Interview with Peta Credlin, Sky News
Topics: Launch of Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan, China
***E&OE Check against delivery***
PETA CREDLIN: Australia's military is about to get a whole lot larger and a whole lot tougher too. The Government's committing $270 billion dollars to Defence spending over the next 10 years, and it signals the strongest shift of Australia's military alignment in decades. Defence Minister and herself a former Reservist Brigadier, Linda Reynolds, joins me now from Canberra.
Thank you for your time, Minister. I'll get into the capability detail in just a moment, but clearly today’s Defence Strategic Update signals a much more forward leaning posture for Australia; is China alone driving this shift?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, good evening, Peta. No, it's not. The Strategic Guidance Update that the Prime Minister and I launched today is not about any one particular nation, but what it does is it recognises the very significant strategic deterioration in our region. So it is really in a response to that, it is a very clear eyed document, and I'd say that my role as Defence Minister is really to see and to understand our region in particular as it is, not as we would hope it to be. So this document is very much in keeping with our 2016 White Paper. And we have now locked in the funding for the next 10 years in line with that document.
PETA CREDLIN: Yeah it's a lift, though, from what was allocated in the 2016 White Paper, there's a significant cost increase there. There's a capability increase from what I can read between the two documents. And you just mentioned the region; clearly we're taking on, Australia looks to take on more of a deterrence role in our region, given yes again China's involvement but other nations as well. In practical terms, how do you see this play out in and around our neighbourhood?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, Peta, you’re quite right. We have unashamedly taken a much more regional focus, obviously that's where we live. But it's also a region that is increasingly marked by contestation and the deterioration of the relationship between China and the United States. I'd say in relation to China, that of course, we have welcomed and worked with China for many years on economic development and we have certainly benefited from that. But also we expect China, like all other nations, as we expect of ourselves, to be responsible regional partners. And to be quite frank Peta, Australia is certainly concerned by some behaviours that we have seen from China in recent times, which is making our region even more anxious.
Not only is it doing that, but COVID-19 is further exacerbating those regional anxieties. So it is time for us to refocus on our region and make sure that we do three things now in our strategic document. The first one is what we call shaping our regional environment and that means continuing to work with regional neighbours and friends to ensure adherence to rules based order, respect to sovereignty and peace and prosperity. But as you've indicated, where that is not successful, deterrence is also critically important to make sure that we can keep any threats at arms length from ourselves and also from our regional friends, and that's where our commitment to acquiring new long range strike weapons comes into play, because they are a very strong deterrent.
PETA CREDLIN: I'm going to ask you a question about those, but I just want to underscore the points you've made there, in particular when the Coalition was elected its commitment was to redress the downturn in funding under Labor to go to 2% of GDP in terms of military spending. Clearly, you've done that and beyond, and that tells you that the region perhaps is deteriorated in that time. But the long range missile capability, what do you want in terms of strike power here and why is it needed?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well there's a number of reasons that we've made these decisions to acquire long range strike weapons, in particular missiles. The first one is that our region is increasingly being militarised with new and advanced capabilities, including longer range missiles and also missiles that now use greater autonomy and also artificial intelligence. So the threats not only to our deployed forces in the region, but also increasingly with launch platforms coming closer and closer to our nation with increasing range of these weapons, we have to really look at territorial defence and really get a better understanding of what that all means. So that's the first thing is defence of our deployed forces, but strike missiles and strike weapons are incredibly important deterrents. We hope we never have to use them but they do send a very strong message to those who have those weapons in the region to stay away.
PETA CREDLIN: There's a lot of money, obviously $270 billion dollars, there's acquisitions for land, there's acquisitions for Navy, there's obviously Air Force capability lifts. I'm particularly interested in bases, you've got $30 billion dollars there for military bases. Does that mean we'll see some new bases in Australia and if so where?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, Peta, you’re quite right. We have invested and we are investing another $30 billion dollars in infrastructure and basing across the nation. We’re not, we haven't got plans for new bases, but what we are doing is we are increasingly developing our infrastructure, so ports, jetties, airfields, buildings right across this nation, new satellite stations, those sorts of things which are really critical enablers for the new capabilities we're acquiring.
PETA CREDLIN: Look for a long time, you know, I have to say, I've had a sense, probably for two decades that Australia's military has been sliding into more of a humanitarian capacity, natural disasters, us and the region and the like. But this is a really, well it's a much harder military edge in the documentation today. You've been a Brigadier before you came into politics. I want to know how do you think this is going to be received by military personnel themselves and can we get the recruitment needed to make it all a reality?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Peta, yes, we can. As part of this program we are actually increasing the ADF and also the APS in some of the particular, some of those specialist areas we need. So recruiting is not currently a problem. But again I'd say we are getting these capabilities because our nation needs them.
PETA CREDLIN: Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, thank you very much for your time.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Thank you Peta.