Maverick independent senator Jacqui Lambie says she’ll be “at the meat market” before the AUKUS submarine pact is realised.
In a jovial Monday morning television appearance, she also suggested China was “obviously no threat” given it would be at least 35 years until Australia had fully realised its AUKUS deal and questioned what Australia was doing “today” to protect itself.
Her comments come a week after the “optimal pathway” to arm Australia with nuclear-powered submarines was announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Under the deal – estimated to cost between $268bn and $368bn – Australia will host a rotation of American and British nuclear submarines from 2027 until purchasing up to five midlife Virginia-class vessels from the US.
Those will be in Australian waters from the 2030s while work gets under way in Adelaide to build yet-to-be-designed British-designed submarines with American nuclear technology – the first of which will hit the water by about 2042.
Defence Minister Richard Marles on the weekend suggested Australia needed nuclear-powered submarines to defend the region and its trade routes from an increasingly assertive China.
Senator Lambie said if that were true, it wouldn’t drag on for so many decades.
“It’s obviously no threat because it will take 25 years before we get them moving through,” she told 9.
“By then I will be at the meat market – as my dad would call it – or aged care.
“Seriously, it’s like ‘mate, what are we doing today to protect ourselves?’ That’s what I want to know, right now.
“I’ll be dead before the bloody things are in the water.”
She said acquiring 200 new missiles from the US – a deal approved by the US State Department last week but not yet formally announced by the Australian government – would not “cut the biscuit”.
Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh, starting a recruitment campaign, said while Australia would not have SSN-AUKUS in the water until the 2040s, the Virginia-class submarines would be here within a decade.
He said both the Virginia-class and the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines would be “quite a lot bigger” than the existing Collins-class.
“We need to significantly expand our submarine workforce as well as the workforce across navy and the Defence Force,” he told 9.
Pressed on the breakdown of the estimated cost, Mr Keogh held the government’s line that they were being more transparent by lumping everything in together.
“You can’t really work down to a particular per boat cost when building in workforce costs as well as the development that needs to occur before you start building the submarines,” he said.
NED-8491-timeline of AUKUS submarine pact