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7.30 Report: Sarah Ferguson Opens Up New Perspectives on the AUKUS Nuclear Submarine Deal

By Denis Bright

Sincere appreciation must be extended to the Albanese Government for allowing Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead AO to be interviewed in some depth on the 7.30 Report (13 February 2023). Sarah Ferguson was up to speed again in her interviewing skills with a seasoned naval officer who was assigned to active service in the Persian Gulf in 2006 as Captain of HMAS Parramatta.

The Vice Admiral’s understanding of nuclear technology being applied in the selection of the new submarine options was of course beyond reproach through his involvement with the clandestine Nuclear Submarine Taskforce established by the Morrison Government. Our US allies are great salespersons for the Anglo-American military industrial complexes in the post-Brexit era.

At least Britain’s BAE Systems as potential manufacturers of the AUKUS Submarines paid some tax in 2020-21 with a payment of $26.293 million to the ATO on a revenue base of $1.062 billion and a declared taxable income of just $123.484 million. The US military and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin kept its tax bill to $14.891 million on an income take of just over half a billion and a taxable income of $53.056 million (ABC News Taxation List, 2 November 2022).

The concerns of ordinary Australians about the financial and security costs of the AUKUS Submarine deal extend well beyond concerns about the technical capacity of those sealed reactors which are expected to operate for 30 years for the full life of the submarines until the year 2070 approaches.

The secrecy associated with the formation of the Submarine Taskforce should be of great concern to Australians of all persuasions as our partners in France had no clues about what was happening behind the scenes as they made preparations to supply the contracted diesel submarines that more fully complied with commitments to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone with the support of New Zealand and other island states. No wonder that President Macron had little respect for Scott Morrison. (The video and the news clip of the French President’s remarks are available here.)

Noone doubts the reality of strategic increasing tensions with China, but these tensions are not all of China’s making. France’s enthusiasm to extend its defence roles in the US Global Alliance has been played out on several occasions on freedom of navigation jaunts into disputed waters of the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits.

The ageing and accident-prone nuclear-powered submarine Émeraude was assigned to a seven-month voyage from Toulon to Perth (WA) and then on manoeuvres with the US, Australian Indonesian and Japanese Navies.

Construction of the Émeraude commenced in 1982 in the early years of France’s first long-term majority Socialist Government (1981-95). This supposedly left-wing government had authorized closer ties between France and the Reagan Administration, encouraged Socialist Spain to join NATO, continued the nuclear testing at Moruroa Atoll until 1995 and authorized the attack on the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour.

Commissioned in 1986, the Émeraude was afflicted by an accidental explosion off Toulon. The submarine limped back to Toulon on diesel and battery power with ten deceased crewmen including the commander. The accident was soon covered by the global media, but subscription fees often apply when accessing historical archives.

All this history was largely forgotten when the Émeraude was sent on a heroic journey across the Indian Ocean to Perth and onto manoeuvres with the Indonesian and Japanese navies and to vessels from the US Naval Base in Guam. I requested a map from naval news of the route taken between the Red Sea and Perth for a previous article to check on whether the Émeraude had called at the naval base of Eilat which is the home of Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear missiles or that secret US Base of Diego Garcia. As expected, there was no reply to my request, but it was worth a try.

The return of the Émeraude to Toulon in April 2021 received positive media coverage as the ship had been away from France for seven months and this necessitated a change of crew and even a change of commander en route. A film crew from Channel 2 (Paris) through its current affairs arm Vingt Heures were offered a tour of the submarine and its missile installations. A more official video from Naval News (Paris) which is still available on YouTube.

The Naval News video admitted that the Émeraude had transited the South China Sea in stealth mode. This was confirmed by coverage from France 24 (12 February 2021). Perhaps the stealth mode was to test the awareness of Chinese vessels and shore installations. Other military French vessels have done navigation runs through the Taiwan Straits which is always provocative when the current Democratic Party (DPP) holds power in Taipei and is calling for a formal declaration of independence from China to cheers from far-right global opinion.

For China, the Taiwan Straits are definitely disputed waters as most countries in the US Global Alliance supported a One China Policy fifty years ago. This should have ended the US practice of using Taiwan for propaganda purposes throughout the Cold War. Just prior to his retirement, President Eisenhower made a triumphal motorcade through Taipei with Nationalist President Chian Kai-shek (Taiwan Times 17-23 June 1960).

Without the intervention of the Chinese PLA, there would have been two enclaves of Nationalist China during the Cold War. Nationalist forces remained on Hainan for several months after 1949.

Earlier in 1945-46, the Nationalist Forces had controlled all of China and Hainan was an important strategic resource for British and French forces seeking to overturn control by Viet Minh forces in Indochina. A Vietnamese Australian informed me that her city of Haiphong had been subjected to British air-raids which killed her neighbours.

Years later under the George W Bush Administration, a US Surveillance Plane collided with a Chinese fighter plane near Hainan Island. The precise location is of course always in dispute between the parties.

The Chinese pilot Wang Wei was killed in this incident, but China tactfully released the US pilot after eleven days. The incident prompted an apology to China and a commitment to be more cautious on supplies of offensive weapons to Taiwan as requested by the first administration of the Democratic Government (DPP) after its success in the 2000 elections.

Just imagine the outrage in the Murdoch press if Chinese submarines made jaunts into Bass Strait to annoy the naval officers at HMAS Cerberus or to scare students at the Vice Admiral’s old secondary school at St. Bede’s in Mentone if the remnants of the federal LNP tried to establish Tasmania as an Independent Nationalist State with the support of a friendly US Administration.

Annoying China as well as alienating some ASEAN nations and members of the Pacific Island Forum will not assist with the current repair work on trading and investment relations with China.

The proposed AUKUS submarine deal imposes frightful financial burdens on Australia during inflationary times in which costs estimates for the AUKUS submarines extends into the 2040s (The Guardian 14 December 2021). Losses on trade and investment opportunities with China would of course extend these costs with 43 per cent of our exports destined to China at present (Latest data from Trading Economics).

Taiwan can assist to defuse tensions by giving a guarantee that it is not about to make a declaration of independence from the mainland. Relations between Taiwan and the Mainland seem to be improving again as China reverts to commercial diplomacy over displays of military strength. This style of diplomacy at least ensures that the economy of Taiwan is more fully integrated with the Mainland. Over 12,000 Taiwanese students were studying in Chinese academic institutes prior to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Despite all the negative media coverage of China in the Murdoch press, 42 per cent of Taiwan’s exports went to China in 2021-22 and 22 per cent of Chinese imports originated in either China or Hong Kong (CNBC 4 August 2022). Many Taiwan-based companies and services operate in China and Hong Kong.

With President Tsai Lng-wen unable to seek a third term as President in 2024, the popularity of the DPP seems to be on the wane. The opposition KMT gained 50.14 per cent of the vote at the recent local government elections on 26 November 2022 and controls fourteen local government areas to five held by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The Taiwanese electorate is undoubtedly evaluating the sustainability of nationalist rhetoric favouring a declaration of Taiwanese independence while the Australian government is negotiating those AUKUS submarine deals.

Signs of some thawing in cross-strait relations include a recent visit by the vice-chairman of the KMT to China and the restoration of more frequent fast ferry services between China’s Fujian Province and the adjacent Taiwanese islands of Kinmen and Matsu which are just a few kilometres off-shore.

There is great scope for the 7.30 Report to extend its coverage of the upsurge in regional strategic tensions with China after election cycles in Taiwan which bring the DPP into office. Re-election of the KMT in Taiwan in 2024 may totally defuse the current situation and leave Australians to bear the financial costs of the AUKUS submarine deal.

Opportunities exist to invite guest speakers onto future 7.30 Report programs to consider the impact of nuclear-powered submarines on the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone which was ratified by all South Pacific nations as well as differing viewpoints on commercial ties with China.

Extending the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty to coverage ASEAN Countries, the South China Sea and Taiwan might be a logical extension for consideration.

Toning down provocative visits by unfriendly naval vessels can be part of a Win-Win Deal to avoid future flyovers by Chinese jets.

Even the jellyfish in Moreton Bay are not very welcoming about the prospects of nuclear-powered ships:

According to a leading marine biologist and jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin, if the fleet is based in Brisbane, which is one of the shortlisted sites of the Australian government, the nuclear-powered submarines may be forced into an emergency reactor shutdown by swarms of jellyfish.

Gershwin added that Brisbane is “close to the absolute worst place” for a nuclear submarine base, due to the conditions in Moreton Bay and the usual jellyfish blooms.

Safety protocols for nuclear powered ships which sometimes carry nuclear weapons into Australian ports have been prepared by all states and territories as the ACT has its Jervis Bay facility which is separated from land-locked Canberra. The Queensland Government has made its precautions public in the publication Nuclear Powered Warship Visits to the Port of Brisbane.

Perhaps more public discussion as presented on the 7.30 Report can give the Australian government more wriggle room before the contracts are signed to initiate the AUKUS submarine deal. Payment of $835 million has already been made by the Albanese Government to France for breach of contract on the previous arrangements as negotiated by Malcolm Turnbull’s Government.

Appeals from our US allies for more military commitment from Australia and more use of the Pine Gap electronic base for offensive operations have landed Australia in compromising situations for decades from interventions in Vietnam to Afghanistan. The nostalgia for a return to the Cold War era with new military bases in the Philippines is an unfortunate regression. The ASEAN region to our north is better off left as a zone of peace and sustainable development.

By the time Australians discuss these issues, there may be a KMT Government in Taipei, and peaceful Win-Win scenarios may make the AUKUS deal redundant. Cheers then to the 7.30 Report’s contribution to strategic sanity. This style of reporting offers guest speakers who are saturated in knowledge of their specialist topics. I can only promote discussion and would be a real novice in head-to-head discussions with the Vice Admiral.


Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

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  1. nicole livar

    Aquaba is not in Israel!

  2. Ian Joyner

    Each single submarine could pay for many schools, hospitals, universities. It is insanity, a hangover of LNP government.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Thanks, nicole. I’ll check and fix shortly.

  4. The AIM Network

    Ian, you might like this brilliant cartoon by Alan Moir:

  5. Douglas Pritchard

    Watching that interview last night I really squirmed.
    Sarah is a journo. A good one, and asked the questions we all wanted to hear answers to.
    The guy with the medals did not impress. Maybe he looks better on the bridge doing the steering.
    My main education is in physics, but not specialising in things nuclear, but I know enough.
    We have been conned into buying a sealed energy source which spins the propeller rather like a diesel.
    And when I say “we” its a whole bunch of guys striving to achieve more medals….and very few scientists.
    But if this vessel gets into strife (and this tends to happen to war machinery) then it sinks to the bottom and emits radiation for the next 30+ years. Thats a responsible act?
    We really are paying through the nose to take on this sort of liability, and this has nothing to do with jobs in America.
    Pull the other one….its got bells on.
    The whole thing is a political move, and we foot this massive bill.

  6. Denis Bright

    Thanks Nicole. Let’s change that to Eilat Naval Base: Thanks

  7. New England Cocky

    Re Bass Strait and enemy shipping movements: During WWII Bass Strait was an active war zone with numerous German and other ”enemy vessels” passing through. It was sufficiently active for the DVA to award the Gold Card to military personnel from Tasmania who served on the mainland, like North Queensland, without serving overseas.

    Naturally this enemy activity was suppressed during the war.

  8. Leah

    Only critical media reporting can delay the AUKUS deal while the real players reassess their game plans.

  9. Leila

    Great frontline reporting on a topical issue,

  10. Denis Bright

    Thanks for correcting the error, Michael Taylor. Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan are adjacent cities.

  11. May

    Time for our political insiders to tune into the independent spirit of John Curtin and later Ben Chifley who respected the UN Charter against the march to new wars.

  12. rubio@central coast

    I agree May. Indeed, respect for the UN Charter was written into the ANZUS Agreement. Sabre rattling in the Taiwan Straits is highly provocative. The US does not even agree with the need for a South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone. Malcolm Turnbull saw the implications of bringing nuclear powered submarines into our region and to the ports of Australian cities like the Brisbane River Estuary. AUKUS was for short term political gain as the 2022 election approached. Working to extend the nuclear free zones is a more sustainable policy. Australia needs to follow NZ on this issue. This is more important than saving the seat of Dickson for Peter Dutton.

  13. wam

    taking subs from SA might win seats???

  14. Denis Bright

    A good letter from the NoAUKUS Alliance in Brisbane:

    Australian Anti AUKUS Coalition – Brisbane

    PO Box 573 Coorparoo Qld 4151

    24 February 2023
    Hon Jim Chalmers MP
    Member for Rankin and Australian Treasurer

    Dear Treasurer,

    The peace movement in South East Queensland is gravely concerned about the AUKUS
    agreement which, along with the Force Posture Agreement signed in 2015, significantly impacts
    our independent foreign policy decision making and sovereignty.

    Due to the minimal transparency and consultation on AUKUS arrangements, the current
    Government should reconsider these seemingly open-ended AUKUS commitments. To many
    constituents, the AUKUS arrangements are a further betrayal of an independent democratic Asia-
    Pacific sovereignty, dispossession and denigration of Indigenous Peoples’ Country, and our national standing
    in a 21st century United Nations world.

    The proposal to acquire nuclear powered submarines at a projected cost of $170B and a totally
    unsuitable East Coast nuclear submarine base at $10B is particularly objectionable when you and
    your government continue to limit spending on urgent social needs due to fiscal constraints.

    It appears that Australian military defence and government advisors are increasingly disposed to
    hosting nuclear platforms and are drawing closer to accepting their ‘legitimacy’. This runs counter
    to Australia’s ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and Rarotonga Treaty as well as the ALP’s
    pre-election promise to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. These
    treaties appear violated in the abandonment of non-proliferation issues, which compromise
    Australia’s obligations and goodwill toward its Pacific partners.

    The acquisition of these nuclear-powered submarines not only places Australia at grave risk of
    becoming part of a nuclear war, but also involves expenditure which you as Treasurer would know
    could be much better used for health, housing, education, foreign (non-military) and humanitarian
    aid, and diplomacy.

    Plans underway to build an East Coast naval base at one of three locations include Brisbane,
    Newcastle or Port Kembla. All have been strongly opposed by the community and local councils.
    As you may be aware, the Brisbane City Council designated Brisbane as a nuclear free zone in
    1995, and the current Council recently re-affirmed this status. Having nuclear powered submarines
    based in Brisbane would violate this.

    We in the South East Queensland peace community, bringing together peace groups, unions and
    faith communities, call on you as Treasurer to prioritise community funding rather than the military
    spending associated with AUKUS, working for a peaceful independent future for our children and

    In your reply to our letter of concerns, please indicate how your Government can justify the
    massive costs associated with AUKUS while human services in our country urgently plead for
    greater funding.
    Yours sincerely,

    Janette McLeod
    On behalf of the Australian Anti AUKUS Coalition Brisbane

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