The Opposition’s confusion over Defence policy continues.
The last few days have seen confused and confusing statements from the Opposition on Defence policy.
Yesterday, the Shadow Minister for Defence Science, Technology and Personnel Stuart Robert summed it up best as “…we are yet to announce a holistic policy, a holistic thought line on exactly where we are going...”
On Tuesday this week, Shadow Minister for Defence Senator David Johnston revealed the Opposition would purchase fifteen Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned surveillance aircraft. This on the run decision would cost up to $4 billion.
On Wednesday, Senator Johnston said “the Global Hawk was ideally suited to patrolling the North West of WA because it can survey as much as 100,000 sq/km of terrain a day and fly for 42 hours without returning to base.”
Today, in The Australian, Senator Johnston is reported as saying that the Opposition would buy twelve Global Hawks, three of them immediately on being elected.
This is despite the fact that the current version of the Global Hawk is not suited to operating in maritime roles essential to meet Australia’s maritime border security requirements.
The United States program to develop a specialised unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft (the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance project) is still developmental and not expected to be fully operational until 2019. As the Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Andrew Davies said this week, Global Hawks are simply not available in a suitable configuration for long range maritime surveillance.
The Government’s plan for maritime surveillance outlined in the White Paper and Defence Capability Plan commences with the acquisition of manned maritime surveillance aircraft to replace the AP-3C Orions from around 2017 and costed plans to acquire unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft, to enter service from around 2022, after they are fully developed.
The Opposition has also this week refused to confirm whether it would acquire 12 new submarines, which the Government is committed to assembling in Australia.
In the last three days, the Opposition Leader, the Shadow Defence Minister, the Shadow Minister for Defence Science, Technology and Personnel, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel and the Manager of Opposition Business have all commented on the Opposition’s Defence policy.
All have failed to confirm that the Opposition will acquire 12 new submarines.
This follows a Greg Sheridan interview with Tony Abbott in the Weekend Australian of 3 September, with Greg Sheridan describing Tony Abbott as “opaque about whether the Opposition would be committed to Labor’s 12 submarines.”
The Opposition’s confusion over these projects reflects its confusion and contradictory statements over strategic planning and the Defence White Paper itself.
Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston is reported in Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s and today’s Australian as committing the Opposition to tear up or urgently redo the Defence White Paper.
In contrast to this, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told the RSL’s National Congress in Melbourne on Tuesday morning that:
“I note the recent Defence White Paper and its commitment to 12 submarines, 20 frigates and 100 Joint Strike Fighters. These are very significant purchases of equipment...’
Address to the RSL National Congress – 20 September
Mr Abbott then told Chris Uhlmann on Tuesday night’s 7.30 Report that:
“No-one has said that we would tear up the Defence White Paper…”
7:30 Report – 20 September
However, on Wednesday, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel, Senator Gary Humphries said:
“Australia’s Defence White Paper needs urgent review…”
Senator Humphries Media Release – 21 September
All of this confusion was crystallised by Shadow Minister for Defence Science, Technology and Personnel Stuart Robert who said to journalists yesterday:
“In terms of policy commitments we are yet to announce a holistic policy, a holistic thought line, on exactly where we are going in terms of wider defence spend and programs.”
This presumably is what Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Humphries meant when he said in his considered Press Release issued yesterday:
“Our position is clear. We will review the White Paper and make realistic decisions from there on the broad range of issues affecting Defence, including procurement, while taking other urgent action as required.”
Confused and confusing.