MONDAY 24 APRIL 2023
For the last year, the Albanese government has been telling the Australian people that we are facing the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War.
Last week, the Foreign Minister took the stage at the National Press Club and said:
“our region faces circumstances in some ways unprecedented. And these circumstances require a response of unprecedented coordination and ambition in our statecraft.”
The statement released today called ‘National Defence’ says the ‘current strategic circumstances are now radically different… we now face as a nation: the prospect of major conflict in the region that directly threatens our national interest.’
If you were hoping for unprecedented coordination and ambition today, you have every right to feel let down.
Because the Albanese government has failed to deliver the sort of action that our circumstances require.
The Albanese government has accepted the analysis of the Defence Strategic Update of 2020—delivered by the former Coalition government—and has also continued AUKUS—initiated by the former Coalition government.
But today’s announcement is a smokescreen to hide the truth about the DSR: the delays to strategic direction; the deferral of spending and the cannibalising of capability as Labor cost shifts within the defence budget.
We won’t see a national strategy document until 2024. They’ve delayed a strategy until next year.
If we are in such a dangerous strategic period—as we all agree that we are—we’ve lost another year of defence preparedness.
We won’t see any new money. We see the government funding the DSR recommendations through offsets, cannibalising capability as Peter Dutton and I have warned about.
Army capability is being cannibalised. Important programs like Land 400 Phase 3, the Infantry Fighting Vehicle program, are cut from 450 to 129 vehicles.
The Defence Minister has talked about an increase in defence spending over the medium term and next decade but we don’t see any increase to the Defence budget today. This indicates a fundamental lack of seriousness about the strategic challenge facing this nation.
We see a degradation of land power, by cutting the Infantry Fighting Vehicle program from 450 to 129 vehicles.
We have 3 mechanised battlegroups - 3RAR (Townsville); 6RAR (Brisbane) & 7RAR (Adelaide). That will be cut to one mechanised battlegroup.
Our troops will have less protection in close combat. It’s as simple as that. Infantry are most effective when fighting with armoured support. Even with the promised expansion of long range strike capability, you still need to provide security to those assets and forces. The cuts today degrade this capability.
As Chief of Army, LTGEN Simon Stuart has said:
“The infantry fighting vehicle is the last piece of that combined arms fighting system that we need to ensure our people have what they need to get the mission done and to survive in the future,”
There is no sense of urgency today. The mission is clear: we must respond to our strategic circumstances. Yet there is no strategy. There is no new money. And we are cannibalising capability.
Finally, I want to make a point about process. Today’s announcement on the eve of ANZAC Day is tricky politics. They are using ANZAC Day as a smokescreen hoping the Australian people wouldn’t notice. But we’re calling them on this magician’s trick. We will hold them to account.
We’ll be having more to say about this over coming days.
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