SYDNEY (Reuters) – Officials in Australia and Japan on Monday expressed scepticism and confusion over a pledge by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to give an Australian state-owned shipbuilder the option to tender for a major submarine contract, heightening the uncertainty around the project.
Sources have said Australia is strongly considering buying a version of the 4,000-tonne Soryu-class submarine built by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to replace its ageing Collins-class fleet.
But Abbott on Sunday promised shipbuilder ASC Ltd the option to bid for the next-generation submarines, worth as much as A$40 billion ($31 billion), in an attempt to shore up support ahead of a challenge to his leadership from within the ruling Liberal Party.
He survived the revolt during a vote earlier on Monday.
Abbott had pledged ahead of his election in 2013 that up to 12 submarines would be built at ASC in South Australia state, before beginning to back-pedal last year, signalling that cost and timely delivery were paramount.