“What Australia would do or not in respect of any future conflict will be a matter to be considered at that time by the government of the day.”
Marles also reiterated the government’s control of all its nuclear-powered submarines amid claims – including from former prime ministers Paul Keating and Malcolm Turnbull – that Australia was ceding sovereign control over its defence capabilities.
“I want to make it really clear that the moment that there is a flag on the first of those Virginia-class submarines in the early 2030s is the moment that that submarine will be under the complete control of the Australian government of the day and again, no-one would have expected that to be any different,” he said.
“The submarines that we operate will be operated by Australians and be capable of being entirely operated by Australians.
“It is possible, given that there is that arrangement, that you might have Americans on board, but the command and the control of that submarine in the future will be done by Australians.”
The federal government has committed to storing all the high-level radioactive waste that will be generated from the 2050s onwards by the fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Marles insisted the commitment to store the waste on current or future Defence land was limited to fuel for naval propulsion and therefore consistent with the Labor Party’s national policy platform, despite the document ruling out the development of any stage of the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia.
“This is a big commitment that we’ve made that forms part of being the responsible steward that we need to become, not just in terms of disposing of the waste, but the handling of the nuclear material right through the life of it,” Marles said.
“We are not talking about establishing a civil nuclear industry, nor are we talking about opening Australia as a repository for nuclear waste from other countries.”
The AUKUS program assumes the government will not begin the disposal of nuclear waste generated by the submarines until the 2050s, when the reactor from the first of the boats will be due to be decommissioned.
The government said it will announce within the next year a process to choose a site to store nuclear waste from the submarines.
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