The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has confirmed it will investigate the leak of highly classified national defence force information.
A report in Wednesday’s The Australian quoted former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as saying he was “flabbergasted” at current PM Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to delay the acquisition of new submarines.
The story published information from a classified draft of the defence white paper written while Mr Abbott was PM and while Kevin Andrews was defence minister.
The final copy of the defence white paper was released last week by Mr Turnbull and current defence minister Marise Payne.
Amid speculation over the source of the leak, Mr Abbott said he was not to blame.
“I don’t leak, I don’t background against colleagues. If I’ve got something to say, I say it,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Abbott told The New Daily: “Mr Abbott stands by his comments in The Australian today.
“It is wrong to say that an AFP investigation is underway into Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott is not the subject of any investigation.”
The journalist who wrote the story – Greg Sheridan, a good friend of Mr Abbott – told Sky News the former PM was not the leak.
The AFP told The New Daily it would not comment further on the matter, which it described as “the possible unauthorised disclosure of government information”.
During question time on Wednesday, Mr Turnbull announced he had told defence department secretary Dennis Richardson to ask the AFP to investigate the leak.
Mr Abbott told the newspaper he was “not just disappointed, I’m flabbergasted” by the submarine delay.
“It’s the biggest decision we face.
“It needs to be made swiftly so that we get the new subs from the middle of the next decade.
“This is vital for the defence of the nation, it is vital for our national self-respect, it is vital for our national security.”
The final copy of the white paper committed to the purchase of 12 new submarines, the first of which would “begin entering service in the early 2030s”.
However, in February 2015, then-Defence Minister Mr Andrews said new submarines would need to be ready by the late 2020s.
According to the leaked white paper draft, the acquisition of the 12 submarines “will commence in 2016 with the first submarines likely to begin entering service in the late 2020s”.
This was so submarines would be ready to replace the current ageing fleet of Collins class submarines.
Now it is feared some of the spluttering submarines will need to be maintained to keep functioning for reportedly more than a decade.
Mr Abbott and Mr Andrews had reportedly hoped that only two of the Collins submarines would need to be maintained, whereas Mr Turnbull’s plan would need “perhaps three”.
The Australian claimed that under the current plan the last of the 12 submarines would be built by 2060, with only minor delays taken into account.
In parliament on Wednesday, Mr Turnbull played down the differences between his white paper and Mr Abbott’s draft.
“I should also advise the house that the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force [Mark Binskin] have advised the Defence Minister and myself today that their advice to the government since 2013 has been that it was highly unlikely the first of the future submarines could be delivered by 2026, and an extension of life for the Collins class submarine would almost certainly be required,” he said.
“The Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force further advised us that a study commissioned by the Defence Minister confirmed in 2012 that an extension of life for the Collins submarine was feasible and practical.
“The Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force have since that time worked on the basis that an extension of life would be undertaken as the only practical option to ensure that there was no capability gap between the Collins and the future submarines.”
Mr Abbott’s comments are the latest of many public statements critical of the Turnbull government since he was dumped as PM in September 2015.