Australia — Announcement of the Force Posture Review

Min­is­ter for Defence Stephen Smith — Press Con­fer­ence, Announce­ment of the Force Pos­ture Review
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turn­ing up. Today, I’m announc­ing that the Gov­ern­ment is insti­tut­ing an Aus­tralian Defence Force, Force Pos­ture Review. This is to ensure that our Aus­tralian Defence Force is geo­graph­i­cal­ly posi­tioned cor­rect­ly to meet our mod­ern secu­ri­ty and strate­gic chal­lenges.

I am advised that this is the first stand-alone ded­i­cat­ed Force Pos­ture Review that we’ve had for a con­sid­er­able peri­od of time, although it is the case that in the course of the Dibb report to then Min­is­ter Bea­z­ley the Force Pos­ture Review aspects were con­sid­ered. And it’s also the case that in the 2009 White Paper, ques­tions of Defence bases and Defence base con­sol­i­da­tion were part of the 2009 White Paper.

I have asked two of our lead­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty experts, Allan Hawke, a for­mer Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Defence, and Rick Smith, also a for­mer Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Defence, to over­see the Force Pos­ture Review and to pro­vide a report to me by the end of the first quar­ter of next year. And Dr Hawke and Mr Smith may well rec­om­mend in the course of the review that oth­er nation­al secu­ri­ty experts be added to the expert panel.

The Defence Force Pos­ture Review and the report to me by the expert pan­el will form part of the secu­ri­ty and strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tions for the 2014 White Paper. Our next White Paper on our five year sched­ule is due no lat­er than the first quar­ter of 2014.

You might be aware that we cur­rent­ly have a joint work­ing par­ty with the Unit­ed States on the Unit­ed States Glob­al Force Pos­ture Review. And so the work of the Aus­tralian Defence Force, Force Pos­ture Review will be com­ple­ment­ed by the work pre­vi­ous­ly done in the 2009 White Paper, com­ple­ment­ed by the work which has been done on the estate con­sol­i­da­tion pro­gram and com­ple­ment­ed by the work that we’re cur­rent­ly doing with the Unit­ed States on their Glob­al Force Pos­ture Review.

The strate­gic and secu­ri­ty con­sid­er­a­tions that the expert pan­el in Defence will look at obvi­ous­ly include the rise of the Asia Pacif­ic as a strate­gic and secu­ri­ty area, the rise of the Indi­an Ocean rim as an area of strate­gic impor­tance, the ever-present and ongo­ing need and require­ment for Aus­tralia to be in a posi­tion to respond to human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief in the Asia Pacif­ic and the Indi­an Ocean and also new and mod­ern secu­ri­ty and strate­gic chal­lenges, in par­tic­u­lar ener­gy security.

As we know, in the north west and the north of Aus­tralia, off the coast of the north west of West­ern Aus­tralia and off the coast of the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry, we are now see­ing a sig­nif­i­cant petro­le­um resources ener­gy belt and so into the future, con­sid­er­a­tions arise which go not just to the phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty of a grow­ing resources indus­try infra­struc­ture but also the gen­er­al ques­tion of ener­gy and ener­gy secu­ri­ty, as that petro­le­um resources belt will become par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to Australia’s domes­tic ener­gy use in the forth­com­ing peri­od, in addi­tion to being a key export ele­ment of Australia’s export arrangements.

In terms of the impli­ca­tions, we need to take this, step by step. As I say, the expert panel’s report will help form the strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tion for the next White Paper. But as we look at the dis­po­si­tion of the strate­gic and secu­ri­ty fac­tors that we see at the moment, there is a prospect that we’ll see more defence assets in West­ern Aus­tralia, par­tic­u­lar­ly in HMAS Stir­ling, so far as amphibi­ous or naval assets are con­cerned, more assets in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry in Dar­win and the poten­tial for more assets in the north east of Queensland.

But I cau­tion and say I’m not propos­ing to pre-judge this, and we should not get ahead of our­selves. The oth­er impor­tant aspect of the expert panel’s work will be to give advice on the port­ing or the bas­ing arrange­ments so far as some of our new amphibi­ous navy and aer­i­al assets are con­cerned. So, for exam­ple, where do we base or port or dock our Air War­fare Destroy­ers, our Land­ing Heli­copter Docks, the Largs Bay, Joint Strike Fight­ers and the like?

And you may recall that last week, I announced that Dr Hawke would do a review of the capac­i­ty of Fleet Base East, or Gar­den Island, in Syd­ney to deal with the grow­ing effec­tive con­ges­tion, so far as cruise ships are concerned.

So that’s an out­line. Mate­ri­als have been dis­trib­uted. I must cau­tion by say­ing I am told that there is a divi­sion immi­nent, so I might have to abridge, but I’m hap­py to respond to your questions.

JOURNALIST: Is this the first major review since the 1991 Force Struc­ture Review?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’m told it’s the first ded­i­cat­ed, stand-alone Force Struc­ture Review for some time, but I don’t want to over-egg it or over­state it. If you look at Pro­fes­sor Dibbs’ report to Min­is­ter Bea­z­ley, there were four struc­ture ele­ments and as late as the White Paper 2009, there were force pos­ture ele­ments as well.

It’s been sug­gest­ed to me that it might be the first ded­i­cat­ed, stand-alone Force Pos­ture Review since Viet­nam, but for­mer Min­is­ter Hill might quib­ble with that.

But the impor­tant thing is this is the appro­pri­ate time to do a Force Pos­ture Review because of the strate­gic and secu­ri­ty fac­tors in the mod­ern era and it feeds in appro­pri­ate­ly to the strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tions for the White Paper.

As cir­cum­stances change, our pos­ture needs to change. So, his­tor­i­cal­ly, for exam­ple, in World War Two, with the Bris­bane Line, we saw that places like Townsville and Cairns, Dar­win and Perth were essen­tial­ly sec­ondary defence areas. 

That can no longer be the case, with the grow­ing sig­nif­i­cance of the Indi­an Ocean, the grow­ing sig­nif­i­cance of the Asia Pacif­ic and the grow­ing demands on Aus­tralia to be in a posi­tion to assist the Asia Pacif­ic region in the face of ongo­ing tsunamis and earth­quakes and the like.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter, the-

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, Bren­dan and then Andrew.

JOURNALIST: Chi­na is both seen as the source of our eco­nom­ic sal­va­tion far into the future, but also appar­ent­ly as an emerg­ing strate­gic threat. How big a threat to Aus­tralia is China?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, both the White Paper 2009 and this Force Pos­ture Review is not aimed at one par­tic­u­lar coun­try. It is aimed at our strate­gic and secu­ri­ty con­sid­er­a­tions. That’s the first point.

Sec­ond­ly, on Chi­na, we have a com­pre­hen­sive bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship with Chi­na. Yes, it start­ed with our ear­ly recog­ni­tion of Chi­na by the Whit­lam Gov­ern­ment, when recog­ni­tion of Chi­na was­n’t quite as fash­ion­able then. It grew with our min­er­als and petro­le­um resources indus­try, par­tic­u­lar­ly from my own state of West­ern Aus­tralia. But now we have a com­pre­hen­sive bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, which includes strate­gic and secu­ri­ty mat­ters and includes Defence to Defence and mil­i­tary to mil­i­tary exchanges and arrange­ments. And we have seen in recent times, for exam­ple, for the first time, live-fire naval exer­cis­es. So we have a com­pre­hen­sive rela­tion­ship with China.

We are con­fi­dent that Chi­na will emerge, as Bob Zoel­lick would say, a respon­si­ble stake­hold­er, as the Chi­nese would say, into a har­mo­nious envi­ron­ment. We are con­fi­dent of that. But in our rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, as we have made clear on ques­tions such as human rights and treat­ment of Aus­tralian cit­i­zens, we do not take a back­ward step on our val­ues and virtues. 

But we have a very impor­tant eco­nom­ic rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, but it’s also an impor­tant com­pre­hen­sive bilat­er­al relationship.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter, across the north­ern belt, there’s hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars worth of resource indus­try assets. How much con­cern have they expressed to the Gov­ern­ment, in years past and recent­ly, about those assets being sub­ject to phys­i­cal attack or pira­cy? And indeed, you’ve got com­pa­nies like Shell, which are going to be putting out float­ing ships in very deep sea water, well away from Aus­tralia. What do you envis­age the Defence role being?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think there are a num­ber of fac­tors. First­ly, the gen­er­al ques­tion has been raised with me in the course of my time as Defence Min­is­ter, and my response has been that I am not run­ning petro­le­um or min­er­als resources pol­i­cy; I’m run­ning a nation­al secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. That’s the first point.

Sec­ond­ly, we do have a num­ber of bases in the north west of West­ern Aus­tralia, in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry and in Queens­land which are essen­tial­ly bare-bone bases and they’re par­tic­u­lar­ly Air Force bases. One pos­si­bil­i­ty is a greater pres­ence there.

More gen­er­al­ly, I think there are two aspects to the grow­ing off­shore petro­le­um resources indus­try. First­ly, it is grow­ing expo­nen­tial­ly, so you will have a very sig­nif­i­cant ener­gy resources belt there. That rais­es for the future two issues — the phys­i­cal pro­tec­tion of those instal­la­tions, phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty of them, and sec­ond­ly, more gen­er­al­ly, we know that in the mod­ern day, we’re not just faced with the tra­di­tion­al secu­ri­ty con­sid­er­a­tions. There are mod­ern con­sid­er­a­tions, and ener­gy secu­ri­ty is one of those.

So, into the future what require­ments do we need to effect to ensure that we are tak­ing the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions to pro­vide secu­ri­ty for an ener­gy belt which will be pro­vid­ing much need­ed ener­gy to Aus­tralia domes­ti­cal­ly and also as an export industry.

But in terms of direct or imme­di­ate con­se­quences, as I say, let’s not pre­judge, and we do need to take it step by step. But I have express­ly, in the mate­ri­als dis­trib­uted to you and to Dr Hawke and Mr Smith, made the point that I do see very much that expand­ing petro­le­um resources indus­try off the coast of the north-west of West­ern Aus­tralia and off the coast of the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry as a sig­nif­i­cant secu­ri­ty consideration.

JOURNALIST: Back on to Chi­na, you did say to Brendan’s ques­tion that you’re hope­ful of a harmonious-


JOURNALIST: Con­fi­dent of a har­mo­nious rise of Chi­na and [indis­tinct] to the mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion that’s under­way. But this press release does talk about one of the areas of the review being the growth of mil­i­tary pow­er pro­jec­tion capa­bil­i­ties of coun­tries in the Asia Pacif­ic. Are you con­cerned about China’s mil­i­tary build-up?

STEPHEN SMITH: There is more than one coun­try in the Asia Pacif­ic. That’s the first point.

Obvi­ous­ly a coun­try like Aus­tralia, in deal­ing with its future secu­ri­ty and strate­gic chal­lenges, has to look at the growth of any capability.

Chi­na is not the only coun­try in the Asia Pacif­ic which is enhanc­ing its mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty. And what we say of Chi­na, both pub­licly and pri­vate­ly, is what we also say to oth­er coun­tries in the Asia Pacif­ic which is all we ask in terms of a growth of mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty is that one is trans­par­ent as to its strate­gic inten­tions. We-

JOURNALIST: Chi­na doing that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Chi­na pub­lish­es a white paper on an annu­al or a bian­nu­al basis. And in my con­ver­sa­tions with my Chi­nese inter­locu­tors they assert to me on an ongo­ing basis they are trans­par­ent about their growth in mil­i­tary capability.

We also accept — as I’ve said both pub­licly and pri­vate­ly, we accept that as a country’s econ­o­my expands it is per­fect­ly enti­tled, per­fect­ly enti­tled to enhance and increase its mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty. Chi­na is doing that, but on an ongo­ing basis we want Chi­na to be trans­par­ent about its strate­gic intentions.

But the growth of mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty in the Asia Pacif­ic is not restrict­ed to any one country.

JOURNALIST: Just on anoth­er mat­ter, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma obvi­ous­ly today is going to lay down some sort of frame­work for with­draw­al and, you know, there’s been some fig­ures bandied around over the last day or so. Will what he announces have any impact what­so­ev­er on what our plans are for Afghanistan over the next-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well first, my under­stand­ing is that he is announc­ing tonight, Wednes­day night Unit­ed States time, that will effec­tive­ly be tomor­row morn­ing. So I expect in the nor­mal course of events I’d make some remarks tomor­row. That’s the first point.

Sec­ond­ly, as I said before, this is not some­thing we should try and pre­judge or guess. 

Let’s wait and see what pro­pos­als the Pres­i­dent announces.

Third­ly, my con­ver­sa­tions with Sec­re­tary Gates and Gen­er­al Petraeus and Colonel Creighton in the past, we’re not expect­ing that any draw­down we’ll see any adverse impli­ca­tions for us in Uruz­gan Province and with Com­bined Team Uruz­gan in Uruz­gan Province where we work very close­ly with the Unit­ed States.

I’d also make the point which I made at the begin­ning, there’s noth­ing incon­sis­tent with a draw­down and our ambi­tion for tran­si­tion by 2014 both in Uruz­gan and Afghanistan, an Afghan led secu­ri­ty responsibility.

We also need to under­stand in the con­text of the surge a cou­ple of things. First­ly, we’ve seen in the so-called surge an increase in US and NATO and ISAF forces of some 30,000 or 40,000, the bulk of those Unit­ed States, over 30,000. At the same time we’ve seen a growth in the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces of 70,000 to 80,000. And so in the con­text of hav­ing made sub­stan­tial secu­ri­ty ground which we want to con­sol­i­date, it is open to the Unit­ed States to change the allo­ca­tion of its resources with­out adverse­ly impact­ing on the grounds that we’ve made or the consolidation. 

But let’s wait and see what the for­mal announce­ment is. I’ve seen plen­ty of spec­u­la­tion but it’s always best to judge on the out­come. I expect that I’ll be mak­ing some remarks tomorrow.

JOURNALIST: How does the Force Pos­ture Review fit into the [indis­tinct] review into secu­ri­ty [indis­tinct] will also be look­ing at?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they’ll nat­u­ral­ly com­ple­ment each oth­er. But my — as I said before, I’m not seek­ing to run a petro­le­um resources pol­i­cy. I’m run­ning a nation­al secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy and this is an emerg­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty issue.

JOURNALIST: Sor­ry, Min­is­ter, do you see an irony in the fact that Aus­tralia, and par­tic­u­lar­ly West­ern Aus­tralia, is mak­ing so much mon­ey out of sell­ing min­er­als and resources to Chi­na and India and at the same time we’re talk­ing about repo­si­tion­ing our forces to meet the chang­ing pow­er struc­tures in the Indi­an Ocean and the Indi­an Ocean Rim? STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don’t see any irony in that at all. The whole world is mov­ing to the Asia Pacif­ic. It’s not just the growth of Chi­na, it’s the growth of India which con­tin­ues to be under-appre­ci­at­ed and it is the ongo­ing sig­nif­i­cance of the Unit­ed States. 

Some peo­ple make the mis­take of some­how assum­ing that just because Chi­na is the rise, the Unit­ed States is going away. Well, to use an Amer­i­can expres­sion, the Unit­ed States ain’t going any­where. And the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion has made it crys­tal clear that not only does it want to main­tain its pres­ence in the Asia Pacif­ic, it wants to enhance it.

And so in the course of this cen­tu­ry we will see India, Chi­na and the Unit­ed States as great pow­ers. And so, in very many respects, the bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship between those three great pow­ers will be deeply significant.

But the world is mov­ing to the Asia Pacif­ic for those fac­tors that I’ve referred but also the ongo­ing eco­nom­ic strength of Japan and the Repub­lic of Korea, the emer­gence of Indone­sia from a region­al influ­ence to a glob­al influ­ence, and the growth of the ASEAN economies com­bined, includ­ing for exam­ple the emer­gence of Viet­nam as a sig­nif­i­cant ASEAN influence.

So all of these fac­tors cause us to make judge­ments about our secu­ri­ty and strate­gic out­look and cause us to make judge­ments about where is the cor­rect geo­graph­i­cal dis­po­si­tion so far as our assets are concerned.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter Smith, were you sur­prised or dis­mayed to learn of the law com­pa­ny — law firm that’s look­ing at the com­plaints of Defence has received more than 1000 of them?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, giv­en the vol­ume of mate­r­i­al that came to my office at the height of the so-called Skype inci­dent, no I was­n’t. I was pleased to see DLA Piper release that infor­ma­tion overnight.

The most impor­tant thing from my per­spec­tive is that we have an arms-length process with expert lawyers from DLA Piper now doing the painstak­ing task of going through all of those alle­ga­tions to give me advice by the end of August as to what now, what is the best next step for­ward. And I’ve made it clear in the past I’m not tilt­ing the legal one way or the oth­er. I don’t rule out any options.

It will now require an assess­ment of those cas­es which DLA Piper have said go from anony­mous to detailed per­son­al accounts.

I think I’m being told there’s a divi­sion. There’s a divi­sion. Unless-

JOURNALIST: One quick one about JSFs. With the JSFs, giv­en the Force Pos­ture Review; do you envis­age them being split up in var­i­ous bases, sort of east and west at various-

STEPHEN SMITH: In advance of the Force Pos­ture Review, would not be sur­prised to see Joint Strike Fight­ers at Williamtown and at Amber­ley. There’s a prospect I think as a result of the Force Pos­ture Review that we look at oth­er areas, just as I’ve made clear both today and in the paper­work that we’re look­ing at oth­er base poten­tial arrange­ments for our large amphibi­ous ves­sels in addi­tion to Sydney.

I’ve got to go. 

Thanks very much. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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