Then-Labor leader Kevin Rudd,Anthony Albanese and Peter Garrett in 2007.

Then-Labor leader Kevin Rudd,Anthony Albanese and Peter Garrett in 2007.Credit:Louise Kennerley

“AUKUS stank when it was stealthily revealed in the dying days of the former government. It still stinks. This unprecedented commitment deserves proper consideration and debate,not just a rubber stamp,” he said.

Garrett questioned the Defence Department’s ability to deliver the project on time and within budget,and highlighted the risks to future generations of having to store high-grade nuclear waste at the end of the boat’s lifetime.

“For now we are doing the time warp again. A vassal state is set to become a nuclear vessel state.”

Garrett stressed that he did not share the benign view of China espoused by former prime minister Paul Keating in a National Press club address earlier this week,or agree with thepersonal attacks on his former colleagues,Prime Minister Anthony Albanese,Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles.

Keating said the government had signed up to“the worst deal in all history” by agreeing to acquire eight nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the United States and United Kingdom.

The dramatic intervention from the rock legend and Labor luminary,who had already signalled his unease,comes as someunions and local branches have also protested the AUKUS arrangement.


Albanese,Wong,Marles and other members of the cabinet have allhit back at Keating’s claims,with the prime minister describing as absurd the claim that Australia was ceding sovereign control over its defence capabilities.

But Garrett said the submarine deal,first agreed to by Scott Morrison when he was prime minister,was “the most costly and risky action ever taken by any Australian government and should not have been allowed to stand”.

“At the very least,ratifying an undertaking of this magnitude should have been subject to thorough scrutiny and debate through all levels of the Australian Labor Party,and in the public realm,” he said.

“To be clear,Australia will now be the only ‘non-nuclear’ nation that is in possession of nuclear submarines. This raises a series of critical questions in relation to the nuclear non-proliferation regime,and the management anddisposal of nuclear waste.

“AUKUS will produce increasing volumes of high-level radioactive waste and this,along with the rotting radioactive submarine hulks (if they ever get built),must be safely disposed of and stored for tens of thousands of years in the Australian environment.”


Instead,he argued,a more prudent approach would be to acquire conventionally powered submarines “that can fulfil an appropriate defence role at a time of increasing assertive behaviour by China” and that to better prepare Australia against future threats,more should be invested in cybersecurity and a highly mobile land-based defence force.

Australian policymakers had failed for decades to deal with how to store low and intermediate-grade nuclear waste,he said,which is generated by the Lucas Heights facility in Sydney and from medical research and this “gives no confidence in the future of handling far worse high-level material”.

“God help future generations,especially if they happen to live in the outback or near an existing – or future – defence facility,or if they consume primary products impacted by radioactive leaks into land or water,” Garrett said. “Has this cost been factored into the $368 billion price tag?”

The former environment and education minister served in the Rudd and Gillard ministries and was a member of parliament for Labor from 2004 to 2013. In 1984,he stood unsuccessfully for the Senate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party before later joining Labor.

Garrett argued there had been little in the way of scientific reports or risk analyses before the decision to purchase the submarines had been taken,and how a local nuclear industry would be able to “magically ... appear overnight”.

Peter Garrett at a Nuclear Disarmament Party press conference in 1984.

Peter Garrett at a Nuclear Disarmament Party press conference in 1984.Credit:Ruth Maddison

“Has Defence ever delivered a major construction or weapons delivery program on time and on budget? Not once in living memory,” he said.

He also said the future of Australia’s non-nuclear treaty commitments were at risk.


”The main cheerleaders of AUKUS include the Liberal/National Coalition,who’ve never contemplated anything nuclear they didn’t want to embrace without qualification,and the nuclear industry who see this as a gateway to avoid what they have never earned:social license and community trust,” Garrett said.

“The fact that the leader of the opposition,Mr Dutton,would countenancecutting today’s social welfare programs to ensure nuke subs start prowling the coastlines of other countries decades hence says it all.”

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news,views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weeklyInside Politics newsletter here.

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