Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:44 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:44 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper: Business as usual


Andrew Shearer

8 July 2008 12:11

I’m generally content to watch the Defence White Paper debate from a distance. That’s because the outcome is pretty predictable, for three main reasons.

First, the force structure the ADF will have out to 2030 – the period covered by the White Paper – is largely set by decisions taken over the past decade: a bigger, more robust army; networked air combat capability based on the Joint Strike Fighter and airborne early warning aircraft; enhanced strategic lift provided by C-17 aircraft and two large amphibious ships; and air warfare destroyers capable of protecting deployed forces, including potentially from ballistic missiles.

The White Paper process will shape some new decisions: whether to acquire a fourth destroyer; submarines to replace the Collins class; and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles. These are important and costly calls that we need to get right. But their impact on our overall force structure will be marginal.

Second, the budget envelope is inelastic. The Rudd Government has extended its predecessor’s commitment to maintain 3 per cent real growth in defence spending out to 2018, and a stronger dollar will help a bit for as long as it lasts. But the cost of maintaining defence capabilities is rising sharply, and even if the Government wanted to increase defence spending further it will be constrained by the deteriorating medium-term economic outlook and competing longer-term budget pressures flowing mostly from an ageing society. In short, we will struggle to fund even our existing and currently planned force structure (I wouldn’t be surprised if the government passes on a fourth AWD).

Third, despite rhetorical differences there is little indication that the Rudd Government sees Australia’s security outlook much differently from its predecessor.

So we can expect a status quo document which doffs its hat to the Rudd Government’s emphasis on our immediate region and multilateralism while representing broad continuity with the previous government’s defence policy settings.