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Australian PM tells US House speaker he hopes AUKUS legislation passes this year

WASHINGTON: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met the new speaker of the US House of Representatives on Thursday (Oct 26) and said he hoped the US Congress would pass legislation related to the AUKUS submarine project this year.

Albanese, who held summit talks with US President Joe Biden in Washington on Wednesday, met the new speaker, Mike Johnson, on Capitol Hill a day after Johnson’s appointment following protracted wrangling among House Republicans.

“We of course have important legislation required for AUKUS,” Albanese told Johnson at the start of their meeting. “We are certainly hoping that the Congress can pass that legislation this year.”

There was no immediate comment on the meeting from Johnson.

AUKUS provides for the sale of US nuclear-powered submarines and the sharing of nuclear-propulsion technology with Australia, as well as joint development of high-tech weaponry. The three-way pact between Australia, the United States and Britain is the biggest defense project in Australian history and a response to China’s growing power in the Indo-Pacific.

Budget wrangling and the lack of a speaker for several weeks until Johnson’s appointment interrupted the US legislative process in Congress and Australian officials have expressed concern about delays in approving legislation needed to move the AUKUS project forward.

Biden told Albanese on Wednesday that both Democrats and Republicans understood the strategic value of AUKUS and also urged Congress to pass his administration’s legislation to facilitate the project this year.

Related:

UK invests US$4 billion in nuclear-powered AUKUS submarine project

US submarine industrial base can and will support AUKUS: Pentagon official

At a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, a senior Pentagon official stressed the need for Congress to approve proposals to authorise the transfer of submarines to Australia, to allow maintenance of US submarines in Australia and Britain, and to authorize Australian funding for US shipyards and training of Australian workers in them.

Mara Karlin, Biden’s acting deputy under secretary of defence for policy, also highlighted the need to pass a fourth proposal to streamline defence trade among the three AUKUS partners. Officials and experts and say this is important for the success of AUKUS given the need to share US technology both in the submarine project and a second AUKUS pillar involving three-way cooperation on high-tech weaponry.

Twenty-five US Republican lawmakers urged Biden in July to increase funding for the US submarine fleet, saying that the plan under AUKUS to sell Australia Virginia-class nuclear-power submarines would “unacceptably weaken” the US fleet without a clear plan to replace them.

In a joint statement, the three representatives of the US Navy who testified at Wednesday’s hearing urged Congress to move ahead with Biden’s supplemental budget request last Friday, which earmarks US$3.4 billion for further investments in the US submarine industrial base.

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