Securing Australia’s Sovereignty

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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9 February 2023

The first responsibility of government is to provide for the safety and security of its people.

The compact between a government and its citizens includes the defence of borders, a secure economic future, and the maintenance of the rule of law.

But at the heart of this compact is sovereignty –

The capacity of a people, through their government, to determine their own circumstances and to act of their own accord, free from any coercive influence.

Defence capability is a key factor in sovereignty. It does not define sovereignty.

There are proudly sovereign smaller countries which do not enjoy the capabilities of larger powers.

And capability which is not at the absolute discretion of the country which operates it does nothing to enhance sovereignty.

But capability – high-end capability – the use of which is at the complete discretion of a country, contributes greatly to the capacity of a people to determine their circumstances and therefore contributes greatly to national sovereignty.

And in a world in which the rules-based order is under enormous strain, the threat of armed conflict is less remote, and foreign interference is more prevalent than ever, it has never been more important to guard, reinforce and enhance our sovereignty.

Our Strategic Circumstances

As I deliver this statement today our strategic circumstances are the most complex and challenging they have been since the end of the Second World War.

The world around us is uncertain.

The rules-based order that has been vital to our security and prosperity is increasingly under pressure.

Russia’s illegal and immoral war in Ukraine is a salutary warning – It violates the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

And reminds us all of the importance of building partnerships and defence capabilities to deter and respond to those that seek to use power and might to reshape the world around them.

It cannot be allowed to stand.

In our own region, we see very large military build-ups rivalling any in the post-war period.

Expanding cyber and grey zone activities are blurring the line between peace and conflict.

Nuclear weapon stockpiles are expanding without transparency and proliferation is increasingly difficult to verify.

And the risk of conflict is less remote than in the past.

We now live in a less safe and less stable world.

A world that will demand more of Australia, our people, and our defence force to protect our way of life.

We must ensure the security of our strategic geography and the viability of trade and supply routes.

And to do this we must protect an inclusive regional order founded on rules agreed by all, rather than one which is defined by the power and might of a few.

This will require us to strengthen our resilience so we can shape the future, rather than being shaped by it.

In these times, it is more important than ever that Australia works closely with likeminded countries, key partners and our United States ally.

If we are to meet the complex challenges before us, a stronger defence force must work hand-in-glove with enhanced diplomacy, intelligence, economic statecraft and development assistance.

We should never forget that Australia’s frontline is diplomacy.

Our primary effort is to use our diplomacy to reduce tensions and create pathways for peace.

At the same time, strengthening our defence capabilities fundamentally contributes to our ability to shape our strategic environment and respond to it – and it also allows us to pursue the interests of regional stability and to deter conflict.

In doing so, we maintain our ability to determine, pursue and protect our national interests –

Our ability to decide freely on a course of action in our interests–

And our ability to develop and employ capabilities to advance these interests.

And what is abundantly clear is that our deep partnerships and practical cooperation with our ally and partners protects and strengthens these capacities.

Because our sovereignty is stronger when we work with others towards shared goals, in ways that respect each other’s national interests.

Our Region and Working with Partners

As a three ocean nation, our interests stretch across the entirety of the Indo-Pacific.

We have witnessed the immense benefits that peace, security and trade have bestowed on our region.

We have greatly benefited from our trade with China.

We value a productive relationship with China and we seek to stabilise this.

But we are also seeing increasing strategic competition, with a more assertive China seeking to shape the world around it.

In these times, it is more important than ever that we work with the countries of the region to continue to reduce tensions and maintain the peace and security that has underpinned economic prosperity.

Australia’s partnerships provide a critical advantage in advancing our national interests while navigating this complex strategic environment.

Our partnerships represent a network of states that reinforce norms, principles and the rules-based system to ensure a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

By pooling resources and combining strengths, we can shape our future, reduce our vulnerability to coercion, and help deter conflict.

This is why we are strengthening our relationships with key partners in the region, including Japan, Singapore, South Korea, India, New Zealand, PNG, and Indonesia.

And why we continue to invest in the architecture of the region, such as ASEAN and the Quad, which is vital to the stability, security and economic prosperity of our region.

It is also why our broader defence cooperation with regional partners, such as Singapore, is essential.

Singapore shares our commitment to an open, inclusive, rules-based and resilient Indo-Pacific region, with ASEAN centrality at its core.

Since April 1971, we have also shared a joint commitment to close collaboration under the Five Power Defence Arrangements, along with Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

For over 30 years, our Singaporean friends have trained in Australia – to our mutual benefit.

From major exercises at Shoalwater Bay, to helicopter training at the Oakey Army Aviation Training Centre and pilot training at RAAF Base Pearce.

Australia has been proud to support Singapore to build its capability.

And this cooperation contributes to our shared security.

Singapore’s training in Australia has also brought significant advantages, including investment in ADF facilities, and economic benefits to Australian businesses.

And it has helped us in our time of need – we will never forget the contribution Singapore’s Armed Forces made during the Black Summer bushfires in 2020 and the floods in 2022.

All of these activities are consistent with the requirements of both countries, while respecting Australia’s sovereignty.

We are also deepening our relationship with Japan, with whom we share an enduring commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the region.

Our special strategic partnership with Japan is evolving to meet growing risks to our shared values and mutual strategic interests.

At our annual 2+2 dialogue in December last year, Japan and Australia committed to expanding and deepening our practical security and defence cooperation.

The Joint Declaration agreed by Prime Ministers Albanese and Kishida commits our nations to consult each other on contingencies that may affect our sovereignty and regional security interests, and consider measures in response.

Together with the Reciprocal Access Agreement our two countries signed last year, we are enhancing interoperability through more sophisticated joint exercises and operations, multilateral exercises with partners, mutual use of facilities, and personnel links and exchanges.

And our ambition is to continue to grow and enhance such practical cooperation with other key partners.

A Framework That Protects Our Sovereignty

Our partnerships build our national capability and security.

They are anchored in Australian sovereignty.

Our cooperation with partners, including our US ally, is managed through robust policy frameworks and principles that maintain and protect our sovereignty.

These frameworks govern the activities of foreign governments in, from or through Australia – and how we partner with other nations to acquire capabilities in line with our national interests.

The Australian Government will only approve foreign military or intelligence activities occurring in, from or through Australia where they are in our national interest.

These decisions are not dictated by the interests of other nations – rather they are mutually agreed activities in the interests of both countries.

These activities only occur at the invitation of the Australian Government with full respect for our sovereignty, and our domestic and international laws.

A fundamental principle underpinning these activities is the longstanding bipartisan policy of having no foreign bases on Australian sovereign territory.

This means partner activities occur on a rotational basis, within Australian facilities or as a part of jointly operated facilities.

Australia’s national interests are also paramount in the Government’s decisions about defence capability acquisitions.

Australia operates high-tech platforms and capabilities that we could only acquire from our partners and we could never completely build on our own.

In the globalised networked world in which we live, this reality – to a greater or lesser degree – is actually true for every country.

Our future nuclear powered submarines will clearly be an example of this.

Yet whether our defence assets are developed indigenously, acquired from abroad, or developed in partnership – Australia will always make sovereign, independent decisions as to how they are employed.

Because we will not trade sovereignty for capability. To do so would be illusory. For the only point of increased capability is to strengthen sovereignty.

And most importantly, any decision for Australia to go to war or to use Australian territory or assets in an armed conflict remains solely a decision for the Commonwealth Government of the day.

The United States Alliance – Our Most Vital Security Partner

More than eighty years ago, Prime Minister John Curtin laid the foundations of the US Alliance, declaring that we “look to America”.

The United States has been central to our national security ever since.

Our Alliance has strong bipartisan political support within this parliament as well as broad Australian public approval.

That support is based on a foundation of trust, a long record of achievement and a shared vision for upholding the global rules-based order.

The Albanese Government is committed to building on those achievements in the years ahead.

To that end, it is vital that the Australian Parliament and public understand the direction of our security cooperation with the United States, particularly in relation to activities in, from or through Australia.

It is also equally important to understand what this trajectory means for Australia’s sovereignty.

To those that argue countries like Australia would be better off ‘going it alone’, I say that our US Alliance fundamentally strengthens, rather than diminishes, our sovereignty.

The Alliance affords Australia capability, technology and intelligence advantages we simply could not acquire or develop on our own.

This expands our strategic options, makes us less vulnerable to coercive action, and enables Australia to pursue our national security interests far beyond what we could achieve alone.

Joint Facilities – Australia’s Contribution to the Alliance

Australia’s cooperation with the United States through joint and collaborative facilities is one of our most longstanding security arrangements.

Australia jointly operates three facilities with the United States – the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, the Joint Geological and Geophysical Research Station, and the Learmonth Solar Observatory.

These facilities provide critical functions that directly support our national security, which we would not be able to realise by ourselves.

This includes intelligence cooperation and communications that help ensure Australia and our Five-Eyes partners maintain an ‘intelligence advantage’.

The insights and intelligence gained through the Five-Eyes partnership play a vital role in informing decisions that protect and strengthen our sovereignty.

These facilities also contribute to global counterterrorism efforts, verification and compliance monitoring of international arms control and disarmament agreements, as well as early warning of ballistic missile launches.

The Joint Geological and Geophysical Research Station in Alice Springs, for example, plays a crucial role in the detection of nuclear weapons testing across the globe, helping to enforce compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and contributing to counter-proliferation efforts.

These facilities are truly joint in nature, integrating both Australian and US operations under shared command and control by Australian and US personnel – which I have had the opportunity to see firsthand.

The Deputy Chief of Facility at Pine Gap, for example, is an Australian position – established under the Hawke Government in 1988.

Half of the personnel at Pine Gap are Australian.

We also collaborate through Australian owned and controlled facilities, such as the Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station and the Australian Defence Satellite Communication Station.

These joint and collaborative facilities support the effectiveness of the extended deterrence commitments the United States provides.

This is a fundamental contribution Australia makes to the Alliance and from which we derive great benefit. Of course, Australia has a proud history of working toward nuclear disarmament.

Successive governments have pursued initiatives to remove nuclear weapons as a threat to humanity.

Australia was a founding member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we were the first country to implement enhanced safeguards under the Additional Protocol to our Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

In our commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Albanese Government will continue to play our part in these efforts. But as Prime Minister Hawke first acknowledged in 1984 – and successive governments of both sides have acknowledged since – in a world where nuclear weapons exist, Australia cannot rely on the full protection of extended nuclear deterrence from the United States without contributing to the Alliance.

In this era of great power competition, and with undeclared proliferation on the rise, this protection is more important than ever.

Full Knowledge and Concurrence

A fundamental element of our cooperation with the United States at these joint and collaborative facilities is our long-standing and bipartisan policy of ‘full knowledge and concurrence’, as articulated by the Hawke Government.

‘Full knowledge’ means Australia has a full and detailed understanding of any capability or activity with a presence on Australian territory, or making use of Australian assets.

‘Concurrence’ means that Australia approves of the presence of a capability or function in Australia, in support of mutually-agreed goals.

These principles protect Australia’s right to know, understand and agree to foreign government military and intelligence activities conducted in, from, or through Australia and through the use of our assets.

Full knowledge and concurrence does not necessarily mean Australia approves each individual activity or task undertaken. Instead, it means we agree to the purpose of activities conducted in Australia, we are aware of the capabilities being used, and understand their expected outcomes.

By necessity, the details of these activities cannot be revealed.

But I can assure the Parliament and the Australian public that we maintain appropriate levels of oversight for the activities undertaken.

Australia is consulted about any proposed new purpose for activities, as well as significant changes to an existing purpose or expected outcome.

The mechanisms by which we achieve full knowledge and concurrence at these facilities are pragmatic – such as data sharing, and joint operations and activities.

Our ‘full knowledge and concurrence’ framework is not set and forget – it evolves in line with advancements in technology, and with emerging opportunities, threats, risks and trends that affect Australian and US capabilities.

But what remains constant – and which is regularly evaluated – is the alignment of these activities with our national interests and the maintenance of our sovereignty, which I reaffirm here today.

Deepening Our Ties – Force Posture Initiatives

Beyond the joint and collaborative facilities, a significant step-change in our security cooperation with the United States was the establishment of the bilateral Force Posture Initiatives by the Gillard Government in 2011, which began the first rotation of marines to Darwin and has expanded since.

Successive Australian governments have held the view that a strong and active US military presence in the Indo-Pacific is vital for deterring actions that would threaten the stability and prosperity of the region, and the rules-based order on which we rely.

And from relatively small beginnings this force posture cooperation has expanded to initiatives across the air, maritime, land and logistics domains.

At the recent Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations in December 2022, I was proud to announce that we will further enhance our force posture cooperation with the United States.

This will continue the rotational presence of US capabilities in Australia, including US Bomber taskforce rotations, fighters and, in future, US Navy and US Army capabilities.

And we are working with the United States to upgrade our infrastructure and enhance our logistics network to support these initiatives.

Importantly, these initiatives also provide a platform to enhance our ability to work together and increase our interoperability with our valued Indo-Pacific partners.

For example, we have recently invited Japan to increase its participation in these initiatives in Australia.

And we already exercise together with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste, leveraging the presence of the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin.

The Force Posture Initiatives expand our security by enhancing Australia’s capacity to cooperate with partners, deter coercion and respond to a full range of potential scenarios in the Indo-Pacific.

These initiatives take place under our 2014 Force Posture Agreement.

The activities are mutually determined and only ever occur at the invitation of the Australian Government with full respect for our sovereignty and domestic and international law.

Some wrongly argue that our cooperation on joint activities and facilities provokes potential adversaries.

But we undertake this cooperation in a transparent way which builds stability in our region, deters conflict and enhances our own security. We will continue to work with the United States to enable the increase in breadth and complexity of force posture initiatives consistent with our strategic environment.

The Albanese Government will ensure that future cooperation initiatives in Australia with the United States will occur within these established and robust frameworks and principles, including the Force Posture Agreement.

AUKUS – The Next Chapter

The trilateral AUKUS partnership is an example of how countries with shared values and a commitment to peace and security in the region can work together in innovative ways.

The capability decisions we will make in the context of AUKUS are about strengthening our sovereignty, consistent with the principles and frameworks I have outlined today.

Some argue that Australia’s reliance on our partners for the acquisition of naval nuclear-propulsion technology gives rise to a dependence that undermines Australia’s sovereignty.

Yet the reality is that almost all of Australia’s high-end capability is developed in cooperation with our partners. Submarines are no exception. And that dramatically enhanced capability dramatically enhances our sovereignty.

We need to leverage expertise from the United Kingdom and the United States to help us along our optimal pathway – and building capability with them means we are better able to shape, deter and respond within our strategic landscape.

The AUKUS partnership will also guide the accelerated development of advanced defence capabilities under Pillar Two.

These capabilities will help us hold potential adversaries’ forces at risk, at a greater distance and increase the cost of aggression against Australia and its interests.

Through AUKUS, we are building Australian capability and expanding our strategic options.

This represents a long-term commitment to building our self-reliance and, in turn, will enhance Australia’s agency to pursue our sovereign interests. That is the essence of sovereignty.

And while there will be much more to say on AUKUS in the weeks and months ahead, Australia will always make sovereign, independent decisions on how our capabilities are employed.


Australia is no longer blessed with a benign strategic environment as we have been for much of the post-Cold War era.

In the months and years ahead, we will continue to deepen and evolve our security cooperation with key partners and our US ally to address shared challenges in our strategic environment and advance our mutual security interests.

This cooperation will continue to take place in a framework of policies and principles that enables practical cooperation, while maintaining and enhancing Australia’s sovereignty.

Sovereignty is at the heart of national security and Australia’s way of life.

Protecting this will always be the first priority of the Albanese Government.

I thank the House.

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