Drawing on a wealth of experience, Prime Minister Scott Morrison's new-look defence team has been tasked with building on the Coalition's record on defence, while also delivering key election announcements and commitments in a seamless transition building on the success of the previous six years.
Central to the Coalition's commitments is the pledge to return Australia’s defence expenditure to 2 per cent of GDP following what both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and now former minister for defence Christopher Pyne explained as a 10 per cent reduction in real terms in the last year (FY2012-13) of the previous government – resulting in defence investment falling to its lowest levels since 1938.
Australia’s defence expenditure looks set to increase to $38.7 billion in 2019-20. It is a case of business as usual for Defence and industry, with the Coalition’s budget announcement signalling the government’s continued commitment to supporting the capability and development of Australia’s sovereign defence industry capabilities.
While the Coalition used a relatively short election campaign to sell its credentials on defence and national security – with the FY2019-20 budget serving as the culmination for what became "business as usual" for Defence and defence industry under the Coalition, despite its own internal leadership challenges – this new look defence team is preparing to hit the ground running on a series of major policy areas.
Heading up the team - Senator Linda Reynolds
Minister Reynolds comes to the role of Defence Minister following a brief stint as the minister for defence industry. She was elected to the Senate in 2014 following more than 20 years’ experience at the national political level working for ministers, members of Parliament and the Liberal Party of Australia.
Minister Reynolds served for 29 years in the Australian Army as a Reserve Officer in a wide range of part and full-time appointments. She combines a wealth of political, academic and professional corporate experience – at a time of major materiel modernisation, recapitalisation across the ADF – newly-minted Minister Reynolds takes the helm at a time of increasing regional competition and ambiguity in the international order.
In particular, the growing assertiveness of China and its geo-political, strategic and economic competition with the US places the nation at the epicentre of competition between Australia's largest economic partner and leading-security benefactor, requiring a nuanced approach to balance the differing interests, while navigating the increasingly precarious position Australia finds itself in.
Delivering the major projects - Melissa Price
The new Minister for Defence Industry, Melissa Price, has arguably the most intense role within the new defence team – as Defence Industry Minister, she will be responsible for managing the delivery of a series of major defence recapitalisation and modernisation programs, including the $35 billion SEA 5000 Hunter Class frigates and the $5.2 billion LAND 400 Phase 2 Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle programs.
This new role also oversees the selection of the $10-15 billion LAND 400 Phase 3 program to replace the Army's ageing M113 fleet. Minister Price will also be responsible for the next stages of delivering the contentious $50 billion SEA 1000 Attack Class future submarine program – the continuing design process and stage between Navy and Naval Group and long-lead material acquisition, combined with continued challenges experienced throughout the program, provides the perfect avenue for Minister Price to draw upon her professional legal experience.
Focusing on regional presence - Alex Hawke
The promotion of Alex Hawke to Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Assistant Minister for Defence clearly establishes the Prime Minister's focus on the 'Pacific step-up' program, identifying and expanding Australia's role in the Indo-Pacific region, with a focus on leveraging growing defence capability and the nation's existing relationships to counter potential threats to the nation's interests in the region.
This renewed focus and portfolio combination will oversee Australia stepping up it’s commitment and presence in the Pacific. The government announced a $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which was created with the view of supporting partners within the Pacific. However, Vanuatu is concerned about their lack of inclusion in the PNG-Soloman Islands underwater cable initiative.
The Pacific step-up strategy incorporates a number of different focuses, ranging from economic and infrastructure development, combined with a renewed Australian strategic and defence commitment to the broader Pacific region, which were outlined by Prime Minister Morrison as part of the 2018 APEC leadership conference in Port Moresby.
Australia will also provide training and infrastructure upgrades to support the domestic security and defence capabilities of regional partners like Vanuatu, with the Prime Minister outlining an expansion of the island nation’s police force and the appointment of a new Australian defence adviser in Vanuatu. Another example is the recent signing of a major joint initiative between the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea on the construction of the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island.
The nation's growing economic and strategic pivot to the Pacific provides new opportunities for Australian businesses of all shapes and sizes as the nation continues to invest in both regional infrastructure and defence capability to ensure the enduring peace, prosperity and stability of “our patch”.