Minister for Defence - Speech - Alliance 21 Conference, United States Studies Centre, Australian War Memorial

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Senator the Hon David Johnston

Minister for Defence

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18 June 2014

Governor-General, His Excellency General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, United States Ambassador, John Berry, Daniel R Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Major-General Richard Simcock, Deputy Commander, US Marine Corps Forces Pacific my former parliamentary colleague and friend, Robert Hill, Dr Brendan Nelson, Director Australian War Memorial;

Defence leaders, political colleagues, business leaders, ladies and gentlemen;

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this evening.

In 1908, the then Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin in inviting the United States Great White Fleet to Australia stated that:

“No other Federation in the world possesses so many features of likeness to that of the United States as does the Commonwealth of Australia, and I doubt whether any two peoples can be found who are in nearer touch with each other, and are likely to benefit more by anything that tends to knit their relations more closely.”

Earlier this month, in speaking to the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, our current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, noted that:

“Australia has been America’s partner in every conflict from World War One to Afghanistan.”

Undoubtedly, America will have more important friends.

Occasionally, America will have more useful friends.

But America will never have a more dependable friend…than Australia

For more than a century, the relationship between Australia and the United States has held fast.

At this conference, dealing as it does with our shared interests and the future of the alliance in an emerging Asia, it is useful to contemplate how far the Alliance has come, and the potential it has to go even further.


The fact that the Alliance has persevered, and grown in importance is testimony to the will of both the United States and Australia.

In the 64 years since its signature, the Alliance has grown into “an anchor of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond”—as flagged in the Australia-US Ministerial meeting Joint Communiqué from the 2013 meeting I was proud to attend along with my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

What has set the Alliance relationship apart has been its ability to evolve to meet the emerging security situation of the day.

Today the Alliance sees high levels of cooperation and interoperability between Australia and the United States across the full suite of our defence planning, capability development and operational activities, as well as a desire to build new levels of cooperation to meet emerging security challenges in space, the cyber domain and ballistic missile defence.

The Force Posture initiatives—which Minister Bishop and I signed in 2013, reaffirmed by Prime Minister Abbott and President Obama with the conclusion of the Agreement at their meeting on 12 June— reflect this evolution.

At the heart of the force posture initiatives is the US rotational presence in northern Australia of the US Marine Corps and of the US Air Force, as well as opportunities for future naval cooperation.

The purpose of the force posture initiatives, though, is the advancement of peaceful, secure, and prosperous Asia-pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

And at present, that goal is as important as at any time since the Treaty’s signature in 1951.


Our collective interest in maintaining peace and security in our region is far greater now than ever before.

While Australia does not take a position on competing claims in the South China Sea, we have a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation.

We share the serious concerns expressed by ASEAN over recent territorial tensions in the South China Sea and urge all parties to exercise restraint, refrain from actions that could increase tensions, and to clarify and pursue claims in accordance with international law.

As I noted at the Shangri-La conference in late May, the cost of a breakdown in security, through miscalculation of intentions or actions that run contrary to the general principles of respect for international law and the free flow of goods and services through our region, would have catastrophic consequences for all our nations, and the economic prosperity of the region.


Australia is a country that has had great strengths. An economy in the top fifteen in the world—no mean feat for a country now of some 23 million people.

That position has been built on our strengths as a trading nation.

As a trading nation, we are dependent on the free trade of goods and services to markets across the world.

Australia can not be secure in an insecure region.

What happens in our region is of vital consequence to Australia and we must be a strong and committed partner to the United States as it continues the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, and to our regional friends and neighbours, if we are to maintain regional stability and security.


The free trade of goods and services is built upon a rules based global order, unconstrained access to the sea lanes and global communications and computing networks that connect and bind our region together.

Any disruption to these lines of communication, physical or virtual, would have a fundamental impact on Australia.

A stable region must be founded on transparency, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and respect for international law and territorial integrity.

These are core Australian strategic interests.

They also equate with our values and who we are as a nation.

We share these interests with the United States.

We shall not be a passenger in the region’s economic and security affairs; they are moving quickly and we need to be a part of the transformation occurring across our region.

We are seeing transformation in our strategic environment of a scale and intensity that we have not witnessed since the Second World War. And the concentration of global economic and military power in our region is unprecedented in our nation’s history.


The Government has recently announced that it has commenced work on a new Defence White Paper.

The White Paper will set out this Government’s vision for our future defence strategy and the capabilities we require to be a strong and capable partner of the United States, and of our regional friends and neighbours.

The White Paper will assess our strategic environment and the changes underway in our region and around the globe.

It will set out what we want the ADF to be able to do and how it can be achieved with the resources available.

Defence policy will be reviewed and refined to ensure that it takes account of contemporary and emergent threats and challenges.

This will determine the strategic guidance for the force we need to achieve Defence strategy within the resources we have. It must be affordable and it must be fit for purpose.

This means being clear about what the ADF must be able to do for those tasks that determine the force structure and how we might achieve them.

A Force Structure Review, conducted as part of the White Paper process, will assess these issues in depth.

This is the core of the White Paper and will be very thorough.

As I have said previously, it must be dispassionate, analytical and capable of challenging established beliefs.

And it must balance cost and capability - not assessing elements individually—but at a whole of capability level.

But it’s not just about the force structure we will have over the next few decades, but how we use our resources to shape our security environment through:

  • Our sovereign defence and national security capabilities.
  •  Our Alliance with the United States.
  • Our regional defence security partnerships.

We need to draw the most we can from each of these levers to shape the peace so that we don’t have to use the ADF in conflict.

Strengthening our cooperation with the US, including through the force posture initiatives in northern Australia, our capability and technology partnership, and through strengthening the level of interoperability with US forces at all levels will remain key drivers for us.

And alongside this will be a much deeper focus on building institutional defence partnerships in our region.

That will require us to review the way we prioritise and resource regional defence engagement.

Australia continues to develop our defence relationship with Japan.

The Foreign Minister and I recently concluded the fifth Australia-Japan Foreign and Defence Ministerial consultations.

We agreed to elevate the partnership with Japan to meet our shared goals for regional peace and stability.

This will include negotiations on a Defence Science, Technology and Materiel Agreement, announced during Prime Minister Abbott’s visit to Japan earlier this year.

The Agreement will allow Australia and Japan to jointly develop defence technologies, establishing a basis to deepen defence cooperation.

And we expect to see stronger trilateral activities between Australia, Japan and the United States as part of this initiative.

The transformation in our strategic environment must be matched by a transformation in how we do business in Defence.

We will undertake a First Principles Review of Defence this year that will identify the value Defence creates and propose the most efficient means of delivering this essential public good.

It will include a review of capability development, acquisition and sustainment and the cost to industry of doing business with Defence and seeking to implement simpler, faster and more cost effective tendering.

The outcomes of this First Principles Review will be a key input to the White Paper and will be integrated into the decisions the Government must make about our defence strategy, capability, organisation, and resources.

We will make these decisions and choices carefully and methodically to produce a realistic and achievable plan that aligns our strategic ambitions and force structure with a long-term budget plan.

Many Australians here will be familiar with the remark by the former Secretary of Defence Sir Arthur Tange that a “strategy without dollars is not a strategy.”

I think it is important to emphasise this Government’s strong commitment to increasing Defence spending.

We are delivering on our commitment to end Labor’s cuts to Defence and to growing the Defence budget to 2 percent of GDP within a decade.

With our first budget, we have begun the path to two percent with the final profile to be settled following the White Paper – and - we are determined to pull our weight as an Alliance partner.

May I note how pleasing it was to hear that President Obama remarked on this during the PM’s visit last week when he said and I quote: “Australia under the Prime Minister’s leadership is increasing its defence budget, even under tough times, recognising that we all have to make sure that we’re doing our fair share to help maintain global order and security.”


In concluding, let me say that the Government has set a clear priority on ensuring that Australia has the capability we need for a strong, prosperous and secure Australia today and for our future.

We are committed to the further development of the Alliance relationship with the United States, and our shared vision of peaceful, secure, and prosperous Asia-pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

The White Paper is a key means by which we will set that vision for the Australia we want and need for that future, and for the Alliance relationship that we can build and deliver.

Thank you.

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