7am is a daily news podcast brought to you by the publishers of The Saturday Paper and The Monthly.
How to listen? How to listen Newsletter signup Newsletter signup Website Visit website

Listen

7am Podcast

‘He saw the sky turn crimson the day the bomb was dropped’

Today, chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton on the one of the biggest projects Australia is undertaking.
Read Transcript

Labor is working through the specifics of the nuclear submarine deal Scott Morrison set up before he lost office. Some in the party believe AUKUS was established in part to wedge Labor on the issue of non-proliferation.

So what is next for the plan to buy nuclear submarines? And what can Labor do to ensure their purchase doesn’t undermine a commitment to ending nuclear wars?

Today, chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton on the one of the biggest projects Australia is undertaking.

Guest: Chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

##RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*.

Labor is working through the specifics of the nuclear submarine deal that Scott Morrison set up before he lost office. 

Some in the party believe AUKUS was established in part to wedge Labor on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation.

So, what’s next for the plan to buy nuclear submarines? And what can Labor do to ensure their purchase doesn’t undermine a commitment to ending nuclear wars?

Today, chief political correspondent for *The Saturday Paper* Karen Middleton on one of the biggest projects Australia is undertaking.

It’s Thursday, July 28.

[Theme Music Ends]

##RUBY:
Karen, our agreement with America and Britain, which is known as AUKUS, has been back in the news in the past few weeks. Could you take me back to the beginning, though, to how it came about and what the agreement was intended to do?

##KAREN:
Well, it goes right back to the fact that Australia needs new submarines. They have Collins class submarine that's getting to the end of its life. And the government needed to make a decision on replacing them. 

And there was a lot of back and forth going right back to when Tony Abbott was prime minister about which country we should buy them from and what kind of submarine.

##Archival tape -- Tony Abbott:
“I thought it was very important as Prime Minister to get cracking on this and we did….”

##KAREN:
He gave some undertakings to Japan. Then he had to backtrack on that.

##Archival tape -- Tony Abbott:
“I also thought it was very important to try to ensure that as far as was possible under the circumstances, we did not repeat the experience of the Collins.”

##KAREN:
And we ended up signing a contract with France to make conventional submarines, to use a design that they had that was actually for a nuclear submarine, but to redesign it so it was just for conventional subs.

##Archival tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“It was unequivocal that the French offer represented the capabilities best able to meet Australia's unique needs.”

##KAREN:
Fast forward then to the Morrison Government last year, the contract with the French submarines was taking a long time and wasn't progressing as it should have been. There was anxiety about that, and the Morrison government took a very unexpected decision to dump that contract.

##Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:
“We have deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the attack class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests and we had made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest. We have made this clear…”

##KAREN:
And instead, to forge an agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom, which they called AUKUS.

##Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:
“And so, friends, AUKUS is born: a new enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. AUKUS, a partnership..”

##KAREN:
And that was an agreement to transfer nuclear submarine technology, initially at least any way, meaning Australia would buy and construct nuclear submarines from either the UK or the United States using technology that really originated in the US.

##RUBY:
So AUKUS, and this deal to receive nuclear submarines, was set up by the previous government. Labor has inherited it now though, and are going to have to decide how to handle it from here on. And I know, Karen, that you've been speaking to our new Defence Minister, Richard Marles, about the agreement. So what was his focus?

##Archival tape -- Richard Marles:
“In determining the optimal pathway forward, the Australian government is acutely aware of the obligations of nuclear stewardship… we are focused on the whole enterprise.” 

##KAREN:
Well, that nuclear dimension was very much part of his focus. The issue of nuclear non-proliferation is a big one within the Labour Party and that relates to nuclear weapons. Now these submarines won't have nuclear weapons on them, but because they have highly enriched uranium in them, then they still fall under the auspices of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that Australia is a party to. It's a global treaty to make sure that we don't get into a nuclear weapons arms race and to safeguard the use and handling of enriched material. 

##Archival tape -- Richard Marles:
“Safely stewarding sensitive technology, building the workforce and industrial capacity to support the capability and ensuring this initiative sets the strongest possible non proliferation standards.” 

##KAREN:
So Australia has to give undertakings in that regard. So that is a big part of his focus. Just the scale of this project is going to take an enormous amount of focus. It's a huge thing to try and get done in the time frame that's been set down. 
And there are questions now raised about whether Australia can acquire whichever submarine they choose and the decision is a big one initially. Do we go with British submarines? Do we go with American ones? When can they be delivered?  

##Archival tape -- Richard Marles:
“In terms of challenges, we really have seen a situation where, I guess, to put it sort of politely repeated false starts over the last ten years in respect of what will be the success of submarine capability to Collins.”

##KAREN:
Best case scenario, once all those decisions are made, he would love to have the first submarine in the water but in the 2030s, I mean, these things take a very long time.

But realistically, he's saying it could be the 2040s. Now, that's 20 years from now. That's a lot of time in between to leave Australia unprotected. 

##Archival tape -- Richard Marles:
“And now we find ourselves really facing a significant potential capability gap. So I think that's challenge number one.”

##KAREN:
So there are those questions about capability in the meantime that have to be answered.

##Archival tape -- Richard Marles:
“Secondly, to move to operating a nuclear powered submarine fleet is well, it's as big a national challenge, not just in defence, but in terms of really the whole breadth of government that our country has been presented with.”

##KAREN:
But he's got a long list of things that he wants to be able to announce by March of next year. He wants to be able to say which of those two submarine types he's chosen, when the first one is likely to be in the water, how big that capability gap is going to be and how it's going to be filled, how much it's all going to cost and what the industry arrangements are going to be for the construction - offshore, onshore, combination of both, crewing arrangements and the like and training of the crew, and then detailing all the undertakings that will have to be given to the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet those non-proliferation obligations. And that's all in the next eight months.

##RUBY:
We'll be back after this. 

[Advertisement]

##RUBY:
Karen, when the AUKUS deal was first being negotiated last year, do we know how much of then Prime Minister Scott Morrison's thinking was around what it would actually mean for domestic politics?

##KAREN:
Well, it's always an interesting question. Certainly we know that Scott Morrison focussed on domestic politics with every decision that he made and politicians always give some thought to the domestic political implications of their decisions. Certainly the Labor Party, as it was in opposition then, took the view that domestic politics played quite a significant role. They believe Scott Morrison's thinking, at least partly was, being able to announce a big deal to acquire nuclear submarines, would be a political wedge for the Labor Party, because issues around nuclear power, nuclear energy have long been very thorny issues for Labor and they believe that Scott Morrison thought that it would be a useful thing to announce in advance of the federal election to make life difficult for Labor and particularly for its leader, Anthony Albanese, who's from the party's left faction.

##RUBY:
So can you tell me more about Anthony Albanese’s position on nuclear? 

##KAREN:
Well, he's personally very invested in the issue of nuclear non-proliferation when it comes to weapons and the whole nuclear energy debate. And that is personal because it goes to the man who was his mentor in politics and really a father figure for him growing up, Tom Uren, who was a minister in the Whitlam and Hawke governments who really took the young Anthony Albanese under his wing within the Labor Party and gave him a job and encouraged him politically, saw great potential in him. And Tom Uren was a very significant figure in the anti-nuclear movement in Australia and that went back to his time in World War Two.

##Archival tape -- Tom Uren:
“I saw people's bodies where the scars had been burned onto them. I saw women that had frocks imprinted onto their backs.”

##KAREN:
He was a prisoner of war of the Japanese, and he spent time in a prisoner of war camp near Nagasaki. And in fact, he saw the sky turn crimson the day that the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

##Archival tape -- Tom Uren:
“The horror of Hiroshima is like - and I will never forget as long as I live.”

##KAREN:
He never forgot that. And that really was what spurred him on to be an activist.

##Archival tape -- Tom Uren:
“Like most of my mates, I was glad to get home. But the nuclear weapons fallout and as I grew to understand not only nuclear weapons, but the nuclear industry were a threat to us to the human race, that I believe the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima was a crime against humanity.” 

##KAREN:
So this legacy of Tom Uren’s has now become a legacy issue, I guess, for Anthony Albanese. So he's extremely concerned not to do anything that is going to be seen globally as undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or raising questions that other countries could exploit.

##RUBY:
And so that story about Uren, that's a story that Marles has been telling as a way of describing Labor's position?

##KAREN:
Yes. Richard Marles, in his meeting with Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Canberra, recently told the Tom Uren story about Nagasaki as a way of underlining to the IAEA that the Government takes this issue very seriously, that it's absolutely determined and it has a domestic political imperative as well as the one on the global scale to make sure that it isn't seen to be doing anything that could put any loopholes into the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Marles and indeed Albanese will be accountable to Labor's backbench and to the wider party members and constituents for any decision they make on this. And they are assuring the International Atomic Energy Agency that they will be watching very closely and don't want anything that could be loose.

##RUBY:
And so how do you think that Labor is handling these tests that are set by AUKUS? Because it's not just about nuclear, is it, and how Labour decides to approach that, the agreement, it frames some of the key diplomatic relationships that we have beyond America and Britain.

##KAREN:
It's a huge challenge for Labor. So there's that whole logistics challenge of buying, designing, et cetera, all the submarines. But there's a diplomatic challenge as well, and we've seen the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on a lot of overseas trips recently and I think pretty much all of them have featured in a small degree or a large degree conversations about AUKUS, because we've seen him in France, his whole reason for visiting France and making an official visit with Emmanuel Macron, the president there, was to patch up relations over that council contract. The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese went to Indonesia, the Indonesians have been nervous and unhappy about the way that announcement was made of the AUKUS arrangement. The Indonesians are very sensitive to major power movements in the region. They're a non-aligned country and they're particularly sensitive about anything to do with security around the region. 

So the Prime Minister's had to be patching up that relationship. And he's been in the South Pacific at the Pacific Islands Forum, and there's a great deal of sensitivity in that part of the world about anything to do with nuclear power and particularly nuclear non-proliferation, given their experience with nuclear testing in the South Pacific. So he's had to offer some reassurances there because equally the Pacific countries were not consulted and were upset about that. 
So there's a lot of diplomatic challenges to be met, as well as the challenges of just getting the submarines in the water.

##RUBY:
Karen, thank you so much for your time.

##KAREN:
Thanks very much, Ruby. 

[Advertisement]

[Theme Music Starts]

##RUBY:
Also in the news today:

The inflation rate for the June quarter rose by 1.8%, meaning annual inflation is now at 6.1%, which is Australia’s highest rate in more than 20 years. 

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said “things will get worse before they get better” and that “no one should expect any treats in the October budget”. 

And on the first full sitting day of the new Parliament, Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen has introduced climate 
legislation which enshrines the new target of 43% reduction in emissions by 2030, as well as the 2050 target of net zero.
  
Currently, there is no moratorium on new fossil fuel projects.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*. See you tomorrow.

[Theme Music Ends]

From the front page

Image of Heraclitus of Ephesus, known as the “Weeping Philosopher”.

Forecasting the future

What is humanity’s destiny in the Anthropocene era?

Frank Moorhouse, Ewenton Street, Balmain, circa 1975

Frank recollections

Remembering Frank Moorhouse (1938–2022)

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

What the James Webb Space Telescope reveals

Why NASA’s new telescope is a huge step forward for understanding the universe

Demonstrating for reproductive rights at Hyde Park, Sydney, June 9, 2019

The fight to choose

As Roe v Wade is overturned in the United States, what are the threats to accessing abortion in Australia?

Online exclusives

Image of Heraclitus of Ephesus, known as the “Weeping Philosopher”.

Forecasting the future

What is humanity’s destiny in the Anthropocene era?

Image of Moonage Daydream director Brett Morgen. Photograph © Olivier Vigerie / Neon

Daydream believer: Director Brett Morgen

Morgen’s freeform documentary about David Bowie, ‘Moonage Daydream’, explores the philosophy and creativity of one of popular music’s icons

Image of Chris Kenny appearing in Your ABC Exposed. Image via YouTube

Indecent exposure

Sky News’s ‘Your ABC Exposed’ reveals more about Chris Kenny and co than it does about the national broadcaster

Image of Loren O’Keeffe, the founder of Missing Persons Advocacy Network. Image © Paul Jeffers

The complicated grief when a family member goes missing

As National Missing Persons Week begins, the founder of an advocacy network for families reflects on the ambiguous loss experienced by those left behind