Major rift emerges over subs base

FEDERAL POLITICS:

A fresh major rift has emerged between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Peter Dutton over not only the timing of an announcement of the nation’s new nuclear submarine base but where it should be located.

The two men clashed earlier this week over when the announcement should be made of where the base should be built; the PM adamant it would not be made before the looming federal election; Mr Dutton hinting it could be disclosed before the poll.

The Bug can reveal that the fresh “clash of minds” between the two Cabinet heavyweights could retrigger rumours of a leadership spill that would most likely prove fatal for the LNP government with the poll due to be called within six weeks.

Back then, only three locations were being touted for the submarines – Port Kembla and Newcastle in New South Wales and Brisbane in Queensland.

But in a world exclusive, The Bug can reveal that both men quite independently of each other thought of fourth possibilities for the base. Their suggestions first stunned senior naval commanders and the nation’s top international strategic diplomatic and defence experts but quickly gained their grudging admiration.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the six nuclear submarines, to be purchased from either Britain or the United States under the recently announced AUKUS pact for around an estimated $A130 billion, which might mean either each or for all of them, to be based at Mawson, Australia’s research station in Antarctia. Mr Dutton favours Casey, the research station further east in the nation’s Antarctic territory.

Both men argue that basing the subs on the Antarctic continent would make it that much harder for China to blow them out of the water in the likely event of World War 3 happening one day, preferably before the federal poll is called but in the decades ahead.

It also takes out of play any electoral backlash that might occur if, say for example, Brisbane was picked for the base, with LNP member Trevor Evans on a fairly narrow margin there.

A three-star Navy Vice Admiral who asked not to be named after Mrs Noonan put him on the phone told The Bug the locations offered by both politicians were “strategically brilliant”.

“There will most certainly be a high-powered internal navy review into why those two Antarctic locations weren’t considered in the first place by our top strategists.

“China already has state-of-the-art death drones and naval rail guns that could destroy those six subs in the first day of war between our nations but only if the subs were in the current range of those weapons.

“It could take two, three or more decades before their technology improves sufficiently to hit our AUKUS subs way down there.

“So luckily, time is very much on our side when it comes to building that base.”