Australia’s plans for nuclear submarines will again be in the spotlight when Foreign Minister Penny Wong meets International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi.
The meeting comes after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese calmed ruffled feathers in Paris, repairing relations with French President Emmanuel Macron after Scott Morrison ditched plans to buy French-made submarines earlier this year.
Senator Wong said part of the talks on Monday would focus on Australia’s approach to acquiring the non-nuclear armed, but nuclear-powered submarines.
“We are committed to the highest possible non-proliferation standard,” she said on Sunday.
Australia has been a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty for more than 50 years.
This has been put at odds with a decision under the previous Morrison government to replace Australia’s ageing diesel-powered submarine fleet with nuclear ones.
The first of these new submarines are unlikely to be operational until the late 2030s to early 2040s, forcing upgrades to the outdated Collins-class fleet.
Acting Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles hoped to have the new fleet online soon but has previously floated the 2040 likelihood.
“I’ll be doing everything we can to try and get an earlier result,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“Whenever we can get those submarines, in whatever year that is, whatever potential capability gap that opens up, we will seek to have a solution for that.”
The replacement of the Collins class fleet was a long-running saga under the previous Coalition government, plagued by cost and time blowouts.
Senator Wong said the challenging international security environment would also be a key focus.
“I look forward to discussing with Mr Grossi the Australian government’s open and transparent engagement with the IAEA on nuclear safeguards,” she said.
Senator Wong also hoped to address North Korea and Iran’s attempts to build nuclear weapon arsenals and mull the risks posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In 2021-22, Australia provided the IAEA $31.5 million in core funding and an additional $5.2 million to assist our regional partners to safeguard healthy oceans, enhance women’s leadership in the nuclear field and support nuclear security in Ukraine,” Senator Wong said in her statement.
There are also plans for Mr Grossi to visit Australian nuclear experts at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.