What I’m hearing
People want a bipartisan approach to defence and national security issues in Australia in order to provide certainty for the defence force to train and equip themselves to best serve Australia. They are tired of seeing the defence of Australia politicised, especially when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money on procurement that is all too often used to win votes, rather than actually delivering the capabilities our defence force needs.
I support a defence budget that ensures the ADF has the capabilities it needs to meet the challenges we face.
Defence and national security are too important to belong to one political party and should never be used for political point-scoring.
I support a unified position on national security. I also support greater scrutiny and accountability in our defence procurement, so decisions to spend taxpayers’ money are based not on winning votes for the government of the day but, rather, on ensuring the ADF can do its job.
A strong & effective defence budget
A defence budget that ensures our armed forces can do their jobs is essential. However, that spending needs to deliver better outcomes and more efficient use of a significant taxpayer investment. Too often defence spending does not deliver us any capability and is wasted when projects are delayed or cancelled. The cancellation of the French-built Attack Class submarines, for example, is set to cost Australian taxpayers $5.5 billion; and yet, we have nothing to show for that enormous expenditure. Elsewhere, the Hunter Class frigate program is set to be delayed and face cost overruns that will likely deliver us slower and heavier warships. We also saw the Army and Navy Taipan helicopters dumped because they were plagued with problems, not least of which were doors too small to allow covering fire for troops.
According to the Australian National Audit Office’s 2020–21 Major Projects Report, the total delay time across 21 major projects stands at 405 months, with those 21 projects costing taxpayers $58 billion. Without the scrutiny of the ANAO and the Senate through the Estimates process, many of these delays would not come to light, which is why I support efforts that ensure the Auditor General has the necessary resources to scrutinise this massive expenditure, and why I will work always to hold the government accountable.
Investing in personnel and skills
Across the economy, we are seeing the effects of a skills shortage, and the ADF is not immune. I support investments that will give us the skilled defence workforce we need, such as ensuring people have the skills to build our ships and to crew them. Spending billions of taxpayers’ dollars on new capabilities is utterly wasteful if we do not have the people to operate them, as we saw when HMAS Perth spent two years in dry dock because the Navy did not have enough crew to operate it. With our move to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, there is now a risk that these much bigger vessels will not have sufficiently trained crews to operate them.
Meanwhile, the range of threats we are facing is increasing and evolving. Our security agencies warn of growing cyber threats that Australia will need to push back on as adversaries increasingly look to “grey zone” activities to undermine our national security. It is not just defence establishments that face these threats; everything from our hospitals to our banks and our energy suppliers are at risk from cyber-attacks. In that context, the federal allocation of $9.9 billion to bolster our cyber capabilities via Project REDSPICE is a positive move, but only if it actually delivers the capabilities we need and does not become yet another program facing cost and deadline overruns.
Better use of our diplomatic resources
While Defence spending and capability are important, so too are diplomacy and engagement. We need a stronger emphasis on diplomatic efforts to achieve outcomes, both in our region and further afield. While the Pacific Step-Up seeks to engage more with Pacific Island Countries, as with so many other areas, we need to be more effective and engage better. That is particularly the case with our near neighbours, such as helping Solomon Islands manage its security issues. We also need to continue putting as much diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine, not just to save the lives of countless civilians, but also to show our resolve that the integrity of nations is to be respected.
We must listen to the ADF on the geopolitical risks posed by climate change, since in many ways they are on the front lines of this crisis. The 2020 Defence Strategic Update warned that pandemics, as well as growing water and food scarcity, are “likely to result in greater political instability and friction within and between countries and reshape Australia’s security environment”. These concerns are only compounded by extreme weather events, in which climate change plays a part. We are already seeing the ADF deployed to deal with these issues by, for instance, assisting with COVID-19 vaccinations, evacuating families threatened by bushfires, cleaning up after floods in northern New South Wales, and dealing with the aftermath of cyclones in the Pacific. Our defence leaders — both current and former — are warning of the risks climate change poses to our security. The head of the ADF, General Angus Campbell, has said “the impacts of climate risks on the geopolitics and security of the Indo-Pacific are complex, but undeniable”, while senior retired defence and security personnel have called on “political leaders in this election year to make climate change a primary focus”. It is well past time for us to heed their warnings.