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Could Congress chaos sink Australia’s AUKUS deal?

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in the U.S. this week. Lobbying Congress to pass AUKUS laws top of his agenda. 
aukus congress

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in the U.S. this week, and lobbying Congress to pass laws facilitating the AUKUS agreement is top of his agenda.

The laws would allow Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, as part of the AUKUS defence agreement.

However, chaos over the position of Speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives has presented an obstacle. Here’s the latest.

What’s AUKUS?

AUKUS is a defence agreement signed by Australia, the UK and the U.S. in 2021. The agreement is set to deepen military co-operation and technology sharing between the three countries.

At the centre of the deal are nuclear-powered submarines, confirmed earlier this year. In the short-term, U.S. and UK submarines will visit Australia more frequently.

Following that, Australia is set to buy several ‘Virginia class’ submarines – a type of nuclear sub – from the U.S. in the early 2030s.

Finally, over the longer term, Australia is set to build some nuclear-powered submarines of its own.

These submarines can spend a longer time on missions than conventional submarines and are harder to detect.

The total cost of the submarine program for Australia is expected to be $268-$368 billion.

Congress legislation

Two key proposed laws relating to AUKUS are currently before Congress.

One is a bill to approve the sale of Virginia-class submarines.

The other is a bill to approve the sharing of sensitive technology and information with Australia.

Both bills are necessary to allow the AUKUS plan to proceed.

The holdup

The U.S. House of Representatives, one of the country’s two law-making bodies, is currently unable to pass legislation because it’s without a House Speaker.

The Republicans have a slim majority in the House, but a small group of party members ousted Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this month.

Several candidates have since failed to win enough support to be appointed Speaker.

Even if the House could consider the AUKUS legislation, there are some concerns among Republicans about the impact it would have on the U.S. submarine industry, so the deal is not assured.

Albanese has maintained he is “very confident of a positive outcome”, and has met with several members of Congress to discuss the legislation.

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