Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 07:39 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 07:39 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Defence at the 2020 Summit


Sam Roggeveen


21 April 2008 15:52

A reader writes: 

Am I the only one who's concerned defence issues didn’t seem rate to rate at all in the discussion on Australia’s place in the world — that out of 13 working groups in that session, empowering and protecting women got special attention but one of the largest outlays of government expenditure didn’t? In a year where the Government is developing a new Defence White Paper, and with all the public consultation that are going to take place, its seems a bit weird that the 2020 Summit didn't take the opportunity to say what the White Paper should consider. Even discussing the utility of armed force and the how, when and why of military intervention would have been useful discussions to have.

Weird, maybe, but understandable. The PM himself interjected in one break-out group, observing that he wanted Australia to be able to intervene in 'soft' security issues before they became 'hard' ones requiring a military response. There are also references to non-military security issues in the Summit's initial report. All of which is just to say that the short shrift given to military issues is clearly what that the majority of participants in the foreign/security policy stream of the summit wanted.

But if this is the direction the government wants to take our security policy, it is not reflected in its spending priorities. As has been noted on this blog numerous times and as my colleague Rory Medcalf mentions today in the AFR, the government has pledged diplomatic activism but at the same time has cut DFAT funding. And as for 'demilitarising' our security agenda, one of Rudd's first foreign policy moves was to send more troops to Timor. He has also pledged continued growth in the defence budget to 2016.

But Labor's election promise to maintain defence spending growth was made largely to cut off a Coalition line of attack about the ALP being weak on national security. In a second term or even late into this one, that might become less of a concern, in which case the Government may try to implement this less military-centered security agenda.