Australia’s defence election issues
29 Aug 2013|

Australian Parliament House

Today ASPI and Hewlett Packard are hosting a debate on Defence issues at 12pm AEST between Dr Mike Kelly, who Mr Rudd has nominated to become Defence Minister if Labor win the election and who is currently Minister for Defence Materiel, and Senator David Johnston, Liberal spokesman for Defence. Consistent with our charter as a non-partisan organisation, ASPI has invited the major parties and the Greens to contribute to the Strategist today.

Defence under Labor – Dr Mike Kelly

There is no greater responsibility for government than the defence of Australia and Australia’s interests.

In May, the Federal Labor Government delivered the 2013 Defence White Paper. The White Paper outlines how we will maintain a strong Australian Defence Force to meet Australia’s national security challenges.

It includes major new capability commitments that are critical to Australia’s long-term defence and security and that will ensure we maintain world class defence capabilities that are integrated to support effective, joint ADF operations. A re-elected Labor Government will ensure that Defence has the resources and guidance it needs to deliver our priorities as outlined in the White Paper.

Should it gain Government, the Coalition has no plan for Defence, other than uncertainty. The Coalition plans to spend half a term writing a new White Paper. It has made no commitment to provide any additional funding to Defence, beyond what has been committed by Labor.

Indeed, in the 2013-14 Budget the Labor Government provided Defence with a record $114 billion across the Forward Estimates, and funding guidance of over $220 billion over the subsequent six years from 2017-18 to 2022-23.

We have committed to increasing Defence funding towards a target of two per cent of GDP. This is a long-term objective that will be implemented in an economically responsible manner as and when fiscal circumstances allow.

A Labor Government will continue to improve the capability of the Australian Defence Force through a comprehensive equipment modernisation program. Since the release of the 2009 Defence White Paper, through to 5 August 2013, the Labor Government granted 141 approvals with a total value of around $21.1 billion.

Over this period, Defence has taken delivery of a number of major systems, including C-17 heavy lift aircraft, F/A 18F Super Hornet combat aircraft, Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles and two large amphibious/sea lift vessels.

The Labor Government started the Projects of Concern process in 2008 to resolve problem Defence projects, to ensure critical capabilities are delivered to the ADF and money is not wasted. Since the Projects of Concern process began, 21 projects with an approximate value of $21 billion have been listed as Projects of Concern.

The former Coalition Government proved itself incapable of effectively managing Defence procurement. Through eleven years and five ministers, it presided over numerous reviews and reform programs that failed to address schedule delays and budget blowouts.

The results of these shortcomings are all too apparent. Coming into office, the Labor Government found a long list of projects of concern that were well behind schedule or over budget, with a total value of around $13 billion. A prime example was the failed acquisition of the Seasprite Helicopters – contracted in 1997, wasting over $1.4 billion of tax payers’ money on 40 year old Vietnam War era helicopters, and not delivering a single helicopter for the Navy.

The Labor Government is building Australia’s defence capability on three pillars. First and foremost are the women and men of the Australian Defence Organisation, their pride, professionalism, courage and commitment. The second pillar is the strength of our economy which generates the resources to meet our security needs. The final pillar is Australia’s defence industry, which is critical to maintaining a strategic industrial capacity in key areas.

In contrast, the Coalition has plans to make massive cuts to the Defence workforce, particularly within the Defence Materiel Organisation. Labor realises the value of a highly skilled and motivated Defence workforce – both military and civilian employees. The Coalition’s talk of excessive civilian numbers in Defence fails to recognise the key roles civilians in our Defence Organisation now play in delivering and supporting capability for our front line troops, and the integrated roles of many civilians in Defence operations.

Rather than just irresponsibly cutting numbers, Labor will focus on improving the way Defence does business. Labor has been, and will continue to, implement a major Defence reform program, including reforms to accountability, Defence procurement, budget, and services. We are particularly focussed on cultural change within the Defence Organisation through the Pathway to Change program. A re-elected Labor Government will continue to drive these workforce and cultural reforms.

A Labor Government will focus its relationship with industry through the identified three themes of: Enhancing Innovation; Building Competitiveness; and Developing Skills. If re-elected, the Labor Government is committed to adapt and further mature our partnership with industry to reflect our contemporary circumstances. A returned Labor Government will release a new Defence Industry Policy Statement shortly after the election.

Our policy in relation to the major shipbuilding programs, and in relation to Australian industry participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program, will continue to offer significant opportunities to generate innovation, skills and broader manufacturing and industrial capacity for our nation. Labor will assure Australia’s maritime capability while providing more certainty to Australian industry through consideration of a smoother, coordinated shipbuilding program that will provide a more stable pattern of work for the industry and retain critical skills for the future.

A Labor Government will continue to drive more responsive and efficient procurement processes within Defence to facilitate enhanced relationships with industry. In line with the strategic directions set out in the 2013 Defence White Paper, Labor envisions closer connections between our strategic policy directions and defence policy for industry, and a defence industry that is innovative, competitive in the global market and highly skilled.

The Labor Government is keeping Australia safe at home and strong in the world by seeing through our mission of training and transition in Afghanistan, countering threats at home, and keeping our defence and security forces strong.

Labor is committed to maintaining a highly skilled, capable and adaptable ADF as we transition from over a decade of demanding and intensive operations. We remain committed to the best care and support possible for our military personnel, including through programs such as Soldier On.

As we transition from operations in Afghanistan, a Labor Government will examine additional opportunities for our Defence Force personnel to participate in UN missions, building on their skills and experience, and supporting our current role in the UN Security Council.

Labor places high importance on boosting Defence engagement with international partners. Reflecting this, we have strengthened the Australia-US Alliance through closer coordination and cooperation. The Labor Government has agreed with the United States to progress to a larger six month rotation of around 1,150 US Marines to northern Australia from 2014.

The Labor Government has also strengthened the Australia-New Zealand defence relationship to promote innovative and cost effective cooperation bilaterally, and participated in the inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Tonga and the inaugural Australia, East Timor, Indonesia Trilateral Defence Ministers’ Dialogue.

Our partnership with Indonesia remains our most important defence relationship in the region, as exemplified by a Foreign and Defence Ministers Meeting (2+2) in April and the second Annual Defence Ministers’ Meeting in July.

A re-elected Labor Government will continue to enhance Australia’s defence engagement with Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, India and partners in South East Asia. We held the first Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting (2+2) with the Republic of Korea, and a formal Defence Minister’s meeting with Japan, both in July this year. We conducted the inaugural Australia-China Defence Ministers’ Dialogue in China in June 2012, agreeing to continue comprehensive discussions on strategic and security issues of mutual interest and enhance bilateral defence engagement.

Labor’s objective is to maintain and develop a balanced, joint force that is agile, adaptive and able to respond to the full range of operational contingencies into the future, whether that be through traditional military responses or integrated civil-military operations. Key to operating in the future battlespace will be domination of the electro-magnetic spectrum. We must ensure our platforms and systems are thoroughly integrated, through a network-centric warfare approach, providing seamless links from satellite to soldier.

Unlike the Coalition, Labor’s plans for Defence will meet this objective. Our plans are clear and based on a platform of successful delivery of capability, programs to skill and support our Defence Force and civilian personnel, the conduct of military operations, and engagement with our partners.

Dr Mike Kelly AM MP is the Minister for Defence Materiel.

Defence under Coalition – Senator David Johnston

There is no higher priority for a future Coalition government than ensuring our national security.

This is an area where the Coalition has an unmatched record of commitment and competence.

The Coalition’s view of defence policy is that it must be based on securing the following key strategic interests: ensuring the defence of Australia and its direct approaches; fostering the security and stability of our immediate neighbourhood—Indonesia, PNG, East Timor and South Pacific states; supporting strategic stability in the wider Asia-Pacific region; and supporting global security.

The Coalition is committed to providing Australia with military capability which is able to deter threats and to project force in our neighbourhood and to operate with our allies in the wider world where we judge that is in our national interest.

Defence industry needs a credible, ‘bankable’ DCP with meaningful schedules and project durations but this kind of detail is never produced by this Government. The Australian Defence industry has been a victim of this policy malaise.

In fact, the 2013 DCP, promised to be published by the end of June, is still nowhere to be seen.

Within 18 months of an election, an incoming Coalition Government will publish a new Defence White Paper with costed, affordable ways to meet Australia’s defence and national security initiatives.

Importantly, there would be no further reductions in overall defence spending under a Coalition government: any savings that the Coalition can find in the defence bureaucracy would be reinvested in greater military capacity.

No Coalition government would ever make savings in defence that would compromise our national security interests or reduce the operational capabilities of our defence force.

Labor has made unprecedented cuts to the Defence budget in recent years. In the 2012–13 Budget we saw a 10% cut to Defence—we haven’t seen a larger cut since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

This Labor Government has created a $30 billion black hole in Defence funding into the future and are currently campaigning without a senior Defence Minister to outline their plans for national security. That is an insult to this important portfolio.

The Coalition believes in sound economic management and fiscal responsibility now so future generations of Australians are not unfairly saddled with paying off current debts.

We must never, as this Government has, unfairly and irresponsibly gamble with the security of future Australians by underfunding defence investment now.

In strong contrast to Europe and North America, defence spending by our near and wider neighbours continues to rise—leaving Australia the regional odd man out in cutting its defence budget.

It is perfectly reasonable that other countries in our region with growing economies are spending more on newer and more sophisticated defence hardware. But despite their overwhelming mutual interest in avoiding conflict, our strategic environment faces high levels of uncertainty in coming decades.

Therefore, a key aim of the Coalition is to return a clear margin of technological superiority to the ADF as a prudent hedge against this uncertainty. We also need to retain capability edges where possible to compensate for our small population and large territory.

This means prudent and sustained investment in adaptable and flexible defence capabilities best suited to handle strategic risks over the long term—especially as the ships, aircraft and other equipment our defence force uses are essential national infrastructure that generally remain in service for decades.

The Coalition will work hard to ensure that our military forces once again become at least as capable as they were when the Howard government left office.

After restoring the Budget to good health, the Coalition’s aspiration is to restore the 3% real growth in Defence spending that marked the final seven years of the Howard government and was promised but not delivered by the 2009 Defence White Paper.

Under a Coalition Government, within a decade, defence spending will be 2% of GDP – one third more than Labor’s current abysmal performance.

The Government has had six years to come up with a plan to replace our Collins Class submarine fleet, but it has achieved close to zero. It has said that there are four options on the table. Two have been suspended and the other two are ‘under consideration’.

A Coalition government would treat the replacement of the current submarine fleet as a matter of urgency to reduce the risk of a capability gap in the future.

Senator David Johnston is a Liberal senator for Western Australia and the Shadow Minister for Defence.

The Greens – Senator Scott Ludlum

The Australian Greens believe that genuine security rests on diplomacy, fair global economic and social development, environmental sustainability and respect for human rights.

We believe that United Nations mandated military action should be a last resort, justified when averting a major violation of human rights or attempted genocide, or to counter the military invasion of a country. The Australian Greens called for the Australian military to be deployed in East Timor to safeguard the outcome of an election in the face of extraordinary repression.

Sending men and women into armed conflict is a grave responsibility that the Greens do not believe should be held by a handful of people in the Executive. The Greens Defence Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill seeks to vest this so-called ‘War Power’ in the Parliament, as is standard practice in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.

The absence of appropriate checks and balances on this decision-making power saw the Australian Prime Minister rapidly deploy troops to an illegal war in Iraq in 2003 without consulting Cabinet, and without the support of the Parliament or the majority of the population. Exposing our armed forces to physical and legal risks on such a questionable premise should never occur again. The Greens joined many eminent Australians in the August 2012 call for an inquiry into how Australia came to be involved in an invasion that ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of lives and inflamed sectarian instability in Iraq.

Governments around the world spent $1.75 trillion on military expenditure in 2012, an amount higher than Cold War peaks. Australia is among the five biggest military spenders in our region.

The 2009 Defence White Paper was directionless and bloated, and included a hardware wish list for a strategic environment that was never coherently described. It was startlingly undiplomatic, particularly towards our major trade partner China, sidelined the findings of its own Community Consultation process (which called for lower defence spending), and erroneously concluded that the strategic consequences of climate change would not be felt before 2030. Most crucially, defence policy continues to diffuse and confuse the objective of the defence of Australian territory with the objective of participation in foreign expeditionary wars.

The Greens believe the Joint Strike Fighter project is one striking example of poor strategic thinking leading to a poor procurement decision. The aircraft is a white elephant and that Australia should cut its losses as other countries have done. Our motion to the Senate calling on the government to urgently examine alternative capability development for the RAAF given the long lead times for project development, acquisition and entry into force was rejected by the old parties.

While some have laid the blame for the costly ambiguity at the heart of Australia’s defence policy at the feet of the ADF, the Greens believe these are political decisions for which politicians should take responsibility.

The Greens believe that Australia’s foreign and defence policies are not sufficiently independent, transparent or accountable. Statements by the Defence Minister proposing that Australia has full knowledge and concurrence of all activities occurring on US military bases in Australia are 90% platitude and 10% public information. The existing network of US communications and surveillance stations are now being buttressed by the most significant expansion of US Marine Corps and Air Force assets since the Second World War; a major change of policy undertaken without public consultation or public consent.

The Greens welcome Australia making efforts towards progress on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament but believe that the credibility of these efforts are reduced while we continue to lend bases, ports, infrastructure and doctrine to weapons capabilities that were found to be ‘generally contrary to the rules of international law’ in the International Court of Justice in 1996.

The 2013 White Paper devoted four paragraphs out of 148 pages to the security challenges posed by climate change. While providing a perfunctory acknowledgement that climate is a security issue, there is no indication that capability development is being informed by the changing nature of the security threats we face; we are left with the uncomfortable realisation that Australian defence policy is still geared to meeting the challenges of the 20th century.

Given the focus of very many other like-minded nations on climate security, Australia is unprepared and ill-equipped for the likely threats and situations we will face in the age of climate change. Australia’s security lies in preventing the worst impacts of climate change in our region and redirecting military expenditure to meet broader definitions of security.

The Greens believe that the quality of defence policy in Australia would be greatly improved if all MPs and defence bureaucrats were issued with a copy of Exit Wounds by Major General John Cantwell.

Scott Ludlam is an Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia. He is also the spokesperson assisting on Defence and Resources and Energy. Image courtesy of Flickr user Dianlin.