• John McDonnell

Australia pushes for more sovereign defence power


Minister Dutton inspects Indian troops in September

Australia has changed its defence posture in order to make itself more self-reliant and increase the deterrence against China.


Defence Minister Peter Dutton announced the changes last week. He said Australia would request the Americans to transfer technology to Australia to allow the production of Australian manufactured long-range missiles and drones.


Australia would also seek to increase regional defence ties and to enhance the American defence presence in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.


Mr Dutton made the announcement prior to leaving on a ministerial tour with foreign minister Marise Payne. The two ministers' tour will include '2 plus 2' talks in Jakarta, New Dehli, Seoul and Washington.


The talks in Jakarta have concluded. They were of huge significance for both sides. Australia’s ambition was to induce Indonesia to become a de facto member of the Quadrilateral Group (US, Japan, India and Australia), which was established to counteract the rising influence of China. For their part, the Indonesian side had the objective of consolidating Australia’s support for Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua. Indonesia’s defence minister Prabowo Subianto was the general in charge of Indonesia’s resistance to Australia in East Timor.


The ministers agreed to increase the interoperability of their two forces with Indonesian troops exercising with Australian forces in the Northern Territory.


This outcome, while consolidating the resistance to China in the region, is not without its risks. It is likely to offend the Melanesian Spearhead Group (Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonian Kanaks) who are strong supporters of an independent West Papua. This could make the Melanesians more susceptible to overtures from China.


The talks in India are likely to focus on the agenda for the Quad leaders' talks, which are due to take place in Washington later this month.


The significance of the Quad was considered in an article by Senator Jim Molan in the Weekend Australian. Major Geeral Molan’s prognosis is that at the present time there is a significant military deficit between the quad partners and the Peoples Liberation Army, in the Asia Pacific region, at the present time. He estimates that if China challenged Australia, we could hold out for about four days.


Senator Molan has no doubt that China’s ambition is to dominate the Asia Pacific region in the medium term and the world in the long term. He makes the point that for the next ten years Australia will be virtually defenceless because the submarines will not be operational and the F 35 fighters have significant limitations. He adds to this the fact that the Australian populace has very little appetite for defence preparedness and that our forces have been prepared to fight the last war (Afghanistan) rather than the next one against a very sophisticated, technology-based force.


This explains Peter Dutton’s change in direction. He needs a short-term deterrent, hence the focus on home-built long-range missiles and drones. This will give him sufficient breathing space to get the submarine project back on track and sort out our air defences.


Dutton is the most sophisticated defence minister we have had for a very long time.


He is reacting to the real-world situation, which recognises that China may assert its right to sovereignty over Taiwan through occupation, and America may not resist. This would enhance China’s dominance in the region and increase the risk for Australia.