Scott Morrison has warned that a “new arc of autocracy” is forming to reshape the world, while pledging to build a new base for nuclear-powered submarines on Australia’s east coast.
The Australian prime minister will use a key foreign policy speech on Monday to warn against “a transactional world, devoid of principle, accountability and transparency”.
He will describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “major wake-up call” to the west about how autocrats are determined to impose their will, and liberal democracies cannot allow “the pettiness of small differences to infect our relations”.
Morrison is set to reveal the government has “provisioned more than $10bn to meet the facilities and infrastructure requirements” for the transition from Australia’s existing Collins class submarines to the nuclear-powered submarines to be delivered under the Aukus pact with the UK and the US.
A new base, to be built in Brisbane, Newcastle or Port Kembla, will “enable the regular visiting of US and UK nuclear-powered submarines”, he will say in a virtual address to the Lowy Institute.
Two decades after George W Bush denounced Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an “axis of evil”, Morrison will say: “A new arc of autocracy is instinctively aligning to challenge and reset the world order in their own image.”
According to speech notes distributed by his office to media in advance, Morrison will say Russia’s “unprovoked, unjust and illegal war” in Ukraine is the “latest example of an authoritarian regime seeking to challenge the status quo through threats and violence”.
“We face the spectre of a transactional world, devoid of principle, accountability and transparency, where state sovereignty, territorial integrity and liberty are surrendered for respite from coercion and intimidation, or economic entrapment dressed up as economic reward,” the speech notes say.
“This is not a world we want – for us, our neighbours or our region. It’s certainly not a world we want for our children.”
Morrison is also expected to say he is pleased Australia has stood its ground, amid growing tensions with China over the past few years, including over what the government has called economic coercion against a range of Australian export sectors.
Morrison’s government has been accused of politicising national security for domestic political purposes and exaggerating differences with Labor on China policy in the lead-up to the election due by May.
But the prime minister will say that Australians do not want “timidity and resignation from their leaders”, saying no one wants conflict, “but nor do we want the very world order that underpins our freedoms to be eroded for fear of giving offence”.
“Events are now lifting the veil … Australia faces its most difficult and dangerous security environment in 80 years.”
Morrison is expected to predict Vladimir Putin will continue “brutal attacks” in what he characterises as the “bloody and violent acts of an autocrat determined to impose his will on others, in the contrived self justification of realising nationalistic destiny”.
Democracies ‘must stand together’
Morrison will welcome “signs of a more concerted, tough-minded European approach to autocrat adventurism”. That includes Germany supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons and increasing defence spending to 2% of GDP, and Sweden and Finland contemplating joining Nato.
Morrison will also praise Japan, South Korea and Singapore for joining in economic sanctions against Russia, saying this is “a welcome testimony to international solidarity in our own region”.
He will say democracies “must stand together, resolute, against aggression and coercion – wherever it occurs”.
“We cannot afford the pettiness of small differences to infect our relations and our long-term cooperation. Our adversaries will ruthlessly look to exploit this.”
It is unclear what differences Morrison is alluding to, but the defence minister, Peter Dutton, has previously called on France to put aside any “hurt feelings” over the Australian government’s scrapping of the French submarine contract in order to focus on a shared approach to China.
The sudden Aukus announcement sparked a major diplomatic rift with France. Emmanuel Macron accused Morrison of lying to him and the dispute worsened when a personal text message from Macron to Morrison was leaked by the Australian government.
Morrison will say the new submarine base on the east coast of Australia will deliver “additional national capacity, not relocating any existing or planned future capacity” at the existing base, HMAS Stirling, in Western Australia.
It will “enhance our strategic deterrent capability” and include specialised wharfs, maintenance facilities, administrative and logistics support, personnel amenities, and suitable accommodation for submarine crews and support staff.
Amid uncertainty about when the first of Australia’s new submarines will be ready, Morrison will say the new base will also enable the regular visiting of US and UK nuclear-powered submarines.
Defence has reviewed 19 potential sites and narrowed them down to three preferred locations. Defence has now been authorised to engage with the New South Wales and Queensland governments, and local governments, to “begin negotiations on what will be an enormous undertaking”.
Dutton said on Sunday the government would announce “within the next couple of months” whether Australia would adopt the British or American submarine design, sparking speculation the Coalition might announce this major decision before the election.
But Guardian Australia has been told the government is not planning to announce this before the election, given the caretaker mode is likely to begin next month.
After the House of Representatives is dissolved, caretaker conventions prevent the government from making major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming government, except in consultation with the opposition.
Australia, the US and the UK are currently six months into an 18-month study on how the submarines will be delivered.
While Morrison has previously said the first submarine was expected to be in the water by about 2040, Dutton argued Australia would “acquire the capability much sooner than that”.