A former secretary of the US Navy who advised the Australian government on dropping the French submarine deal will now act as an intermediary with US defense officials in a role of US $ 6,000 a day.
Professor Donald Winter has revealed details of his expanded role in a case with the US Department of Justice, as Australia embarks on an 18-month study on how to acquire nuclear-powered submarines with assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.
According to the filing – which was required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the US equivalent of Australia’s Foreign Influences Registry – Winter received the request during Scott Morrison’s visit to Washington DC last week.
Australia sparked a split with Paris and caused unrest in some Southeast Asian countries, when it announced in mid-September that it was abandoning its A $ 90 billion deal with the naval group. French in favor of a defense partnership with the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom to be known as Aukus.
Winter has been the Prime Minister’s special adviser on shipbuilding since January, with officials saying his contract was worth up to A $ 1.5 million over three years.
In the new brief (pdf), Winter said the Australian government had asked him to engage with US staff “to move the implementation of Aukus forward.” This would involve coordination with the leadership of the US Department of Defense, “primarily the navy.”
Winter – who served as Secretary of the Navy from 2006 to 2009 under the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations – has long been involved in overseeing Australia’s future submarine program, including reviewing the appeals process. initial offers.
When approached for comment, the Prime Minister’s and Cabinet’s (PM&C) confirmed that Winter “supports the work of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to explore the optimal path to enable the ‘Australia to acquire conventional weapon nuclear submarines.
“As a trusted advisor to the Prime Minister and former US Secretary of the Navy, Professor Winter is uniquely placed to engage within the US system on behalf of Australia in the implementation of the Aukus partnership,” a spokesperson for PM&C said.
Earlier this year, Morrison made a series of personnel changes that would see him turn around on the submarine project, amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness and whether the project would provide the capacity that the Australian government thought it needed.
This included the appointment of Winter as the Prime Minister’s special adviser on shipbuilding.
Winter is remunerated through his firm Burdeshaw Associates. On Tuesday, the PM&C spokesperson said Winter’s fees were “up to the commercial rates of managing directors” and were “considered appropriate for the highly specialized skills and experience required.”
The cancellation this month of the $ 90 billion deal between Australia and the French naval group for 12 conventional submarines prompted
the French government to recall its ambassador to Australia, amid claims it had been kept in the dark and “stabbed in the back”.
In October 2016, the Turnbull government appointed Winter as chairman of the Australian Shipbuilding Advisory Board, which would eventually raise concerns about the progress of the submarine project.
In 2018, the board chaired by Winter suggested that the Australian government consider whether the continuation of the
French submarine program was in the national interest.
The board “commented that Defense should assess whether the risks of the program outweighed the benefits of the prosecution even if the negotiations on the strategic partnership agreement were successful,” according to deliberations revealed in a later report by auditor general.
According to Senate estimates in March of this year, PM&C officials revealed that Attack-class submarines and Hunter-class frigates were “a special focus” of Winter’s new advisory role.
PM&C officials said Winter had “extensive experience” and was “able to provide truly invaluable advice.” They said much of Winter’s work was done remotely from the Australian
Embassy in Washington DC, due to Covid-related travel limitations.
In June, the Defense Ministry left the door open for a change of course on the submarine program, saying in a public hearing that “careful contingency planning” was underway.
The resulting Aukus deal – announced on September 16 with great fanfare – commits Australia, the UK and the US to deepen cooperation on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and underwater capabilities.
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Its first project is an 18-month study to identify “the optimal path to deliver at least eight nuclear submarines to Australia”.
The Australian government has tried to allay the concerns of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, saying it remains committed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and will work cooperatively to support “regional stability and security. “.
Naval Group is currently preparing a bill for the canceled contract, but has yet to publicly disclose how much it is asking the Australian government for.
Morrison’s requests to speak directly with French President Emmanuel Macron have so far been pushed back, and it is unclear when the
French ambassador will return to Canberra.