$368 Billion? Or is it closer to $500 Billion?
Image Credits: Marc-Antoine Déry & US Secretary of Defense

A Three-Page Bill for Nuclear Reactors in Australia & The De Facto AUKUS Inquiry

On Wednesday, the 10th of May 2023, the Australian Government presented a three-page Bill to Parliament to amend provisions in the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998. And the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. These amendments would allow the Australian Military to use nuclear fusion reactors to power submarines, inline with the AUKUS military partnership initiated by the former Liberal-Nationals Government and continued under the current Labor Government.

According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum…

“The purpose of the Defence Legislation Amendment (Naval Nuclear Propulsion) Bill 2023 (the Bill) is to clarify that the current moratorium on civil nuclear power does not prevent the relevant regulators (the CEO of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the Minister for the Environment and Water) from exercising their regulatory powers and performing functions in respect of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.”

The Memorandum continues…

“The Bill achieves this purpose by amending the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (ARPANS Act) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to enable the relevant regulators to perform their respective regulatory functions, if and when required, in relation to Australia’s acquisition and operation of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.”

The Bill was presented to the House of Representatives, also known as the House of Government, by the Minister for Defence Richard Marles, who said in support of the Bill…

"Acquiring conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines will unquestionably strengthen our defence capabilities. Indeed, this capability transition represents the single biggest leap in Australian military capability since the Second World War.

It will see Australia become one of only seven nations to operate nuclear powered submarines. It will strengthen our capacity to defend Australia and its national interests."

According to Minister Marles, “this bill is only the first step in support of Australia's acquisition of conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines. Building the legal architecture to support this endeavour will involve multiple tranches of legislation.”

You can watch the full speech to The House of Representatives on this Bill by Minister Marles, here: https://www.aph.gov.au/News_and_Events/Watch_Read_Listen/ParlView/video/1108170?startTime=3734

The following day, the 11th of May 2023, in the Australian Senate, the Manager of Government Business in the Senate Katy Gallagher, during the Selection of Bills Committee report moved an Amendment to the report, for a very short inquiry into the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Bill. The Amendment for the Inquiry stipulated that it would be heard by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee and report to the Senate on 9th of June 2023.

It should be noted that launching an Inquiry into a Bill is not a required step in making law in Australia. To learn more about the law making process in Australia, you can go to this following resource: https://peo.gov.au/understand-our-parliament/how-parliament-works/bills-and-laws/making-a-law-in-the-australian-parliament/ 

Immediately after the Amendment for the Inquiry into the Bill was put to the Senate, crossbench Australian Greens Senator Nick McKim moved a superseding Amendment for the Inquiry to change the final Senate reporting date to the 26th of July 2023. Following this, Australian Greens Senator David Shoebridge spoke to the Amendment, stating… “The Australian public were blindsided when they woke up about two months ago and found out that the Labor government intended to spend $368 billion on nuclear submarines. In fact, one of the real offensive parts about that is that the Albanese government has not told the truth about the real cost. It turns out that $368 billion only gets you the first five of the AUKUS subs, and the last three happen outside that budget envelope, bringing the real cost of the nuclear submarine project to close to half a trillion dollars.” Later in that speech, Senator Shoebridge also mentioned…" Now you're trying to slip through a quick and dirty inquiry on nuclear safety regulation for nuclear submarines. Labor and the coalition are desperately not wanting anybody to look at this extraordinary project of intergenerational theft that is the AUKUS submarine project."

The Amendment to the report by Senator McKim was subsequently voted down with the initial version of the Amendment, with the short 9th of June 2023 reporting date, passing the Senate.

You can watch the Inquiry Motion and the subsequent events in the Senate here: https://www.aph.gov.au/News_and_Events/Watch_Read_Listen/ParlView/video/1109842?startTime=9690 

The Australian Greens were not the only political party to voice their concerns about the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Bill, with the Australian Citizens Party publishing a video statement to their supporters entitled “BATTLESTATIONS! Swamp the Senate with NO to AUKUS!” In the statement, Australian Citizens Party Research Director and Executive Member Robert Barwick urged concerned Australians to, "fire off a very quick email submission to this Senate Inquiry… to register your objection to the deal (AUKUS) ".

You can watch the video from the Australian Citizens Party here:

Public submissions for the Inquiry into the Defence Legislation Amendment (Naval Nuclear Propulsion) Bill 2023, close on the 26th of May 2023. You can find out more information about the Bill and the Inquiry at the link below:


Rhys Jarrett, reporting from Adelaide, Australia.