Question Time: An update on Australia’s defence strategic policy

Photo of MPSenator McLACHLAN (South Australia) (14:29): My question is for the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Can the minister outline how the Morrison government is updating Defence’s strategic policy and sharpening its capability to protect Australia and its interests?

Photo of MPSenator REYNOLDS (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:29): I thank Senator McLachlan for that question and for his support for defence industry in particular. The first role of the Australian government is to keep Australia and all Australians safe. The stark fact, though, is that today, at the same time that we are facing a pandemic-induced economic shock, our region is facing the most consequential strategic realignment since the end of World War II.

Our national interests are being challenged more directly and, therefore, we are demanding and we need a clear-eyed prioritisation of our Defence forces. That is why, on my appointment as Minister for Defence, I set three priorities for the Defence portfolio: strategy, capability and reform. The 2020 Defence Strategic Update and accompanying Force Structure Plan are timely and comprehensive and have been well received. These documents addressed my first two priorities, strategy and capability. They demonstrate that Defence thinking and planning have shifted gears in response to the changes in our strategic environment.

I have set three new military effects-based strategic objectives for Defence. The first is to shape our strategic environment. The second is to deter actions against Australian interests. The third is to respond with credible military force when required. This government’s clear-eyed approach demonstrates to Australians that their security and their prosperity are our first priority. In relation to my third priority, reform, Defence must continue to adapt and transform to ensure that we align strategy and capability with our financial resources. I will be making further announcements on the direction of that transformational work later this year.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McLachlan, a supplementary question?

Photo of MPSenator McLACHLAN (South Australia) (14:31): Can the minister advise how the government is providing funding certainty to Defence over the decade ahead?

Photo of MPSenator REYNOLDS (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:31): This government has committed $270 billion in Defence capability over the next decade. This will transform Army, Air Force and Navy. It develops two new military capability domains: space, and information and cyber. This locks in the long-term funding commitment that we made in the 2016 white paper. This unequivocally maintains long-term certainty for Defence spending. Both Defence and Australian Defence Industry rely on this funding stability, especially during this particularly challenging time for our economy. This financial year, as promised, we will meet two per cent of GDP. We have also decoupled Defence funding from GDP. On this side of the chamber, we have delivered the right Defence strategy for our nation and we have ensured it is funded.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McLachlan, a final supplementary question?

Photo of MPSenator McLACHLAN (South Australia) (14:32): How is the government supporting Australia’s Defence industry workers through these investments?

Photo of MPSenator REYNOLDS(Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:32): To deliver the Force Structure Plan this government understands we need strong and enduring partnerships with Australian industry, and I am very proud to be part of a government that has unashamedly backed in Australian Defence Industry and the capability of Australian workers. The vast majority of the Defence budget is spent right here in Australia: 32 per cent on the salaries of over 116,000 Australian personnel; 30 per cent on sustainment, which is mostly spent right here across Australia; and 34 per cent investment in new capability, which increasingly, as a result of our government’s very deliberate policies, is being spent here in Australian industry. Over 15,000 Australian companies and 70,000 Australians are now benefiting directly from our investment in Defence. That number is growing rapidly even during the COVID period.

You can watch my questions to Senator Reynolds here.

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