Minister for Defence - Address to the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

Senator the Hon David Johnston

Minister for Defence

Release content

18 February 2014











0800 to 0900 HRS – TUESDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen.

This year represents a unique opportunity for you. Your presence here indicates a vote of confidence in you as future leaders and key members of your respective countries’ defence forces.

I wanted to come here today to indicate my support for the vital role that the Australian Defence College and this course play in developing you as future leaders of the Australian Defence Force. 

I also want to acknowledge the role of this course in building strong and enduring links between Australia, the region and the world, as represented by the national flags of the international students here.

This opportunity allows you a year of reflection – to think, to discuss, to explore and to examine many familiar and perhaps unfamiliar topics in what is a structured and encouraging environment.

I trust that this course will not only challenge you, but will also impart valuable lessons for your future. For at this next level in your careers, you will have the responsibility to steer your defence forces through the vicissitudes of events and developments presented on your watch.

I would like to address briefly the Australian Government’s agenda for Defence in an increasingly dynamic strategic environment, how Defence can engage constructively throughout the region, and what this means for the ADF in the future.

Government directions

It would not be an understatement to say that these are challenging times for the Government.

The global economy is still recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

At the same time, we are entering a phase where many of our capabilities will be replaced or upgraded.

But we still need a force structure that is robust, flexible and affordable.

This Government is determined to position Australia to meet these challenges.

First and foremost, this Government intends to grow Defence so that the total defence budget is two per cent of GDP within a decade.

Second, the Government is committed to the reform of Defence from a first principles perspective. This review will help ensure that we are spending every dollar of taxpayers’ money on Defence thoughtfully and effectively. Savings identified in the review will be reinvested in our war-fighting capability.

This review is also an important step in our efforts to sharpen our Defence policy and capability.

It will complement a new Defence White Paper that will also be undertaken over the course of the coming year.

The Government will announce the detail of our approach to the White Paper in the near future but let me provide you with a broad overview.

This White Paper will differ from those before it by providing costed and affordable options for achieving Australia’s defence objectives.

It will be focused on aligning aspirations with budget – through a review of our force structure matched to a long-term budget plan based on defence spending of two per cent of GDP.

It will be a statement of what we want the ADF to be able to do, and how it can be achieved with the resources available.

This is what strategy should be all about.

The White Paper will be released in the first part of 2015 and will be underpinned by a Force Structure Review that gives clarity and certainty to Australian industry so that it can invest in Australia’s defence capability.

That means providing sufficient funding for the ADF to acquire the capabilities it needs to achieve its strategic goals.

Strategic Environment

This agenda does not, of course, take place in a vacuum. Our strategic environment shapes our options and what we want the ADF to do.

Providing for the nation’s security is a fundamental responsibility of Government. This task will be challenged at every level by the profound changes underway in our region. It will not be enough to keep doing what we’ve always done.

Let me say upfront that the US Alliance is the bedrock of Australia’s response to changes in the region.

The ANZUS Treaty binds Australia and the United States to consult on mutual threats, and, in accordance with our respective constitutional processes, to act to meet common dangers.

In 2013, the second company-sized rotation of US Marines exercised in Northern Australia, with this number to expand to 1,150 for the 2014 rotation. While in Australia the Marines conducted unilateral training, bilateral activities with the Australian Defence Force, and also worked with regional partners.

This rotation is a very practical reflection of the US re-balance toward Asia – in effect what we are now calling the Indo-Pacific region – stretching from the US West Coast to the Indian Ocean. Australia welcomes America’s renewed emphasis on this region – it is a positive response to the continued rise of the Indo-Pacific as the world’s new strategic centre of gravity.

Australia and the United States also engage bilaterally in Defence Policy Talks, Political-Military Talks, Military Representative discussions, and bilateral exercises such as EXERCISE TALISMAN SABRE.

We support the US in its efforts to improve military-military relations with China, such as through inviting China to observe Exercise RIMPAC in the mid-year.

A dynamic region

Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers released The World in 2050. While it pays to take projections with a grain of salt, it paints an interesting picture of our region.

It predicts that by 2050, half of the world’s top 20 economies will be in the Indo-Pacific.

Indonesia, the 16th largest economy in 2011, is predicted to be 8th largest by 2050. Vietnam may make it into the top 20 sometime after 2030.

Some of these countries – the United States, Japan, China, India – have long been at the top of the economic tree. But it is the scale of growth that is staggering, if it turns out to be true.

By 2050, the report predicts the Chinese economy will be five times larger than in 2011 – India’s eight times larger.

The US is, and will remain, a critical part of our region. By any measure the US will retain enormous economic and strategic weight over coming decades. And unusually among developed economies, the US has a growing and young demographic.

This regional growth brings prosperity and means that countries are becoming economically more powerful, but also more powerful militarily.

This rise will not be as linear or uniform, nor guaranteed, as the statistics would suggest.

This change has brought incredible growth and prosperity to Asia and also to this country – not least to my home state of Western Australia, with its resources, industries, and easy access to Indian Ocean trade routes. Western Australia is now among the top performing States across a range of economic indicators. I trust that in the course of this year that you get the opportunity to study and visit this aspect of Western Australia.

The experience of recent decades and these trends represent an unmistakable trend. Economic weight is shifting to the Indo-Pacific; and among the mix of established major powers and rising powers that comprise it.

With economic weight comes the capacity to develop greater strategic weight – through all the tools of strategic influence, including military power.

The economic rise in our region is allowing broad based military modernisation. Over time, this is resulting in more capable regional defence forces with greater ability to project military power.

We are seeing the proliferation of advanced weapons systems in our region, such as modern submarines, missiles and aircraft, as well as cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities.

As I have noted elsewhere, however, there are as many opportunities as there are risks in our strategic outlook.

The challenge for our strategists is to make sure that we have the right policy settings in place to inform our strategic interests in a rapidly changing part of the world.

Seizing opportunities for Australia to deepen our regional defence partnerships within a whole-of-government approach will be a key element of our approach.

Regional engagement – the importance of Defence diplomacy

As I said in my opening remarks, your presence on this course reflects the confidence in you as future leaders. This applies equally to the international students in the room.

I note this year there are 21 international students from 17 countries on this course – I am very pleased to see this level of representation.

An important element of this approach of constructive engagement within the region is defence diplomacy. Defence diplomacy is an important arm of our broader diplomatic efforts and you all have a role in this field.

This Government has an outward looking defence policy, focussed on constructive engagement with our friends and neighbours. Australia is committed to further enhancing trust and confidence through continuing engagement with the region on strategic and security issues.

We have vital and growing regional defence partnerships. It is through open and inclusive regional security architecture that positive engagement is promoted.

Australia has significant, longstanding and close bilateral Defence ties with Indonesia – our largest neighbour – as well as with other member nations of ASEAN in South-East Asia.

We are particularly encouraged by the work program of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus framework.

Australia also has strong Defence relations with the major states of North Asia: Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, countries which are also our major markets.

For example, we have one of the most substantial defence relationships with China of any Western nation.

Stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific are central to Australia's national interest. Australia has strong bilateral ties to the region, including an important relationship with Papua New Guinea, and a commitment to regional cooperation and economic development.

In view of significant reforms in Burma, Australia is taking steps to modestly enhance defence engagement with Burma. Defence engagement will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in multilateral settings and on peacekeeping issues.

Last month, a RAN Armidale Class patrol boat, HMAS Childers, conducted a port visit to Rangoon prior to participating in Indian-hosted multilateral Exercise MILAN. And a Defence Attaché was re-established in Burma in January.

But I believe there is a need for us to do more in the area of Indian Ocean security.

Accordingly, Australia is placing a great deal of emphasis on strengthening our bilateral and multilateral engagements with Indo-Pacific regional nations.

This March, the Australian Chief of Navy will Chair the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in Perth to help attending nations address maritime security matters in the Indian Ocean.

In 2014, Australia will continue to contribute to the 30 member nation US-led Combined Maritime Forces as part of our commitment to maritime security in the North-West Indian Ocean, and also engaging other Task Forces and independent contributors to address the threat of piracy in the region.

With all our regional partners we achieve practical engagement through participation a range of dialogues, bilateral and multilateral exercises, training and education exchanges and goodwill ship and aircraft visits.

However, all of these activities are underpinned by strong people-to-people links, which are fundamental to strengthening Defence relationships and encouraging deeper engagement on mutual security interests.

That is in part what this course is all about.


In closing once again let me congratulate you on being selected for this course.

This coming year provides you the opportunity to examine the underlying strategic issues and military challenges of operating in an exciting and challenging environment.

To our international students, this year also provides you and your families with the opportunity to experience the Australian way of life, country and people. An experience I hope you will hold fond for the rest of your life.

Finally I present you all with some additional homework.  I have spoken about the importance of building people-to-people links and I would like to echo the key message General David Hurley, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, gives to all students at ADC.

The importance of you all as future generals is to get to know each other – Australians to international colleagues, international colleagues to Australians.  Take the year to get to know each other, build connections and networks and develop your knowledge and understanding of the issues and challenges in the countries of our region and our world. 

The networks and personal friendships you build will last you through the rest of your careers, and will – in no small part – build a significant and important capability for all of the countries in attendance here.

I wish you and your families all the best and success on your course.

I am now happy to take some questions.


Other related releases