AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE MINISTER FLATTERS TO DECEIVE PLUS REMEMBERING JOHN FREEMAN
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
23 Dec 14. While the appointment of Kevin Andrews as Australia’s Minister of Defence has gone down rather like a hole in the head I suspect that the real point is that the Prime Minister himself will be leading Defence from here on. Well, I might hope so anyway but why when you are already carrying the full responsibilities and burden of being Prime Minister as well would you wish to appoint someone into the official Minister of Defence role that not only knows nothing about defence but has no wish to be there either?
It isn’t just that Mr. Andrews is alleged to have made the ‘no interest’ remark to predecessor, Mike O’Connor on some previous occasion – apparently it is also because of the external perception that he is joining a long list of front bench ministers given the defence ministry to supposedly run and who appear to be near the very end of their political careers.
Given the not insignificant size of Australian defence and its budget and the constant threat that Australia faces it would seem that in making this appointment Mr. Abbot is not treating defence of the nation as seriously as he should. Perhaps he should have another look at his choice of Defence Minister and then ask himself why it is that the US fears that the Asia Pacific region to be a potentially far greater threat to the future peace and stability of the world than say the Middle East and Europe and of why it is that the US is putting more of its resources into the region.
That Australia is along with New Zealand and the USA a member of the three-way ANZUS security treaty, an agreement made well over sixty years ago and that binds all three countries to co-operate on defence matters, to consult on mutual threats and to act to meet common dangers is hardly sufficient reason for Australia to be seen to perhaps downplay defence or the constant threat that the country faces. While the ANZUS alliance may act as the foundation stone of defence and security co-operation between the three partners it is also right to say that Australia as a nation is also required to ensure that it not only has sufficient defence capability to play a part in the equal defence of all its allies but also that the Australian Defence Force is motivated by strong leadership from the top.
While the Australian government budget for defence spending is expected to be largely static in real terms over the next three years (this follows a sizable rise in each of the last four years) it is noted that the nominal rise in defence expenditure for the current year was $2.3 billion taking the full-year budget up to $29.3 billion. The increase in the size of 2014 defence spending takes the proportional spend ever closer to the 2% of GDP level, a point that on current budget expectations is expected to be reached in 2017.
Australia is taking defence seriously then and whilst it would be wrong to suggest that defence has been prioritised in any particular way the need for strong defence is clearly being recognised. For that I am sure most Australians are grateful. But it seems to me that to appoint someone to head the Defence Ministry and who by his own admission is alleged to have no interest in defence seems to me to be sending a wrong message to those that would threaten Australia in the future.
In terms of defence equipment the Australian government has already committed to acquire 72 Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and may well acquire more in due course. The Australian Navy is in the process of bringing the first of two large 27,500 ton landing helicopter ships into service with the first, HMAS Canberra which is in effect a $1.5bn amphibious assault ship, having just been commissioned. In addition, three Hobart class air warfare destroyers are currently under construction with the first of these due to be commi