Labor has traditionally been seen by voters as not as strong on national security as the Coalition. The Rudd and Gillard governments were criticised by the then-Opposition for letting defence spending drop to 1.6 per cent of GDP in 2012-13, the lowest levels since prior to World War II.
When the Coalition entered government in 2013, the delivery date for the new submarines was set for the early 2020s but it has now been pushed out to the mid-2030s, highlighting the need to upgrade the existing Collins class of boats to avoid a capability gap.
The project’s estimated cost has gone from $50 billion to $90 billion over the past four years.
Mr Marles will say the Coalition government should have kept two bidders during the design phase instead of going with French company Naval Group from the outset, which stripped the government’s bargaining power.
At an extra cost of $400 million during the design phase, Mr Marles will say Australia could have saved billions in the construction phase of the program.
“But the failure to compete the design has meant that from the very outset Naval Group has been put in a position of supreme bargaining power, which in turn has enormously disadvantaged Australia in the management of this program,” Mr Marles will say, according to a draft of the speech.
“Because of the way this Liberal government has governed, because of Scott Morrison’s prime ministership, Australians are less safe.
“Our national security has been profoundly compromised. Australia now has a major problem in relation to the single most important military platform this country possesses.”
Mr Marles will criticise the government for putting a premium on building the submarines in Adelaide without a “strategic rationale” and a guarantee from the company of local content requirements.
“A domestic defence industry needs to serve the defence force in a way which is competitive and economical,” he will say.
Mr Marles will say submarines are a “powerful deterrent” because their stealth stealth capabilities put a “question mark” in the mind of adversaries.
He will say Australia was already facing the most complicated strategic circumstances since the Second World War, but the future submarines are needed even more in the post-COVID world because the global pandemic has accelerated tensions in the region including with China.
“COVID has given rise to greater instability within our region and the world. COVID has created questions to which there are no answers,” Mr Marles will say.
“And this has raised our strategic challenge to an entirely different level. And so the need for Future Submarines which will help meet this challenge has quite simply never been greater.”
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.