23 May 22. It is very early days and we all well know that what politicians promise during election campaigns does not always occur. But for all that, Monday was a new day in Australia and the first with a new Labor Government in Australia since the short live Government of Kevin Rudd in 2013. That being so, and I wish the new administration led by Anthony Albanese well as it takes charge at a time when war, geo-politics, diplomacy, inflation and the global economy are moving in the wrong direction. My business is predominantly defence and thus following such a big change of direction in Australian politics it may be timely to take preliminary look at commitments made in recent months and through the election campaign by the Australian Labor Party and new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese specifically on Defence and Security policy.
In March this year Labor told its supporters that it would spend more on defence than the right-wing Coalition administration of Scott Morrison. In what had been a major foreign policy speech Anthony Albanese was at great pains to try and burnish his national security credentials suggesting that Labor may build even more new warships for the Navy if it wins power and he pledged to spend substantially more on defence than the either the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments.
Mr. Albanese said that there was little difference between the Morrison led Coalition Government and Labor when it came to policies on the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong although he accused the Coalition Conservative administration of Scott Morrison of damaging the national interest through its mishandling of the relationship with China and in what he described as the bungling of major defence projects.
Separately in the Election policy document, Labor confirmed that the Three key principles are at the heart of its national security policy would be:
- defending Australia’s territorial integrity
- protecting our nation’s political sovereignty from external pressure
- promoting Australia’s economic prosperity and social stability, with sustainable growth, secure employment, and a unified community.
A Labor Government, the now new Prime Minister of Australia noted, will achieve these objectives and build a more secure and resilient Australia through:
- Supporting a stronger Australian Defence Force
- Prioritising better and smarter cybersecurity
- Shoring-up our economic self-reliance
- Strengthening our communities and institutions
- Deepening our partnerships in the region and globally around the world
- Taking action on climate change.
All in all, there appears at this stage nothing that will course angst for Australia’s AUKUS partners although what will be very interesting will be to see whether the election of Mr. Albanese as Australia’s new prime minister is embraced by New Zealand and whether his influence might change opposition of the New Zealand administration in relation to nuclear.
Thankfully Australia has always enjoyed strong and unshakable relationship on foreign policy – this often being referred to Trans-Tasman – but just as has occurred in Australia with the perhaps not surprising election loss suffered by Scott Morrison, the popularity of Jacinda Ardern’s government in New Zealand appears to be at an equally low point.
Back to the Australian Labor Party Foreign Policy document which talked of Investing in Australia’s defences and those who serve saying Labor will ensure that Defence has the resources it needs to defend Australia and deter potential aggressors. Labor supported the Strategic Update 2020, including $270 billion of capability acquisition, and we support for the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines.
Labor, he said, will keep Australia’s defences strong by treating our defence personnel with the respect they deserve. Labor led the push for a royal commission into veteran suicide – to ask the hard questions and, hopefully, to find some answers. Labor will also deliver new Veterans hubs across Australia to provide one stop shops for access to a range of services.
Importantly, Mr. Albanese talked of a self-reliant Australia and that Economic resilience is at the core of Labor’s Future ’Made in Australia’ plan. We have also released our Defence Industry Development Plan which will sustain defence supply chains, develop our sovereign defence industry and encourage innovation.
Labor’s plan for a National Strategic Fleet will underpin security of He also talked of strengthening our democracy saying supply for critical commodities like fuel. Democratic strength is also critical to our long-term stability and security. Labor will deliver a National Anti-Corruption Commission to lift trust in government and draw on its long support for multiculturalism to build social cohesion. Labor will also take politics out of national security, always seeking bipartisanship and always acting in our shared national interest.
Importantly, the policy document talked of deepening partnerships and that Labor will deepen our engagement with our closest neighbours. The document also confirmed that Labor will ensure that the Quadrilateral consultations deliver in our relationships with India, Japan and the United States. Perhaps most important of all was confirmation that the new Government will support new arrangements, such as AUKUS.
Mr. Albanese takes charge of Australia at a time when the nation is fast beginning to come to terms with perhaps the most serious change in geo-politics since World War. Australia had under Scott Morrison woken up to the realisation that it needed to radically grow and modernise its defence capability and he deserves praise for that.
What follows under the new Albanese led administration will be watched closely by Australia’s would-be enemies just as it will be by the nation’s allies. There is much to be done. The Hunter class frigates of which little more than a week ago BAE Systems Australia which is responsible for the design and build revealed that twelve firms from Australia will be sub-contracted to manufacture, assemble and supply thousands of valves for the first batch of three of these frigates it is building in Australia for the Royal Australian Navy.
Australia’s Collins class diesel-electric submarines and which will eventually be replaced by Australia’s planned first generation of nuclear-powered submarines are in the meantime going to be upgraded and this year has seen more of Australia’s 72 F-35A Lightning ll jets ordered from Lockheed Martin arrive.
But given the size of this vast nation the new Australian government will be well aware that geo-political tensions and threats mean that the nation must ensure it has a sufficiently strong level of deterrent capability. That is easy to say but harder to achieve particularly when Australia has essentially thrown out the last government on the back of a massive rise in the cost of living and it arguably botched handing of COVID.
One certainty is that AUKUS will be increasingly important to the new Australian government just as it was to the last. Equally true is that the new government has clearly signalled that it intends to work just as hard with its allies as the last one
CHW (London – 23rd May 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785