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"Sad old men": Jay hits back at Dick Smith's subs attack

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Premier Jay Weatherill has hit back at the “sad old men” responsible for launching a national newspaper ad campaign against the decision to award the $50 billion future submarines contract to French company DCNS.

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Businessmen Dick Smith, John Singleton, Gary Johnston, Boyd Munro and John Tait commissioned a page-seven advertisement in The Australian newspaper this morning, accusing the Turnbull Government of “condemning our sailors to their graves” by ordering 12 diesel-powered, rather than nuclear-powered, submarines, to be built in Adelaide.

The ad claims maritime warfare is likely within the next half-century, and “by the time all of this pans out, everyone else will undoubtedly have a nuclear attack submarine fleet”.

“Putting a diesel piston submarine against a nuclear one is like putting a piston/propeller fighter up against a modern jet,” it says.

“We will be condemning our sailors to their graves.”

But Weatherill took to Twitter to dismiss the ad this morning, saying it “looked like it was scribbled on the back of a serviette after a long lunch – #sadoldmen”.

The ad says the Government could have chosen “a workable state-of-the-art existing diesel submarine from either the Germans or the Japanese but chose a very complicated option [instead]”.

Smith told 891 ABC radio this morning the Australian Government would have been better off instead buying a nuclear submarine, or an off-the-shelf diesel-powered sub, or by spending the $50 billion on maintaining an Australian car industry.

“A diesel submarine has to come up about every 36 hours for air, to recharge batteries, and with modern drone technology every ocean will be covered with very fine radar systems from drones and the submarine will be taken out,” he said.

“I don’t believe we should be risking our young men and women into that technology when the potential enemy has a nuclear submarine.”

Smith said India, China, Russia, France, England and the US each had nuclear submarines.

“I believe we are sending our young men and women submariners to their death when the enemy’s got a nuclear-powered submarine that can stay under the whole time,” he said.

But SA Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith argued diesel submarines had capabilities nuclear submarines lacked.

“You can do things in a diesel submarine you cannot do in a nuclear submarine,” he told 891.

“For example, you can turn the engines off and go silent.

“…the diesel submarine technology used today is the best you’ll find anywhere in the world and it fills an important role – our Collins submarines are probably among the most lethal submarine capabilities in the world today.”

He said the Australian Navy “chose that [the DCNS bid] rather than the Government and you have to trust their judgment”.

“The other point I’d make, and it’s an incorrect thing in the advertisement, is that economically we will be far better off doing this in Australia than buying overseas.

“You might save a bit on the sticker price but the benefits flowing back throughout the general economy will be far more than what is spent.”

Smith told the radio program the submarine produced by DCNS was “actually a nuclear submarine – so the plan is for us to buy a nuclear submarine design … and then convert it to a piston submarine of, you know, a hundred years ago”.

“You cannot convert a nuclear submarine to a diesel submarine, it’s not possible … no-one has ever done that in the world.

“No-one in their right mind would ever do that, especially when there are a number of countries that make perfectly good diesel submarines.”

He said the decision to award the contract to DCNS for construction in Adelaide was merely “about getting a couple of extra seats in Parliament”.

A spokesperson for federal Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said the awarding the subs contract to DCNS was the result of a “competitive evaluation process” and that “the best experts available were involved”.

“These submarines will be regionally superior, they will allow Australia to pursue our national and international interests and fulfil our role as an effective US ally,” the spokesperson said.

“Building the submarines in Australia has immense benefits for our economy and in creating defence industry as a fundamental input to capability.”

The spokesperson did not, however, respond directly when asked to address Smith’s claims that no nuclear submarine had ever been converted into a diesel piston submarine, that diesel submarines need to surface every 36 hours and that nuclear subs are, by contrast, able to operate without surfacing regularly.

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