senator Rex Patrick was critical of the government’s decision to not commit to a location following studies into sites going back to 2011.
“We’re 13 years and $3 billion into a future submarine project and what do we have to show for it? We’ve got a study into getting a nuclear submarine and, now, a study into where we might put them,” Patrick said.
“What’s more, this latest base location study comes after previous comprehensive investigations by Defence going back to 2011 have been ignored and not acted upon by the government since then.”
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has previously criticised the decision for Australia to exit its contract with France, said on Monday morning the decision had “undermined Australia’s national security”.
“Mr Morrison is not learning the lessons that we should be learning at the moment, which is given the current instability and uncertainty in the world. We should be more self reliant. We should be more resilient,” Turnbull told ABC RN Breakfast.
“It’s going to result in us having nuclear [powered] submarines if it ever comes to pass, that we not only can’t build, can’t maintain and will not be able to operate on our own. It’s an abandonment of sovereignty.”