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September 06, 2021

Western Australia has always been pivotal to our nation’s defence, but a proposed Defence Force Posture Review by an Albanese-led Government could increase the state’s importance.

From its strategic position on the frontline of Australia’s defence – the ‘Indo’ side of the Indo-Pacific - to WA’s billion dollar shipbuilding industry, to the resources sector and the minerals critical to sovereign supply chains, WA holds the key to Australia’s national security Defence capabilities.

WA’s growing significance will be central to our review of Australia’s Defence Posture.

After six Defence Ministers in eight long years, the Government has been neglecting planning on posture, despite deteriorating strategic circumstances.

This is partly because the Government is distracted by delays and cost-blowouts on major capability issues, such as the $90 billion Future Submarine program and the $45 Billion Future Frigate program.

But aside from not properly addressing the growing capability issues, the Morrison-Joyce Government has not sought any independent and comprehensive advice on force posture.

This is in stark contrast to our Allies, such as US President Joe Biden, who tasked Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to conduct a global posture review to ensure the footprint of American service members worldwide is correctly sized and supports strategy, with a strong focus on the Indo-Pacific

Australia has only conducted two fully-fledged Defence Posture Reviews in recent times – former Defence Minister Kim Beazley’s mid-1980’s review and former Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s review in 2012.

Both of these former Defence Ministers, as WA locals, understand the importance of the state to our national security and support these plans for a new review to be conducted.

As a Minister in the previous Labor Government I witnessed the significant reforms undertaken by Labor to strengthen the Australia-US Alliance.

The United States Force Posture Initiative in our north was a program that began under Prime Minister Gillard and President Obama in 2011 amid the Defence Force Posture review that Labor commissioned.

This led to the current Marine Rotational Force in Darwin.

An Albanese Labor Government will conduct the first Defence Force Poster Review since 2012.

It is more than places and bases, it is how we participate in regional exercises and mobilise our troops in times of conflict.

This review would ensure the Australian Government is considering both long-term strategic posture and whether Australian Defence units, assets and facilities are prepared for the military to take action in a timely way.

It would also examine implications of the emergence of cyber security as a central strategic concern for Australia’s posture.

The Indo-Pacific would be a key focus and facilitate an opportunity to rebalance our strategic positioning and develop strategic policy in tandem with key allies like the US.

This independent review will investigate the future security and strategic environment, the importance of domestic and demographic issues and their impact on Defence facilities, as well as the strategic location of ADF bases.

This will also assist us in preparing for humanitarian and disaster responses, including those related to climate change.

The 2020 Strategic Update warned of the rapidly changing circumstances in our region and stressed that a ten-year strategic warning time for a major conventional attack against Australia is no longer an appropriate basis for defence planning.

Reduced warning times mean Defence plans can no longer assume Australia will have time to gradually adjust military capability and preparedness in response to emerging challenges.

This is particularly concerning when we know our major Defence asset contracts are over budget and face years of delay and do not always represent value for money.

We need to do better to deliver what our ADF and our country needs.

We need to ensure our negotiations deliver assets on time, on budget and with appropriate local industry content.

The Morrison Government has regularly spoken of – and taken credit for – posture related activities, such as upgrades to Defence assets in Northern Australia and the presence of US Marines, yet they have largely ignored posture.

Only Labor is committed to a genuine, independent Defence Force Posture Review to ensure our assets and our troops are positioned where we need them to be.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Monday, 6 September 2021.