Protecting the massive resources projects in northern and Western Australia and export supply lines to China, Japan and South Korea will be a major Defence priority for the Abbott government.
“We have hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of investment in offshore developments, particularly in the north and northwest of Australia,” Senator Johnston said.
Australia had a great deal of “skin in that game” in terms of its relationships with China and the US, he said.
Senator Johnston said the Defence chiefs had dealt impressively with massive budget cuts, but there was still a big gap between the equipment promised in Labor’s two white papers and the money available to pay for it.
The Coalition wanted to provide that equipment and had undertaken to increase Defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP so it could be done, he said.
“We do need to take a year or two to steady the ship and then we anticipate a consistent increase in the budget over time.”
The additional money had to come “in a way Defence could digest it”, Senator Johnston said, and that would be mapped out in the new Defence white paper promised within 18 months.
Learning from Iraq and Afghanistan would be crucial to prepare the ADF for future operations that might again see it back in the Middle East. “If I had to choose a region where we would probably get the call again, it’s got to be that region. It’s got to be Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, et cetera, I would have thought.
“So what we need to do is chew up and digest what we’ve been through in the last 10 to 15 years in the Middle East, take a lot from the process.”
With the reduction of troop numbers in Afghanistan, the ADF was shifting from a land insurgency issue to a maritime security issue, he said.
“We are a maritime trading nation so even our agriculture is exported. So coal, iron ore and oil and gas — it’s all on the water.
“We have got to take responsibility and say to our customers, particularly in South Korea, Japan and China, we will secure those sea lanes for you as best we can.
“To do that you need cutting-edge, cost-effective ships. I think you need to retain your ship-building capacity.”
The navy needed to consider vessels such as the small and highly manoeuvrable but well-armed littoral combat ships that were already being built in Australia for the US Navy.
“They are fast, cost effective and relatively easily built and very flexible and versatile. Our navy needs a suitable mix of high-end war-fighting capabilities, such as the Air Warfare Destroyers and smaller vessels such as patrol boats and light, fast frigates,” Senator Johnston said
The minister ruled out any possibility of moving the navy out of its base in Sydney Harbour, which he dismissed as a Kevin Rudd “thought bubble”.
Senator Johnston said there were no plans to cut the size of the army after various troop drawdowns, and that the navy might even grow.Source: The Australian – Defending sea lanes ‘a priority’, says Defence Minister David Johnston
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