Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has said his nation’s plan to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States to modernise its fleet “must be the worst deal in all history”.
Speaking at a National Press Club event, Mr Keating said the submarines would not serve a useful military purpose.
“The only way the Chinese could threaten Australia or attack it is on land,” Mr Keating said.
“That is, they bring an armada of troop ships with a massive army to occupy us. This is not possible for the Chinese to do.”
“The idea that we need American submarines to protect us,” Mr Keating said.
“If we buy eight, three are at sea. Three are going to protect us from the might of China. Really? I mean, the rubbish of it. The rubbish.”
Australia’s deal — announced on Monday in San Diego by US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — came amid growing concern about China’s military build-up and influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Mr Biden emphasised that the submarines would not carry nuclear weapons of any kind.
Australian defence minister Richard Marles said the deal was necessary to counter the biggest conventional military build-up in the region since the Second World War.
“We have to take the step of developing the capability to operate a nuclear-powered submarine so that we can hand over a much more self-reliant nation to our children and to our grandchildren,” Mr Marles said.
Mr Keating served as prime minister for more than four years in the 1990s. He was from the Labor Party, the same party as Mr Albanese.
Mr Keating said the submarine deal was the worst international decision by the Labor Party in more than 100 years, when it unsuccessfully tried to introduce conscription during the First World War.
He also mocked the cost of the deal, which Australian officials have estimated at between 268 billion and 368 billion Australian dollars (£147 billion – £202 billion) over three decades. Australian officials say the deal will create 20,000 jobs.
“For 360 billion, we’re going to get eight submarines,” Mr Keating said. “It must be the worst deal in all history.”
At the Press Club event, Mr Keating was questioned about whether his own ties to China had influenced his views.
He said he had no commercial interests in China and had stopped serving on a bank board five years ago.