Anthony Albanese says the prime minister, Scott Morrison, broke “faith and trust” with the US by waiting four-and-a-half months to brief Labor on the Aukus deal, to claim the Coalition has criticized as “misleading” and “reckless ”.
Albanese was responding to a report in Nine newspapers that the Biden administration would only consider the project if it had bipartisan support.
Morrison delayed consulting the opposition until the day before the announcement of the pact in September last year.
The Aukus pact, a three-way strategic defense alliance between Australia, the UK and US initially to build a class of nuclear-propelled submarines, led to the scrapping of a contract between Australia and France to replace Australia’s existing Collins fleet with diesel electric- powered submarines.
Announcing a Labor pledge to boost Medicare in the Northern Territory on Saturday, Albanese described the report as serious and said it indicated the US government had repeatedly sought assurances that the deal would have bipartisan support.
He said the Biden administration understood the Aukus deal would be an upgrade to Australia’s alliance with the US and the UK that would have implications beyond a single term of government.
“The Biden administration reached out to Republicans and to people on the other side of their political system, to ensure that it would have that support within the United States,” Albanese said.
“And the Biden administration sought reassurance from the Australian government that Australian Labor had been consulted on these issues.
“It is extraordinary that the prime minister broke that faith and trust with our most important ally by not briefing Australian Labor on these issues.”
Albanese said Morrison contacted him the day before the announcement and asked him to fly to Canberra.
Labor’s deputy leader, Richard Marles, Penny Wong and Brendan O’Connor were also at the briefing.
But the defense minister, Peter Dutton, defended the government’s handling of the Aukus pact, saying on Saturday that Albanese was playing politics.
“If Mr Albanese had a problem with the way in which the briefings were conducted and the way in which the information was provided to him, he’s had ample opportunity… to raise it publicly,” Dutton said.
“I think his comments today are quite reckless. If the United States had conditioned the Aukus agreement on there being a briefing for the Australian Labor party, then clearly the deal would not have gone ahead. So the United States didn’t condition that.
“I think Mr Albanese frankly owes the Australian public an apology because he’s misled the public today.”