Interview with 7.30, ABC, Leigh Sales
Topics: Launch of Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan, China
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LEIGH SALES: Minister thanks for your time today.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Hi Leigh.
LEIGH SALES: Let's not mince words here when you're talking about guarding against cyber attacks, against coercion you're talking about China, aren't you?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well Leigh this document that we've released today, our strategic update is not about any one nation in particular. But what it is all about is an acknowledgment that our strategic circumstances, particularly in our region have deteriorated and are continuing to deteriorate.
LEIGH SALES: In what ways have they deteriorated?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: In many ways, Leigh. We're seeing increased militarisation across our region, we're also seeing quite disruptive technological advances, in AI, in autonomy, in hypersonic glide vessels, which are all combining to increase anxiety and uncertainty in our region.
LEIGH SALES: What would we anticipate using our long range missiles for?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, we hope we never get there, Leigh. But again, in terms of the number of missiles, the range of missiles and also their increasing capability and their increasing reach, they not only present a threat to our deployed forces but they also increasingly have implications for territorial Australia.
LEIGH SALES: What would we use ours for though?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Mostly deterrence. So the best form of deterrence is actually having capabilities to match or preferably over matching any potential adversaries.
LEIGH SALES: This is the most aggressive repositioning of Australia's Defence strategy in years. What do we think are the potential threats to this country?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well Leigh we talk a lot in this strategic update about the "Grey zone" and the best way to describe that is: all Australians have a really good understanding of peace, but also of war. But increasingly the threats to our nation and particularly to our sovereignty fall within that "Grey zone" in between, and that can be anything from foreign interference, it can be cyber attacks, it can also be militarisation of disputed features in our region. And all of those are new threats that we need to be cognisant of and be prepared for.
LEIGH SALES: For a long time, Australian Defence has been governed by this principle of interoperability and that is that our gear is designed to work alongside the American gear. Is this new posture an acknowledgement that we can no longer rely on America coming to Australia's Defence?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Leigh, quite the opposite. In this document we are very clear that the United States presence in our region, militarily, for many decades has been the absolute bedrock of peace and prosperity in our region. Since I've become Minister it is very clear to me that our alliance, particularly military to military, is in incredibly good shape. Whether that's personal relationships, whether that's as you've said, interoperability with the United States forces, whether it's the training we do together or the operations we serve together on, our relationship is as strong, if not stronger than ever.
LEIGH SALES: But what this document seems to be saying though, is we need to be able to take more responsibility for our own Defence, which is a bit different to thinking that well, if we're attacked, America would come to our aid.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well I'm not sure, in fact I'm certain we've never thought that and as the Prime Minister has said today and I've said on many times it's about doing our share and it's about burden sharing and not leaving our Defence or the defence of our region and the support of our region to any one country.
LEIGH SALES: The focus in this strategy is on the Indo-Pacific. Can Australians take that to mean that we won't be following the US into more Middle Eastern adventures like Iraq?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well Leigh in the last white paper we had three equally weighted objectives. That was looking after our territorial interests, our regional interests and our global interests. But in this document, given we no longer have such a benign strategic environment anymore, we have unashamedly refocused our objectives in our region to make sure that we look after the home fires so to speak. So it's not about following anybody else, this is all about what is in our nation's strategic interests.
LEIGH SALES: When did you last speak to your Chinese government counterpart?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: That would have been last year in person at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting.
LEIGH SALES: And should there be more dialogue? That seems like quite a long time ago.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, obviously Leigh, COVID-19 has impacted on all of that. But Leigh you raise a really good point. In Defence, our Defence diplomacy is absolutely critical and that's really at the heart of the shaping objective in our policy.
LEIGH SALES: Did Chinese officials get any sort of heads up at a diplomatic level or other level that this policy change was coming?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: We have certainly briefed many regional friends and partners and also international allies. And yes, China has been briefed.
LEIGH SALES: Minister, thank you very much for your time today.