Labor’s fear of getting wedged on national security has allowed Defence spending to skyrocket with little scrutiny and no opposition.
Currently, the budget is planned to grow by a remarkable 87.4% over the coming decade – well above the election promise of 2% of GDP. With $575 billion to spend over ten years, someone should really be paying attention to what these guys are doing.
When the Auditor-General recently had the temerity to suggest that “Defence has not clearly demonstrated that the acquisition provides value for money, as it did not undertake robust benchmarking in the context of a sole source procurement”, he was promptly gagged.
We don’t know how many billion cancelling the French sub contract will eventually cost us, but it isn’t the only such debacle as pointed out by ASPI in their commentary on the defence budget brief 2021–2022.
“Earlier this year, Defence cancelled its project to deliver the Submarine Escape Rescue and Abandonment System. After getting into contract and spending what could be close to $100 million, Defence decided that it had irreconcilable differences with its industry partner.
The Army’s highest priority program, the digitisation of the Army under LAND 200, also has been put on hold after nearly 15 years of work and almost $2 billion spent. Even if it continues, it could take another 10 years to complete—in total, that’s longer than the F-35A. Can Defence keep running projects that take a quarter of a century to deliver?”
Peter Dutton is addressing the Lowy Institute today about the threats we face and how we will maintain peace and prosperity in the region by spending kazillions on weapons of war.
“We are facing challenges including rapid military modernisation, tension over territorial claims, heightened economic coercion, undermining of international law, including the law of the sea, through to enhanced disinformation, foreign interference and cyber threats, enabled by new and emerging technologies.”
Dutton says Australia is maintaining investment in its core military capabilities and continuing to develop new ones “to hold a potential adversary’s forces and infrastructure at risk from a greater distance, capabilities which send a clear deterrent message to any adversary that the cost they would incur in threatening our interests outweighs the benefits of so doing.”
This sounds very much like an admission that we can’t match major-power adversaries and need to develop capabilities to deter them rather than engage them.
Which begs the question of why we are spending hundreds of billions on traditional, conventional capabilities such as expensive, multi-role, manned platforms and an increasingly heavy conventional land force.
Having too much money to spend leads to ridiculous situations like the one where we are deliberately paying more to slow down delivery so our shipbuilders have something to do.
The Force Structure Plan says the cost increase for the Future Frigate Program was caused by the government allocating ‘additional funding to enable construction of ships at a deliberate drumbeat over a longer period of time than originally planned to achieve a continuous shipbuilding program’.
Over the decade, the government is providing $575 billion in funding to Defence, but in that time it won’t deliver a single new combat vessel.
As Defence workforce numbers are capped, one wonders who is going to crew and maintain this vast collection of new equipment. It is already estimated that over 10% of Defence’s acquisition budget is going to contractors helping to run projects, costing way more than if we used experienced public servants.
While there are significant questions about how efficiently Defence is spending, there are even bigger questions about whether it’s spending it on the right things in the first place. Us spending up to $40 billion on heavy armoured vehicles isn’t much of a deterrent to China.
Instead of investing in extremely expensive crewed platforms that take decades to design and manufacture and are potentially too valuable to lose, we should be making greater use of uncrewed and autonomous systems.
Investing in cybersecurity and countering misinformation are far more relevant national security issues than buying bigger guns.
Some say that having a few targeted long-range missiles would be a sufficient deterrent against aggression. It would certainly be cheaper than wasting money on submarines.
Personally, I think respect given and earned, co-operation for mutual gain, and help in times of need or crisis, are far better defences than any weapon. The Coalition picked a bad time to cut Foreign Aid, ignore pleas to reduce emissions, and then act all offended when other suitors come calling.
We need détente, not Dutton – a man who speaks very loudly and carries a tiny widdle stick.
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