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AUKUS ALLIANCE ANNOUNCEMENT MUST DELIVER

September 20, 2021


The fanfare of the recent AUKUS announcement exceeded all others by this Government in recent times – even for a Prime Minister who walks a red carpet and comes out to the “Top Gun” song at domestic Defence bases.

But will this be another case of all announcement no delivery?

Greg Sheridan, was right to point out that: “We are worldclass at announcing submarine deals. We are also world-class at failing to deliver them.”

The previous $90 billion Future Submarines program, Australia’s most expensive procurement program in history, was running $40 billion over budget, and a decade late.

With as many as 250 submarines currently in the Indo-Pacific and heightened regional tensions, something needed to be done to fix that debacle.

These new submarines are a costly admission of failure by the Morrison Government, with up to $4 billion has already been spent on this dumped program, and an unknown fee still to be paid for scrapping the deal.

Labor acknowledges that nuclear-powered technology is now the best option for Australia’s capability, and that the proposed submarines are superior to the Future Submarines.

We do, however, have grave concerns about what this will mean for those workers and business in our shipbuilding industry in South Australia and Western Australia.

There are uncertain futures for the small and medium businesses in our local supply chain who were already working or were gearing up for work on the Future Submarines.

These businesses and workers must not be forgotten by the Government.

While the Future Submarines program was flawed, it was not the only Defence asset that faced serious issues.

We know many of our major Defence asset contracts are over budget and face years of delay and do not always represent value for money.

The Australian has been right to point out these asset failings with a series of major reports over the last few months.

Our $45 billion Future Frigate program is running years late, and is suffering major issues in delivering the capability needed.

Our Joint Strike Fighter jets are expensive, maintenance-intensive, and unreliable, with 871 unresolved deficiencies.

The $5.6 billion Land 400 armoured vehicle fleet face lengthy delays over multiple technical issues.

Our entire fleet of MRH-90 Taipan helicopters have been grounded since June due to potentially catastrophic maintenance issues.

The C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifters, at a cost of $1.5 billion, were not fit for battle and had to be reclassified as humanitarian aircraft earlier this year.

Our Army’s $3 billion Battle Management System were suspended after failing cyber security tests and not receiving full IT security accreditation.

The $4 billion Offshore Patrol Vessel program has been delayed with no answers given for the setback.

These are just some of the ongoing issues within Defence. Specifically, these are the ones we know about from the Morrison Government which is notoriously reticent to provide information.

Not only is the Federal Government failing on its delivery of major assets, after six Defence Ministers in eight long years, they have been neglecting planning on posture, despite these deteriorating strategic circumstances.

This is partly because the Government is distracted by all those delays and cost-blowouts on the major capability assets.

We’ve seen US President Joe Biden announce a global posture review to ensure the footprint of American service members worldwide is correctly sized and supports strategy, with a planned focus on the Indo-Pacific region.

Yet the Government has not sought any independent and comprehensive advice on Defence posture.

The AUKUS partnership offers a new opportunity for the Government to turn its mind to posture, and commit to a Defence Posture Review.

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

An Albanese Labor Government will conduct the first Defence Force Posture Review since 2012 to ensure our assets and our troops are positioned where we need them to be.

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. This Government removed a dedicated cyber security minister, which will reinstate.

Australia has only conducted two fully-fledged Defence Posture Reviews in recent times, both under Labor, in the mid-1980’s and in 2012.

The AUKUS partnership should spur the Government to follow our lead and undertake a genuine, independent Defence Force Posture Review to ensure our assets and our troops are positioned where we need them to be.

Labor has been calling for deeper partnerships with allied and aligned nations, and to build a region which is stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty.

We see the AUKUS partnership as being in addition to the much deeper engagement that is needed with the countries of our region, including ASEAN members.

The AUKUS partnership offers many new opportunities to defend our sovereignty and engage with our region as we strengthen cooperation with our close allies.

Let’s hope, like so many other programs under this Government, this isn’t all announcement no delivery.

This opinion piece was first published in The Australian on Monday, 20 September 2021.

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