Address to the United States Studies Centre, Hotel Realm, Canberra

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

Media contact

Defence Media:

Release content

16 March 2022

Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen it is a great honour to be with you today.

The work of the centre is important and I am really very grateful for the building of the relationship for people-to-people links and the organisational support of the development, the enhancement of this relationship, which is more important than ever, as we know.

I would like to start by acknowledging the Professor Jackman, also to Mark and to all those involved in the centre. I want to acknowledge Brendan Nelson, my esteemed predecessor, who was the Minister for Defence and now makes a great contribution through Boeing and many other interests, and all those who are here including Brendan O’Conner my opposite number.

Today I wanted to start by acknowledging the contribution of Senator Kimberly Kitching to the relationship between the United States and Australia. There are many people across both sides of politics in Australia who can rightly lay claim to having a genuine interest and having formed relationships, really with an end in mind of seeing a greater enhancement between the cooperation of the United States and Australia. Kimberly was one of the people who practiced that on a regular basis and rightly has claim to what has been a very successful contribution. An untimely passing, and our respects obviously go to Andrew and her family and to her Labor colleagues.

She was a great champion of the US relationship. She was a patriot of our country. She contributed in a very significant way to national security and the debates here in Australia and I wanted to acknowledge that this morning.

I want to say congratulations to the Centre for organising this event, and for launching your second State of the United States report.

United States Studies Centre, their events, their research publications have for 15 years I think, played a valuable role in informing our Government, Australia’s Government in our policy deliberations.

Indeed we know, since opening in 2007, the Centre’s work has deepened and enriched our national understanding of Australia’s closest ally and partner, the United States of America.

In these fraught geopolitical times, the Centre’s contributions in the areas of defence, security and diplomacy are especially valuable.

I acknowledge all of those dignitaries here today, your excellencies thank you very much for representing your countries in this important discussion and the relationship that you contribute to.

On the 5th of January 1967, Ronald Reagan delivered his inaugural address as Governor of California. In that speech, he reflected on what he called the miracle of democracy. As we come together today, amid a gathering storm, we would do well to reflect on his words.

This is what he said - ‘Perhaps you and I have lived too long with this miracle to properly be appreciative. Freedom is a fragile thing and it's never more than one generation from extinction. It is not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and defended and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.’

Today of course, it is the Ukrainian people fighting to defend their freedoms against extinction. If President Putin succeeds, all free nations will face a darker tomorrow.

In our own region, ominous clouds are forming.

The prophesied ‘End of History’ has turned out to be a ‘Return to History’.

Like our forebears of the 1930s, we are once again confronted by authoritarian regimes.

By autocrats whose un-checked power and un-restrained ambition threaten to destroy a peaceful and prosperous world and a world order which has served us well for decades. It’s fraught and we need to be very aware of it.

We know that we have despots who have discarded diplomacy in favour of coercion and aggression, and who believe only their might is right.

This is the reality with which we must contend.

In this new world crisis, it is only the strong, not just western alliances, but those alliances of like-minded countries who share similar values including in the Indo-Pacific – but it needs to be led by the United States – and the United States stands between liberty and the abyss as they always have.

Alliances between nations who wield their power not in search of self-aggrandisement, but to defend freedom and democracy.

President Biden has referred to this contest between autocracy and democracy as ‘The defining challenge of our time’ and that it is.

Putin’s unprovoked, immoral and illegal invasion of Ukraine has marked the beginning of a new and more dangerous phase of this challenge.

In 2005, Vladimir Putin stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century.

The events of 1989 to 1991, culminating in the humiliating collapse of a Great Russian Empire, have become Putin’s life-long obsession.

He has never accepted the outcome of the Cold War. Indeed, he is best understood as an unreconstructed creature of the ‘sword and shield’ of the Soviet Union – the KGB.

From the Dresden Desk to the Kremlin, he has been a paranoid and utterly ruthless operator. So his actions should come as no surprise. He harbours a deep and enduring resentment toward the West, and the United States in particular.

He wants, more than anything, to restore an imperial Russian empire with himself in absolute control.

A successful democratic, European Ukraine has no place in his utterly warped and cynical world view. And so he has set out to destroy it.

It is becoming clear, that Putin’s Ukrainian gamble has been a miscalculation that may very well destroy the man himself.

He has, for one, very seriously underestimated the Ukrainian people. Ukrainians have been unyielding in their resolve to live independent, prosperous, and free.

President Zelenskyy – a 21st century hero, a man who has shown extraordinary leadership and strength of character - has proclaimed, ‘And if we win, and I'm sure we'll win, this will be the victory of the whole democratic world, this will be the victory of our freedom, this will be the victory of light over darkness, of freedom over slavery.’

Indeed, a war that Putin believed would divide the West has resulted only in democracies becoming more united and more determined to defend the values of liberty against the odious forces of tyranny.

As President Biden said in his State of the Union address, ‘In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security.’

We have been reminded how fragile freedom can be. We have been reminded that our way of life cannot be taken for granted as Reagan pointed out.

The European response to the conflict in Ukraine speaks to a reassuring resolve among nations – particularly to address under-investment in Defence and correct an imbalance of military power.

Poland and the Baltic states are ratcheting-up their defence postures, spurred on by their memories of suffering under the Soviets last century. Not knowing what Putin’s next move into Europe will be.

Germany has decided to increase its military spending, vowing to invest €100 billion euros this year alone after Chancellor Scholz admitted ‘we are in a new era.’

President and Foreign Minister Cassis of Switzerland noted that we are in an extraordinary situation where extraordinary measures could be decided.

And Putin’s aggression is seeing Nordic countries scale-up defence cooperation, with even Sweden and Finland contemplating NATO membership.

Importantly, Putin’s refusal to abide by the rules-based order has seen Russia denied the economic connectivity benefits of that order through the imposition of sanctions.

As you know, Australia, for example, has worked in lock-step with the US and UK to provide targeted financial sanctions and travel bans.

These are aimed at individuals including President Putin, permanent members of Russia’s Security Council, members of the Russian parliament, oligarchs, and particular Belarusian collaborators. We’re also targeting key sectors and business entities and it’s effective.

Australia is now providing lethal military equipment to help Ukrainians defend themselves and there’s more we are prepared to do to help them in their fight against their Russian aggressors. This comes in addition to critical medical supplies and financial support and the reconstruction when it comes. And we will continue to take necessary and coordinated action with our allies and partners.

Of course, we must be prepared for Russian retaliation in response to these measures and it will come. Russia has published a long list of states which it considers ‘unfriendly’ that includes Australia and we should wear that as a badge of honour.

It is in the cyber-realm that Putin is most likely to strike. The Kremlin has long sought to weaponise the internet as a means of conducting a form of asymmetric warfare in the post-Soviet era.

And so we must expect nations like ours to become the target of escalating cyber-attacks.

The very worst cyber-attacks can inflict society wide damage, with enduring ramifications. And so our agencies are now operating on an enhanced security settings, and I would implore any organisation in our country to do the same.

Beyond the cyber threat, there is also a risk of increased intimidatory activities in the so called ‘grey zone’.

We have seen how trade, economics, resources, social media and other civilian domains can be used as coercive battering rams to irritate and injure countries – including our own.

While eyes remain understandably focused on events in Europe, we must never divert our attention away from the Indo-Pacific.

There are actors within our region who may see the war in Ukraine as a useful distraction and indeed an opportunity to pursue their own acts of aggression and coercion.

This threat of course emanates chiefly from Beijing, which has its own openly stated territorial ambitions, and which recently entered a ‘no-limits’ cooperative partnership with the Kremlin at a time when the rest of the world was heading in the opposite direction.

There are ominous signs about the implications of this unholy alliance.

Chinese President Xi is uniquely positioned to convince President Putin to pull back from the insanity we’re seeing in Ukraine at the moment. But not only has he remained eerily silent in recent days the Chinese Government has provided support and increasing support and even suggestions of arms to provide support to a continuing Russian affront.

China has failed to condemn Russia for the invasion and that should send alarm bells across the world.

It has abstained from voting on a UN Security Council draft resolution to this effect.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman recently has gone as far as blaming NATO for the escalating tensions.

And while other nations were trying to use sanctions to compel Russia to end the conflict, as I say, China has given Russia a lifeline, choosing to ease trade restrictions.

Such behaviour runs counter to the Chinese Government’s rhetoric about its desire to safeguard world peace and preserve the international order.

And it raises serious concerns about Chinese intentions in the Indo-Pacific given their conduct in recent weeks. It compels us to redouble our efforts in safeguarding the security and sovereignty of nations in our region.

Australia and the United States are in lock-step, as you know, in our commitment to regional stability.

Defense Secretary Austin has identified the Indo-Pacific as the United States’ primary theatre of operations and highest strategic priority.

The Biden Administration’s recently released Indo-Pacific Strategic Outlook makes several important points:

That our region is now the world’s centre of gravity…

That America is intensifying its focus as the region faces mounting challenges, particularly from a more assertive China…

And that the US will deter military aggression against itself, its allies and partners, including across the Taiwan Strait.

Evidently, the United States is prioritising its diplomatic efforts and military resources in the theatre which it sees as an important economic and strategic centre of gravity, and one where the rules-based order must be maintained for the benefit of all.

The United States has underwritten world security since the Second World War. But it cannot continue to do so alone.

With the United States committed to our region, her allies and partners must do their share of heavy lifting and Australia has always done that.

To step-up in helping to shape the region in our mutual interests, to deter aggression, and to respond with credible military force, if required.

In its Indo-Pacific Strategy, the US notes that ‘integrated deterrence’ is the cornerstone of its approach to regional security.

Aside from the principle of burden-sharing, collective security is critical in practice to contend with challenges we face.

It is critical that all Indo-Pacific nations are clear-eyed about the mounting threats to regional stability.

I’ve spoken often about the many nations which have been subjected to different forms of coercion from China. About its rapid military build-up and recent decision to upgrade and expand its nuclear arsenal and about its lack of transparency and the absence of strategic reassurance surrounding this military build-up.

Indo-Pacific nations cannot, in these circumstances, afford to neglect their own efforts to deter aggression.

As a country we must lift spending, as a region we must do the same. We must increase cooperation between defence industries and technological institutions, and step-up joint training and deployments between military forces.

For Australia, I’m exceptionally proud to be part of a Government which has lifted defence spending to north of 2 per cent of GDP.

As you know when we came in to government spending was at 1.56% of GDP – the lowest level since 1938. Had spending continued on that trajectory we would have had $55 billion dollars less in aggregate spent in defence and on acquisition over the course of the last several years and we would be facing a budget today with a three in front of it instead of a four. This year we spent $41 billion dollars. At 1.56% spending we would be spending about 30 billion dollars a year. So it is important for that difference to be acknowledged and for the investment we have made in our men and women and equipment and the way in which that has been rolled out over the course of the last eight or nine years.

I’m also proud to be part of a Government which has last week announced the largest increase in peacetime in terms of the ADF numbers – and I want to draw for a moment on that because there are many people within this audience who have served our country and I acknowledge that support, and that effort and that sacrifice and there are many families associated with those who serve in uniform, and have served in uniform over a long period of time, and it’s important to us to continue make the investment to support their sacrifice – and that’s why we are growing the Australian Defence Force by 30 per cent by 2040 and with a particular increase over the course of the coming three or four years.

Ours is a Government which is investing record amounts to get our Defence Force the equipment it needs – like nuclear-powered submarines, missiles, and drones.

A Government that developed AUKUS – which complements the security objectives of the wider network of partnerships in the region, including ASEAN and the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

A Government which finalised a Reciprocal Access Agreement with Japan, allowing our military forces to operate in each other’s country.

And a Government which has nurtured even deeper defence relationships with countries like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and many in the Pacific.

Ours is a prudent and necessary reaction to China’s military build-up – the largest and most ambitious of its kind in the world.

Nations of the Indo-Pacific need only to look to Europe to recognise how quickly the strategic circumstances can go south, and without provocation or warning.

The Australian Government understands that now is a time for strength not weakness. Ours is a response aimed at helping to deter aggression, not to stoke it.

Make no mistake, Putin and others will be looking to the costs and outcomes of the Ukraine conflict to determine their next steps.

Together, we must demonstrate to potential aggressors that the costs of using military force will outweigh any perceived benefits.

A strong United States and strong alliances between likeminded nations will be critical in deterring further autocratic adventurism and violence.

We have lived long with the miracle of freedom and democracy. Let us rise to the challenge of our generation in defending it.

Thank you very much.


Other related releases