I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are meeting today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.
I would like to acknowledge, amongst other distinguished guests, members of the diplomatic corps, the Acting Secretary of the Defence Department and the Associate Secretary Brendan Sargeant, Neil James, the Executive Director of the Australian Defence Association, Dr Peter Dean, the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre Acting Head, and of course Dr John Blaxland, Senior Fellow and outreach coordinator, here at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.
When I arrived I commended John on his outreach because he was very diligent in making sure I was able to attend and commemorate this extraordinary five decades of achievement. John, I thank you for your tenacity. He came all the way to Townsville, to exercise one particular plea and has reiterated it since I think in both Sydney and Canberra. So that’s tenacious outreach I think.
Let me also acknowledge one of everybody’s very dear friends, Des Ball, and pay my respects to Des and his family at this very difficult time. We are thinking of you and I wanted to place that on the record.
There’s a number of other familiar faces in the room, some familiar for over to two decades of my parliamentary service.
It is a great opportunity to celebrate with you a 50th anniversary of anything, anyone. To celebrate a 50th anniversary in the world of academia, with the sort of rigour that one sees exemplified in an organisation such as this Centre, is particularly enjoyable. I am very pleased to officially launch the publication ‘A National Asset’.
What A National Asset does, in my view, is an excellent and valuable job of not only documenting some of the major changes in Australia’s strategic defence policy over the past five decades, and indeed it is a timely reminder, but outlining the critical role that the Centre has had in shaping public policy.
In today’s world which is replete with think tanks and institutes of various guises, it’s somewhat more difficult to picture an Australia in 1966 in which the creation of a University centre to focus on strategic defence issues was a new concept.
The Centre was very much a pioneer in this space in Australia, and 50 years on it continues to have a leading role in public discourse and in Australia’s strategic policy debate.
While ‘A National Asset’ is an insight into the role the Centre has had shaping the policy debate, it also reveals the complex balancing act that each of its Heads over the decades have faced in establishing and building and developing the Centre - from building close and trusted ties with senior Defence government officials, while fending off scepticism from fellow academics for being too close to their subjects; fighting for scarce funding while simultaneously being cognisant of not becoming entrapped by any single source of funding and fiercely protecting their academic freedom.
It’s fair to say I think my day job is reasonably tough, but I dare say that the management of all of these demands and the various personalities in academia, and Defence and the wider public sector would test the skill of even the most seasoned politician. So congratulations to those who have succeeded over five decades in that space.
The Centre has an exemplary record of producing high quality advice through its publications and in the development of future strategic thinkers.
It’s a credit to all involved with the Centre that it continues to produce that thought provoking analysis and research which enriches Australia’s policy debate.
So it is an honour to be here tonight with so many people who have made such a significant contribution to Australia’s strategic policy making.
The Centre’s 50th anniversary and the launch of ‘A National Asset’ is particularly timely from my perspective given the release in February this year of the 2016 Defence White Paper and given the very dynamic nature of Australia’s strategic environment.
And in relation to the White Paper, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the contribution of the Centre’s Dr Stephan Fruehling through his work with the White Paper Expert Panel. I acknowledge and thank you very much, Stephan.
The 2016 White Paper has set out a new strategic framework for Australia’s strategic defence policy, which the Government believes will better help Australia to respond to the challenges and opportunities in the decades ahead.
Australia’s defence strategy has evolved significantly since our first Defence White Paper was released 40 years ago, in November 1976.
While a secure Australia was our number one interest then and remains so now, a number of key changes have taken place.
The inaugural White Paper outlined a strategic approach for Australia, where the Defence of Australia was seen as paramount as our region grew more stable in a post-Vietnam world.
The 1976 White Paper effectively replaced the ‘forward defence’ doctrine within the Strategic Basis papers of the 1950s and 1960s that had focused on an ADF designed to fight with partners overseas.
This Defence of Australia approach continued for the rest of the 20th century, with similar doctrine articulated in the 1987 and 1994 Defence White Papers.
Through the 1990s there was growing recognition in the national security community of the important contribution the ADF could make to the security and stability of our region.
Indeed, many say that Australia’s critical role in leading the 1999 International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) effectively crystallised those changed perceptions of Australia’s role in the regional security environment.
The 2000 Defence White Paper advanced our strategic objectives (in priority order) as:
- the defence of Australia and its direct approaches;
- the security of our immediate neighbourhood; stability in Southeast Asia;
- the support of strategic stability in the wider Asia–Pacific region; and
- global security.
Not long after the release of the 2000 White Paper, the events of September 11, 2001 and the global threat of terrorism had a strong impact on Australia’s Strategic Defence Objectives.
They served as a wake-up call for Australia that some of our key national security interests were closely entwined with events occurring far from our shores. They also alerted us to a broader range of responses that such events demanded.
Today, the 2016 White Paper’s Strategic Defence Framework acknowledges the multifaceted roles that the ADF undertakes.
The 2016 White Paper sets out a framework for Australia’s Defence strategy.
Australia’s three strategic interests which guide strategic defence planning have remained relatively unchanged from previous White Papers, and they are:
- A secure, resilient Australia. Defence will be provided with the resources it needs to act independently to defend Australia’s air, sea and northern approaches.
- A secure nearer region, including maritime South East Asia and the South Pacific.
- A stable Indo-Pacific region and rules-based global order that supports our interests.
The 2016 White Paper has comprehensively assessed and clearly articulated our Strategic Defence Objectives.
Our Defence Objectives broadly outline the activities the Government expects Defence to be able to conduct if it decides to use military power in support of Australia’s Strategic Defence Interests.
For the first time, in this White Paper, our Defence Objectives are equally weighted.
These Objectives are to:
- Deter, deny and defeat attacks on or threats to Australia and its national interests, and northern approaches.
- Make effective military contributions to support the security of maritime South East Asia and support the governments of Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Pacific Island Countries to build and strengthen their security.
- To contribute military capabilities to coalition operations that support Australia’s interests in a rules-based global order.
Since the release of the 2016 White Paper in February, there has been some discussion about this change to equal weighting of our Strategic Defence Objectives.
The decision by the Government to place an equal weighting on our objectives acknowledges that it will be difficult to confidently predict the kinds of operations the ADF will need to be able to undertake into the future.
With the response to the myriad emerging challenges in the uncertain strategic environment out to 2035, including increasing non-geographic and transnational challenges in the cyber, space and non state actor domains, the future force must be able to provide the Government with more options and flexibility.
The rapidly increasing innovation in non-geographically bound air, space and cyber domains is presenting threats that entail a new order of complexity in our operational planning.
As we have seen with Daesh, a relatively low-tech force but adept in the use of powerful social media, the transmission of ideas, their vicious ideas, can be spread further and faster than ever before – in the blink of an eye.
Chief of Army noted last week during his excellent speech to the Lowy Institute, that one of the challenges for military planners is to ensure we can operate across the technology spectrum from high tech to low. Lieutenant General Campbell said “From space-based military effects to machetes – the Australian Army and its partners will need to address them all”.
We will always seek a technological edge but we also need to retain the ability to work effectively in the low tech, some would say primitive, battlespace.
The Strategic Defence Framework through an equally weighted approach sets out to guide the development of the future force so that we can meet these challenges and others.
Government must be able to ensure that it can deliver a future force capable of responding to new and emerging challenges. It must also better position Australia to shape our changing security environment in line with our Strategic Defence Objectives and Interests.
This includes conducting independent combat operations to defend Australia and protect our interests in the South Pacific and maritime South East Asia, as well as contributions to global and coalition operations where our interests are engaged.
This range of capability is absolutely critical in an increasingly complex and contested strategic environment.
Government must be able to ensure that it can tailor Defence activities not only to respond to challenges, but also to shape our strategic environment in line with our Strategic Defence Objectives and additionally, to allow Defence, where directed, to use military power effectively in support of Australia’s Strategic Defence Interests.
Moreover, the development of the White Paper and the equally weighted Strategic Defence Objectives was underpinned by a methodical and comprehensive process. As you know, a huge volume of work went into developing the strategic core of the White Paper.
Strategy is a combination of what we want to achieve, how we could achieve it, and managing the risks that might get in the way.
There is not a lot of point in articulating a strategy if you are not able to match it with the resources and the capability required to achieve its goals, which is why the Government has committed to increasing Defence investment to 2 per cent of GDP by 2020-2021.
The 2016 White Paper is sharply focussed through a clearer articulation and proper alignment of Defence strategy, capability and resources, and invests in Defence and Australian industry partnerships to effectively deliver and sustain Defence capabilities.
White Papers historically tended to follow a certain formula by identifying a strategic outlook and laying out how the government of the day will respond through, for example, revising force structure and outlining international engagement priorities. But White Papers can and have differed quite markedly in how they connect all their elements.
When the 2009 White Paper was released, there had been a gap of nine years between it and the previous White Paper in 2000.
Many commentators considered that gap too long, so the 2009 White Paper attempted to institute a regular process of reviewing and developing White Papers at least every five years.
It was good in theory – but as we know, the reality didn’t last a single cycle as we had a new White Paper in 2013 which was not supported by a comprehensive force structure review or budget review.
Additionally, previous White Papers, and particularly in 2013, had structural problems through their lack of a strong link between capability and resources.
The 2016 White Paper has addressed this. Firstly, the Paper:
- Is underpinned by a comprehensive Force Structure Review aligned with a fully costed budget plan.
- It has a budget plan, the Integrated Investment Program, which is externally cost-assured by the private sector.
- It brings all capabilities together under that Integrated Investment Program – including historically neglected enablers such as the Defence estate.
- It prioritises and it funds Defence international engagement as a core Defence function – to enable our strategy to take a more active role in shaping our region.
- It includes a specific Defence Industry Policy Statement, recognising and supporting the key role industry plays in generating and sustaining defence capability.
- And for the first time it has recognised defence industry as a fundamental input to capability, recognising that a stronger defence industry will result in a stronger defence force.
Importantly, to implement the White Paper, lead responsibility for key White Paper initiatives is assigned to principals in Defence, and progress will be reported regularly to Government.
This is the first White Paper that has a dedicated White Paper Implementation Strategy, and on this occasion is aligned to the First Principles Review reforms.
What the First Principles Review has done is create a new Defence organisation which is driven by a stronger strategic centre.
Under the strong strategic centre, responsibility for aligning strategy with capability and resources rests with the Deputy Secretary of Strategic Policy and Intelligence and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force.
The all-important force design function now rests in the centre.
Our force design function involves single end-to-end capability development within Defence.
This process is intended to identify not only that we are on track with the implementation of key White Paper initiatives, but that we understand how we might adjust if our strategic or other circumstances change.
These reforms are creating an agile Defence that mutually reinforces White Paper implementation priorities and outcomes.
The experience with this White Paper – the comprehensive nature of its attempts to learn from the experience of previous documents – has so far been a good one.
What many of the reforms we are implementing are intended to do is to establish a routine program of strategy development with annual reviews, and force structure development and reviews, such that future White Papers won’t begin from a cold start.
The Government has addressed the challenge in developing and refining strategy in a more comprehensive way, through:
- Establishing a process where the business of genuine strategy is routine and not an exception, including through annual reviews.
- Ensuring the development of strategy is a process that is open to change to address emerging circumstances.
Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to the Centre’s continued contribution to Australia’s Defence public policy debate as we continue to navigate our way through what will be an extremely dynamic and interesting period in our nation’s history.
Before I finish I also acknowledge the very important role the Centre has played, and continues to play, in training future cadres of Defence officials through its Masters program and oversight of the Australian Command Staff College’s academic program.
It is another fine example of the all-round contribution the Centre makes to Australia’s understanding of strategic defence issues.
I can safely say that Australia has greatly benefitted by this institution’s work over the past 50 years and I have no doubt we, including Government and Defence, will continue to benefit immensely in the years and decades to come.
I look forward to continuing to read the perceptive insights of the next generations of academics and adding to the list of names we know so well – to Millar, to Ball, to Beaumont, to Dibb, to Fruhling, to White – to name just a few of the Centre’s luminaries past and present.
It is a great honour to have been invited to launch A National Asset this afternoon. Thank you all very much for joining me here. And John, thank you very much for the invitation.