Speech: National Security




Monday 5 September 2022

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the 2020 Defence Strategic Update makes clear that Australia's strategic environment has deteriorated rapidly;

(b) as a result of decisions taken by the former Government, substantial progress has been made in transforming the Australian Defence Force into a more capable, agile, and potent force able to shape, deter, and respond; and

(c) the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) security pact:

(i) is the biggest development to our national security since the signing of the Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) treaty 70 years ago;

(ii) will maintain stability across the region and keep Australians secure through the acquisition of capabilities, including nuclear submarines, which will be crucial to Australian naval and defence power in the 21st century; and

(iii) goes beyond submarines and critical defence capabilities, it is about nation-building; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) ensure that spending on defence remains at two per cent of gross domestic product, or higher;

(b) guarantee that there will be no cuts to spending on defence, or defence projects as a result of the Government's promised 'Force Posture review'; and

(c) commit to implementing AUKUS rapidly at all levels to ensure Australia's security and regional peace are strengthened.

I rise to address this enduring question: how do we keep Australia safe? We've always had geography on our side, and, until recently, we've had time on our side as well. Culturally, we've seen ourselves as the lucky country. That era is over.

Australia's strategic environment has degraded rapidly, and it continues to degrade as tensions in the Indo-Pacific mount. Whether in our region or in eastern Europe, authoritarian powers are on the move. China is undergoing the largest peacetime military build-up since the Second World War. Russia has launched an unprovoked and unjust war on the Ukrainian people. This has strategic, economic and social implications, and they are all connected. Indeed, this era requires considered political leadership and statecraft. We need it now. Time is no longer on our side, but time remains of the essence. Now enters the member for Herbert! Knowing this hard truth inspires action, and we have reason to act. There is much about Australia to preserve and protect: the values and the principles that govern our citizens and our nation, freedom, the rule of law and our liberal democracy, which is one of the oldest in the world.

Peace is the cornerstone of prosperity and security, and we know its price. Over the past century, more than 100,000 fallen Australians have paid that price with their lives. Cenotaphs across this country remind us of this truth. Right now, our nation faces many challenges: fiscal pressures, the aftermath of the pandemic, cost-of-living strains, the widening pain of inflation and other economic headwinds. With these challenges, we can be distracted from defending freedom and peace, and we can hope that everything will work out okay, but, as authoritarian powers build up and ruthlessly deploy their militaries, we must not forget that weakness is provocative and that, in standing for our values, we must stand strong.

Standing strong means a commitment to hard power. It means being ready for tomorrow's threats and it means speed—speed to acquisition and speed to the battlefield. It means deterrence: making an adversary think twice before threatening us. It means strike—long range, accurate and lethal. It means asymmetric thinking and approaches: how can we overmatch our natural strengths against an adversary's vulnerabilities? It means having a sense of urgency and a bias for action. Standing strong also means growing our greatest asset, our people. We need a whole-of-nation orientation to the strategic challenges before us. The ADF and our defence establishment must lead, but it will be a shared contribution by all Australians. We must stand, we must stand strong and we must stand together. That's how Australia has always done it—working together, sharing the burden and lending the hand. It's how we'll get it done again. And politics is no exception—this is a bipartisan challenge that calls for collegiate solutions.

We all want the government to succeed in keeping Australia safe, and we want the Defence Strategic Review to build on the work that the former coalition government has done to date. Sir Angus Houston and Professor Stephen Smith have an ambitious task ahead, made more difficult by the sense of urgency it requires. We want them to succeed. That's our commitment to standing together. We want the review to bring together fresh perspectives to hard questions and to lead to the best outcomes. We must not go backward, and, in fact, making the tough calls is the only way forward. So, at the very least, the DSR should guarantee no cuts to Defence. The government should ensure that spending stays higher than two per cent of GDP. This is an imperative, given the inflationary impact on our purchasing power. We must commit to spending what we need to spend. We must have a floor, not a ceiling, and we must be able to increase expenditure as and when required.

Another way in which we stand together is through the AUKUS security pact. AUKUS represents important and timely teamwork with some of our closest and oldest friends. It includes, but goes well beyond, nuclear powered submarines. It's about other strategically significant capabilities like hypersonic missiles and long-range strike; quantum and artificial intelligence; cyber-resilience; and electronic warfare. It will also mean nation building for the task—generational investment in education and technology, and facilitating the movement of people between our three countries. And so it's right to call on the government to rapidly build the framework of AUKUS at all levels. It has to be done; inaction and failure are not an option. It will require singular focus and determination. We will do our job by supporting government in advancing this national cause, but we will also hold them to account should they falter.