Summary of position
The Australian Greens do not support the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines. We hold grave concerns that this procurement, and the trilateral AUKUS agreement facilitating it, will undermine peace, stability and safety in the Indo-Pacific region and indeed globally.
Further, we are particularly alarmed by the unjustified speed at which this committee process is being undertaken. The Morrison Government’s disregard of due democratic process is deeply troubling—as is the Labor party’s acquiescence on the matter—and fails to adequately prioritise community engagement on a matter of such significant public importance.
The Australian Greens maintain that the proposed acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines is highly provocative, and will dangerously escalate tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.
In addition, we are concerned that the AUKUS agreement and the procurement of nuclear-powered submarine technology for military purposes significantly risks nuclear arms proliferation among non-nuclear armed states. We strongly support the concerns raised during the inquiry hearings that Australia’s actions set a precedent for other nations that may seek to acquire nuclear technology for arms development.
We contend that the presence of nuclear-powered submarines in Australia would make Australia a military target and increase the risk of domestic terrorism incidents and we note submitters to the inquiry share this view.
Further, the Greens are alarmed that both the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) nuclear-powered submarines are reportedly fuelled with weapons-grade enriched uranium, with Article II of the treaty inferring that Australia would acquire this same technology.
We note that witnesses representing both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence at the first inquiry hearing were unable to definitively answer whether Australia would acquire this nuclear technology within the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safeguards regime, or whether it would exploit the so-called non-proliferation ‘loophole’ and therefore be exempt from inspection and compliance. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ (ICAN) submission to the inquiry maintains the latter scenario would be invoked, and we share ICAN’s concern that the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement (ENNPIA) significantly weakens the IAEA’s important goal of restricting sensitive nuclear material and technology.
We have significant concerns about the safety of nuclear-powered submarines. The catastrophic potential of nuclear power poses an unacceptable risk to our communities and the environment. The potential for long-term radiological contamination is significant, and the full impact of radiation from nuclear-powered submarines on marine ecosystems is as yet unknown.
Additionally, we have serious reservations about the nuclear reference accident upon which the decision to allow nuclear-powered warships to visit Australia is assessed. In our view it is extremely conservative in scope and fails to consider marine impacts or long-term repercussions of a nuclear incident on human life.
The Australian Greens are extremely concerned about how the storage and disposal of nuclear waste generated by submarines procured through this exchange of information would be managed. We share the concerns raised by a witness speaking on behalf of the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) in the second ENNPIA hearing that the procurement of nuclear-propelled submarines will cost tens of billions of dollars, a cost that has not been considered by the government in its deliberations, and that:
… it can safely be assumed that nuclear waste would be dumped on Aboriginal land … without the consent of affected traditional owners … [noting] there’s no repository for high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world.
We also express concerns about the significant relative costs associated with acquiring such technology. Australia does not at present have the domestic nuclear infrastructure to support nuclear-powered submarines, which we are concerned will increase our military and foreign policy reliance on the US and UK. Further, we do not support the establishment of a domestic nuclear industry, which would be extraordinarily expensive and deeply problematic on environmental, social and economic grounds. This view is supported by witnesses representing the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN), who gave evidence at the committee hearing expressing their belief that the plan would ‘require the establishment of a nuclear services industry’ in Australia. It is our view that the considerable diversion of resources that this capability acquisition will require could be better and more efficiently spent on other community-building projects that actually address the root causes of instability and insecurity in the region and around the world (for instance, inequality, climate change).
The Australian Greens express serious concern about the expedited nature of this committee process. It is disappointing that this Committee, the majority of whom are from the Labor and Liberal/National parties, has denied the community the opportunity to meaningfully engage with this inquiry. We are not satisfied that the Morrison Government’s request of this Committee to expedite consideration of this treaty is sufficiently justified. In our view, this inquiry should be extended to allow enough time for the community to properly engage. After all, it is the Australian community who are being asked to foot the bill—and bear the risk—for such an expensive and resource-intensive project.
We would like to note the bipartisanship of the Liberal/National and Labor parties on this issue. The Greens maintain that this habit of uncritically waving through matters relating to defence, foreign relations and security means that the public are not afforded the opportunity for meaningful and robust debate. It is our view that this diminishes the democratic process and provides no option for an alternative outcome, even if those alternatives better serve the public interest.
The Australian Greens further highlight the Government’s 2019 report Not without your approval: a way forward for nuclear technology in Australia that emphasises that nuclear power would not be pursued without community support. We contend that such a rushed committee process is discordant with this recent commitment, and therefore a longer committee process and engagement of the public is critical and necessary.
Finally, the Greens note and support the submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) by individuals and community groups expressing their opposition to ENNPIA and the hasty committee process, including the People for Nuclear Disarmament, Friends of the Earth, the Medical Association for Prevention of War, ICAN, IPAN, CCWA, the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition, and former senator and JSCOT committee member Scott Ludlam. The significant volume of submissions received in this extremely abbreviated timeframe clearly demonstrate the need for an extended committee process and meaningful community participation.
I would like to acknowledge Senator Steele-John’s work on this dissenting report as the Australian Greens portfolio holder on Peace and Disarmament.
The Australian Greens recommend that no binding treaty action be taken.
The Australian Greens recommend that the committee process is extended to ensure the community is given adequate time to engage in this issue of significant public interest.
Senator Dorinda Cox