Christopher Pyne insists $50 billion submarines deal is on track as SA senators attack project

Cross-party political consensus on the ambitious Future Submarines program is beginning to splinter in South Australia, where construction on the $50 billion project is scheduled to begin in 2022.

Four South Australian crossbench senators have attacked the plan to build 12 submarines using French company Naval Group, arguing tens of billions could be saved and technical risks reduced if a different international firm was used. The criticism from Centre Alliance senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, as well as Australian Conservatives founder Cory Bernardi and independent Tim Storer, comes just days after the ABC revealed growing tensions between France’s Naval Group and the Australian Government over contract negotiations.

Defence and industry figures have told the ABC France and Australia will not be ready before 2019 to sign a crucial “strategic partnering agreement”, which is needed before detailed design contracts can be finalised, and submarine construction begins. Senator Patrick, who has regularly criticised the decision to choose a French design, said the Future Submarine Project was now “a project out of control”.

“With news that the project’s cost has now blown out to more than $200 billion, it’s time to reassess the program’s direction,” he said. Senator Storer warned the Government was, “taking huge gambles on our long-term Defence future and on our ability to fund our defence given other priorities”.

“I am concerned about the submarines on a number of fronts: the cost blowout versus the off-the-shelf alternatives, the choice of technology being made, the delay in getting them built and in service, and the consequent risk to Australia’s continental security,” he said.

But Defence Minister Christopher Pyne rejected the criticisms and suggested South Australian voters would not look kindly at the comments.

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