Shadow Ministerial Statement: Response To Minister For Defence


Let me begin by saying that the Opposition shares the Minister’s view that defending our sovereignty, our territory, our values and our way of life are a sacred duty of the Australian government and, indeed, of this Parliament.

On this question: we are of one mind and spirit with the government.

If we cannot secure and defend ourselves, then we fail at the most basic duty entrusted to us by the Australian people.

In this task, strength and resolve are vital.

We must be strong because weakness is provocative. 

We must show resolve because we live in a contested, competitive world.

Our national history reminds us of these truths.

Australia has been tempered by war in the last century.

More than 100,000 men and woman have given their lives in war defending the things that we love and cherish.

Many of us stood at the War Memorial on Sunday, at the Last Post ceremony, and said as one: Lest We Forget.

In speaking those words, we pledge to remember the sacrifice made by previous generations.

But we also pledge to strengthen and defend Australia today and for the generations to come.

The Opposition embraces this obligation and we will always work with the Government, in a spirit of goodwill, to provide for the safety and security of the Australian people.

Our decisions on national security reflect our priorities. They show our strength and resolve.

That’s why the former Coalition government embarked on a new course through the AUKUS partnership on the 16th of September, 2021.

A new partnership that will build our military strength through the acquisition of nuclear submarines, and other advanced defence capabilities.

This task will span multiple parliaments, governments and generations of Australians. It requires leadership from government, and institutional support from this Parliament.

For this is a truly complex and demanding nation-building project that engages government, business, industry, our schools and universities, our workers, our allies and our regional neighbours.

Most importantly, this task demands resolve. For we do live in a contested and competitive world.

There are naysayers and opponents of AUKUS—here in Australia and abroad. They will counsel doubt, delay, and deferral. We must ignore them, and stay the course.

Delivering nuclear boats to the Royal Australian Navy on time demands singular focus and resolve. It demands relentless mission focus.

Not just from government, but from all of us in this House.

The Opposition believes in the AUKUS mission, and we are resolved to see it through to completion—at best speed with the most capable nuclear submarine that we can get.

This must be our priority as time is not on our side. Our strategic circumstances have changed, for the worse—as the Minister has outlined today.

The past twelve months have added urgency to the AUKUS mission.

A little more than a year ago, we saw China and Russia sign a ‘no-limits’ strategic partnership on the eve of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Only weeks later, Russia commenced a barbaric, illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.

Thousands have perished since. Despite our best efforts to support the Ukrainian people in their struggle against barbarism, Europe remains no closer to peace today.

Nearer to home, we have witnessed a creeping strategic disorder over the past 6 months.

PRC rockets streaked across the skies of Taiwan in August, and PRC spy balloons breached sovereign airspace in the United States and Central America.

Authoritarian powers are on the move, and the rules-based global order has groaned under the strain. The risk of miscalculation has risen to dangerous levels.

A new reality is darkening our region, one that has the potential to diminish our collective security and prosperity.

This emerging reality was forecast by the former Coalition government in July 2020, when the Defence Strategic Update was given at the Australian Defence Force Academy by Prime Minister Morrison.

Great power competition. Military modernisation. Grey zone operations conducted below the threshold of war.

It was all forecast in the DSU. Even then, authoritarian powers were on the move.

It was this assessment that led the former Coalition government to act. To see the world as it was, not as we wished it to be.

It mean that we had to take a tough but necessary decision: to cease the Attack Class submarine project with our French friends.

And to pursue a new trilateral agreement with the US and UK that would deliver the most cutting-edge, capable nuclear submarine.

This was not easy. But tough decisions never are.

The Leader of the Opposition knows this—better than most in this House and I acknowledge his leadership as the former Minister for Defence.

The Coalition acted in the best interests of the Australian people because we believe that national defence is a sacred duty of government.

We can’t afford to be weak in this new reality, and nuclear submarines will make us strong.

It will change the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region in favour of those who want peace, security, stability and prosperity.

For those who want a bright future for Australia, for our children, and for our neighbours in the region.

But relying on submarines is not enough.

Even as we build our strength through AUKUS, we must redouble our frontline diplomatic efforts.

As the Minister said, we must build our friendships to reduce tension and create pathways for peace.

We are blessed to live in a colourful, dynamic region of many countries and cultures.

Modern Australia reflects this regional diversity with our multicultural society. This is a strength as we step out into our Indo-Pacific neighbourhood.

We understand and respect differences as we encounter them.

Our neighbours are important to us.

Friends such as Japan, Singapore, South Korea, India and Indonesia.

We benefit from their strategic insights and perspectives. And we uphold their sovereignty with the same zeal that we wish to safeguard our own.

But we all the share the same desire for a brighter future and—on that common ground—we must work together to avoid conflict, disorder and strife with all nations in our region.

Sometimes with outstretched arms towards those that wish to remain aloof. We must stay engaged and we must maintain a bias for dialogue. 

The Minister touched upon our alliance with the United States. He mentioned our Joint Facilities and covered the perennial questions of full knowledge and concurrence.

I will not cover the same ground, except to say that there is no space between the Government and the Coalition on the critical importance of those capabilities to our national security.

Nor on the need to maintain them for the challenges ahead.

A few words in closing about our closest security partner the United States of America.

The Indo-Pacific region has benefited greatly from the U.S. since the Second World War.

On a personal level, I wouldn’t be standing at this table if a US medic from Virginia had not saved the life of my grandfather—under fire—in the Indonesian archipelago on 31st March 1945.

On a national and geopolitical level, U.S. investment in regional security and trade has helped to build our common peace and prosperity for more than eighty years. As a trading nation, our lives depend upon it.

We wish to see this continue—as do other nations—and we urge our American friends to retain an outward facing posture. To stay engaged in the region. And to be responsive to the needs of allies—particularly when it comes to the liberalisation of defence and technology transfer.

The US Congress, the UK Parliament and the Australian Parliament must work together to realise the host of legislative changes that will enable the smooth operation of AUKUS beyond respective governments of the day.

This might require institutional experimentation and I encourage the Minister to consider all options going forward.

In closing, we look forward to next steps with the AUKUS and the Defence Strategic Review announcements.

And we will offer robust support from Opposition—with the national interest as our guiding star—in the best Westminster tradition.

I thank the House.