Speech: Defence Connect Budget Summit 2024


FRIDAY 17 MAY 2024

Check against delivery.

Good morning—it’s great to be here.

I’d like to thank Defence Connect—Liam Garman, Phil Tarrant and Steve Kuper. This forum is well-timed.

I’d also like to thank Sarah Cullens and Precision Public Affairs for your commitment to defence industry and the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Over the lake, on the grounds of the Australian Defence Force Academy and Duntroon, we have young Australians learning how to command troops and win the fight in combat operations.

An important part of their training involves enemy analysis at the tactical level.

Before they build their tactical plan, they first assess what the enemy will do both unilaterally, and in response to their own plans.

They assess their enemies’ most likely and most dangerous courses of action.

The most likely is the most probable or expected course of action based on enemy intentions, strength, terrain, and limitations.

It’s what we expect the enemy will do.

The most dangerous course of action is the course of action that is less likely, but that which will cause the greatest amount of damage to Australian forces, if it happens.

Our young combat leaders are taught to imagine both enemy options, and to defeat both enemy options.

This critical process is applied at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

It’s not unique to the military either.

We do it in business, in finance, in politics, everywhere in life.

In micro-economics, we use game theory to optimise our own position relative to the decisions of others.

If you have young kids—as I do—you’re always planning for most likely and most dangerous!

We just use a different language.

The point is that we are always planning and anticipating challenges.

Nothing is ever static.

And this is why the Albanese National Defence Strategy (NDS) is a failure.

It does not define the threat.

It’s not clear what we are preparing to deter and defeat.

The government has not articulated a most likely or most dangerous strategic threat.

Instead, the Albanese threat assessment is what I’d called ‘most convenient’ threat – a threat that doesn’t force you to question your planning assumptions and allows you to push out all the big defence investment and spending to the next decade.

And because we don’t have a clearly articulated threat, we don’t have a robust strategy.

The Albanese Government hasn’t adapted to the world today in 2024, post the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The National Defence Strategy looks and sounds like the Defence Strategic Update (DSU) in 2020.

That was a good start, but the world has changed.

The NDS sounds like the 2020 DSU except it’s shrouded in phrases like ‘impactful projection’ to give it a sense of newness.

This lack of clarity has consequences.

We don’t get a sense of prioritisation.

We don’t get a sense of urgency.

So let me start this morning with a bracing thought exercise:

What would we do if China managed to get an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) into the Pacific Island Chain?

Let’s say a DF-26, which has a range of 4000 km and a nuclear /conventional warhead of 1200-1800 kilograms.

Or a DF-21D, which can reach out to targets at 1685 kms with 600 kilograms of explosive or a 250-500 kiloton nuclear warhead.

Both these missiles are called ‘carrier killers’ and could easily sink big-deck amphibious ships like HMAS Canberra or Adelaide.

It’s an interesting proposition.

We’ve seen what China has been able to do with the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea since 2015.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has turned atolls and reefs into unsinkable aircraft carriers with missiles and strategic bombers.

We’ve seen through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that China has built a network of ports from Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Ream in Cambodia, the port of Gwadar in Pakistan and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

All those ports are Chinese-controlled, with Djoubiti and Ream now shared facilities with the PLA.

The Chinese BRI offensive is moving at pace into our region.

A cluster of traditionally close friends and partners in the Pacific Island nations have entered into Belt and Road agreements with the Chinese government during the period 2018 - 2019.

What if those BRI agreements deepen into military cooperation?

Do we really think they won’t become strategically important for the People’s Liberation Army if things get kinetic?

We know that ASBMs are self-deployable by road, and both launchers and missiles can be shipped in the vehicle deck of a car ferry and amphibious ship.

What if an ASBM was deployed either overtly or covertly into the Pacific Island chain as part of a ‘sea denial’ strategy?

What would that mean for Australia’s national security? Our lines of trade and communication? Our operational and strategic partnership with the United States?

What options would we have to enlarge of freedom of action?

This is a bracing thought exercise, but one we must consider.

There is no public evidence to suggest that this is occurring, but we must be willing to imagine dangerous courses of action as we consider and design defence policy and strategy.

And so, I urge you to read David Kilcullen’s article ‘Wake Up Call: Pacific Islands are potential missile launch pads’ along with Peter Connelly’s ‘Grand Strategy: Inside China’s Statecraft in Melanesia’ in the February 2023 edition of Australian Foreign Affairs, aptly titled ‘Girt by China’.

You’ll get a sense of what a most dangerous course of action at the strategic level might look like for Australia.

And you’ll start wondering how we are building a cost-imposition strategy to deter such a threat.

But after the Albanese defence budget, I think we know that the only sort of impactful projection occurring now is through the Belt and Road Initiative, as it enlarges the strategic footprint of the Chinese government.

Now, this brings me back to where I started.

Under the Albanese Government, we don’t have a clearly articulated threat.

We don’t have a clear strategy to deter and defeat it.

And the defence budget demonstrates this.

$50.3 billion of additional spending over the next ten years.

But only $5.7 billion of additional spending over the forward estimates.

Most of that funding – in fact, $3.8 billion – occurs in the final year of 2027-28.

The back-end of the forwards, not the front-end which is the here and now. Where it matters.

For example, the government is happy to fund 36,000 new public servants, costing $24 billion over the next four years.

At the same time, they keep telling us that we are living in the most dangerous times since the end of the Second World War.

It makes no sense.

It’s the ADF that has a recruitment and retention crisis – not the Canberra–centric Australian Public Service.

Richard Marles has also said the ten-year warning time for conflict in no longer a valid planning assumption.

Yet if you follow the money, you’ll see that ten-year warning time planning assumption is a deeply held orthodoxy.

That’s exactly what the thinking is: that’s why we won’t see submarines or new frigates until the next decade.

Under the Albanese Government, we’ll become weaker before we get stronger—just as the strategic risk in the Indo-Pacific is peaking.

Moreover, we have a recruitment and retention crisis. The budget revealed that we are 5,000 people short in the ADF and falling behind.

This is happening as we are meant to be growing the ADF by 18,500 by 2040.

This is dangerous. Weakness is provocative. And we must be strong.

That is why under a Dutton-led government, I will prioritise the following as Defence Minister:

First, we will sharpen our thinking and build a robust strategy anchored not in electoral considerations but in the strategic realities that we are facing as a nation.

Second, we will solve the people crisis. We will fix recruiting and retain our people. This will involve strong messaging and incentives for service.

Third, we will invest in defence now, not in the decade to come. We will ask the question: what can we fix by 2026?

That will be our guiding star in our first year of government.

That will involve drawing on defence industry and building a closer weave with Australian small and medium enterprises so that we can develop asymmetric capabilities that will allow us to build a cost-imposition strategy, as we wait for AUKUS and other capabilities to come online.

Fourth, we will expand our industrial base so that we can grow sovereign capability and be self-sufficient in a crisis.

Finally, we will deepen our military-to-military relationships across the region.

No country can ever defend itself in isolation, and so we must work to partner with others to uphold our collective prosperity and security.

I’ll leave it there. Thanks again for having me today.


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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-05-17 14:53:09 +0800