Today’s $270bn defence spending announcement is excessive and the timing curious.
Yes, Australia does need a well-structured, -resourced and -trained Defence Force to defend the nation and to respond to non-military crises both at home and in the region. But that requires careful planning and cautious expenditure, not the sort of cash-splash announced today. Moreover there’s plenty of waste in the current defence budget which could be tapped for future programs. For example the project to double the submarine fleet with 12 experimental and absurdly-expensive French submarines should be axed in favour of purchasing six off-the-shelf vessels. This alone would save tens of billions of dollars.
And yes, China in particular is increasingly belligerent and dealing with that is obviously challenging for Australia. But the solution is not to try and outgun them, or to continue to cuddle up to Washington and prepare for more expeditionary military operations with the US, including potentially against China. That will just inflame the situation and guarantee Australia stays on the Chinese target list.
It is a significant failure of Australian foreign and security policy that governments think they must choose between the US and China. It was always the case we would be better off with a more independent foreign and security policy based on Australia’s national interest and the maintenance of good relations with both countries.
Meanwhile Australia’s genuine and pressing investment needs are not being addressed, like dealing with climate change, repairing our run-down health and education systems, and ensuring everyone has a roof over their head. That’s where the cash needs to be really splashed.
I assume the timing of the announcement today is not unrelated to this weekend’s Eden-Monara by-election. The electorate is the location of the ADF’s HQ Joint Operations Command, and places like Jerrabomberra is home to many of Canberra’s defence personnel. They’ll be delighted with today’s announcement.