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Conservatives can’t keep up

Conservative ideology and policy making is informed by the past and constrained by current capability. It struggles with recognising the challenges of the future and the innovation needed to deal with them.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the eye-watering sums that we waste on so-called defence spending.

In the four budgets since the 2016 white paper, defence has received $143.2 billion in funding. This year’s budget is about $106 million per day (not including funds appropriated to the Defence Housing Authority, nor those administered by Defence for military superannuation schemes and housing support services).

Capital expenditure alone will be $19 billion a year at the end of the forward estimates, growing to $23 billion a year by the end of the White Paper decade. Since 2013–14, when the Coalition came to power, that’s real growth of 185%.

This rapid increase in projected expenditure has been beset with problems, not least of which is the inability to attract personnel.

By now, the ADF was supposed to have increased by 1730 people but they have only been able to recruit 600. HMAS Perth will be up on blocks for two years after its latest upgrade for want of a crew.

We have always had trouble finding enough submariners for the six submarines that we have let alone when we ramp up to twelve in the coming decades. $79 billion is a lot to spend on something you can’t use.

But finding personnel is not their only problem.

With increased capability comes increased sustainment costs.

The first of the F-35A aircraft have arrived but, to achieve final operating capability, the fleet’s flying hours will need to increase nearly six fold over the next four years which will be expensive as their hourly flight cost is twice the classic Hornet’s.

The Future Submarine Program delivering the Attack-class submarines took nearly three years to sign its head contract, which is the strategic partnering agreement. There is still confusion about where the submarine yard will be.

If all goes well, we won’t get the first of the new frigates into service until around 2030 and the first submarine won’t be in service until 2034 or 2035, despite a conservative design philosophy based on using only currently mature technologies.

ASPI predicted that Defence will have spent over $20 billion before the first frigate and submarine become operational. They are now saying that looks conservative.

We are spending hundreds of billions on acquiring and sustaining “exquisitely expensive” manned-warships that “are too valuable to risk losing” in a world that is rapidly moving into the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ of autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and 3D printing.

Already, there are comparatively cheap anti-ship and anti-submarine missiles and drone technology that is evolving with things like swarms of tiny drones which can disable aircraft engines.

Meanwhile, ASPI reports that our Air Force still has some way to go to get the Reaper and Triton unmanned aerial systems into service.

Currently, less than 1% of Defence’s budget goes into its innovation funds.

ASPI, who are generally supportive of increased defence spending, gave some advice to the government in their appraisal of the 2019-20 defence budget:

“The value-for-money calculus doesn’t favour billion-dollar manned platforms…. But just as important is imagination and a willingness to pursue the disruptive potential of new technologies so they aren’t dismissed out of hand as poor substitutes for traditional platforms….There’s no point investing billions in military capability if it doesn’t support Australia’s political or military strategy.”

Conservative politicians try to convince us that they are concerned with the problems that face “the quiet Australians”. I can’t think of a one of them that can be solved with having a few missile-carrying planes and warships.

Have you noticed how many conservative politicians have a military background and how many of those are also climate change deniers? Perhaps they think we can shoot our way out of the problem?

Why else, out of everyone to choose from, would they think twice rejected retired General Jim Molan was the best choice for a Senator of Australia?

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  1. Ken

    It’s no surprise the Conservatives can’t keep up what with the lack of talent in their ranks.

  2. Kerri

    Conservatives love military people as apart from their hawkish attitude and love of spending poor peoples money on boys toys they take orders really well.
    Watch Linda Reynolds with this in mind.

  3. Perking Scrawnyneck

    The only ‘professional soldiers’ I have ever met or known – admittedly only a handful – were pigshit-thick unemployable psychopaths. I remember a BBC interview with some SAS troops awaiting transport to Afghanistan. All they wanted to do was fight someone. Anyone. Ideology be buggered. ‘Let’s go out and kill!’
    I have always been puzzled by Australia’s belied that ‘good ol’ Uncle Sam’ will come arunnin’ if we needed him. What? Like in East Timor?
    Australia is just a mug Vassal State that yearns to join in Uncle Sam’s sordid ventures, without questioning why. And we even buy their frigging weapons to fight their wars with! How good is Australia?
    The US overthrew Whitlam because he was asking about Pine Gap. That’s how good a friend Uncle Sam is.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds 23/8/2018

    “I do not recognise the bullying and intimidation that has gone on,” she told the upper house on Thursday.

    “Whatever happens tomorrow, this is a sad day for my party and for our nation.

    “I just hope … whatever happens tomorrow that the behaviours that we have seen and the bullying and intimidation that I do not recognise as Liberal in any shape, way or form be brought to account.”

    Ausgust 28, 2018

    Linda Reynolds is made Assistant Minister for Home Affairs


    “Clearly there are issues we do need to address, and I’m now dealing with them internally in the party, in our processes, the prime minister and the whips have set up,” Senator Reynolds told Sky News on Wednesday.

    January 2, 2019

    Assistant ministers Sarah Henderson and Linda Reynolds on Wednesday rejected claims the Liberal Party was anti-women, defending its lacklustre rate of female representation in Canberra and objecting to calls for gender quotas in preselections.

    Ms Henderson, the assistant social services minister, told News Corp Australia the Coalition’s record “far exceeded Labor”, while Senator Reynolds accused women in the Labor Party and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of using gender for political attacks.

    March 2, 2019

    Scott Morrison has announced that Western Australian senator Linda Reynolds will become Minister for Defence Industry.

  5. Peter F

    @ PS. “The US overthrew Whitlam because he was asking about Pine Gap. That’s how good a friend Uncle Sam is.”…………………..SPOT ON.

  6. Aortic

    We continue to throw needless billions at ships and subs that the way technology is going will be blasted out of existence by some device from thousands of kilometres away. My brother in law has recently retired from the RAAF and told me often of the travesty of building these vessels as they could never find the personnel to man them. The National Security mantra is always trotted out when the patent lack of any other cogent policies dares to be mentioned in the press. Still I suppose when the earth becomes unliveable due to the climate emergency the Roseville nut jobs and the rest can put out to sea, might give them a chance to use their expensive useless toys. Love your work again Kaye.

  7. Keith Davis

    A very clear and predictive article. Submarines, obsolete before launch … predatory undersea drones salted along the submarine pathways … swarm theory … AI linkages … kaboom!

  8. Frances

    My brother lives in France and he said the French are laughing at the Australian govt. re expenditure on subs. This is small change compared to defence spending; however, Qld. govt. workers get to have overseas travel experiences at taxpayers’ expense. Quote from ABC : Three senior Queensland officials have spent $107,000 on a two-week trip across America, with new figures showing public servants racked up a $5 million international travel bill in the past 12 months.

  9. Kaye Lee


    I just received an email from my federal member, Lucy Wicks, to inform me that “Later this month I will be visiting Serbia as a member of the Australian delegation to 141st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU is a global organisation of national parliaments with 179 Member Parliaments and 12 associate members enabling parliamentarians from across the world the chance to engage.”

    Is the IPU one of those “often-ill-defined borderless global communities” or worse still, “an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”? Or is it just another junket allowing inadequate politicians like Lucy Wicks to look for a post-politics job while having an overseas holiday at our expense?

  10. Anarchy rules

    Read the works of general Smedley Butler and then try and reassure me that the world has moved on from then .Sadly I do not think we have learned from the mistakes of the pass and thus stuck in the cycle of the industrial military complex.

  11. Aortic

    Just looked up the Roseville Liberal site and shit the Peta Credlin gig is SOLD OUT! But I am consoled by the fact that the Cory Bernardi and Ross Cameron and Rowan Dean spiels still have tickets available. I really can’t make up my mind, such a delectable choice, so maybe a night on the piss might win out.

  12. Keitha Granville

    I cannot for the life of me understand why we need so much defence ? Against who? Against what? The only countries likely to want to invade us will just walk straight in by virtue of numbers – theirs. A few planes, submarines and bombs won’t be of any use at all.

    Meanwhile we could do something about a whole lot of real issues with that money right now.

  13. Aortic

    I tend to agree Keitha. My only supposition is that other international countries expect us to at least look as if we are providing for our own defence as I surmise they would be entitled to say f…ck you if we were attacked with no visible means of defending ourselves. Plus it gives this pathetic government, who have no policies to refer to per se something to rave on about.

  14. RomeoCharlie29

    Love your work too KL, but imagine the howls if, say, a future Labor govt. said it was going to trim the defence budget, cut the number of subs and F35’s. The seppos and Libs would be frothing at the mouths, Sheridan would go apeshit and we’d have another CIA led coup.

    Sadly I don’t see any evidence of Labor thinking about alternative defence weaponry of the types you nominate Kaye Lee. Perhaps they should give every resident across the Top End of Australia a .303 rifle and some ammo and train us to readiness to repel the invading hordes. This could save a few billion.

    After all, the Swiss do it.

  15. Kaye Lee

    Hell, we sold the ports of Darwin and Melbourne and Newcastle to the Chinese, we give them our resources to mine and export, we sold them Pacific Hydro and loads of real estate and farms, they are buying into the health industry, they even bought Daydream island.

    Buying us is heaps cheaper than invading us.

    As Bill Clinton said, do we want to invest all our resources into trying to stay top dog or do we want to try to help shape the world when we are not top dog.

    Chine does not want to disrupt their supply chain.

    Diplomacy, trade, foreign aid, education and disaster relief work far better towards ensuring our safety than really expensive war toys.

    They talk about respect and the rights of sovereign nations as we send troops overseas at America’s bidding.

  16. Aortic

    Exactly Kaye, their financial grip on the Antipodes sufficient to ensure their dominance without lifting a weapon. Mandarin or Cantonese take your pick.

  17. Rhonda

    I’d feel a whole lot safer with more investment in fire fighting resources. We’re stocking the wrong war chest 🙁

  18. Glenn Barry

    The same stupidity that is bringing the planet to the brink continues unabated within the ‘conservative’ end of the political spectrum – these guys are just too stoopid for words to adequately describe – change their nappies and give them some toy soldiers to play with FFS

    Defence spending keeps spiralling as embarrassed government blocks data

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