Govt launches new Defence White Paper
The next Defence White Paper will be delivered a year earlier than planned and take into account Australia's place in the region, economic issues and the looming drawdown of forces from Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the new White Paper would be delivered in the first half of 2013, earlier than envisaged under the five-year plan outlined when the 2009 White Paper was released.
She said the government remained committed to delivering one of the most capable defence forces in the region and achieving core capabilities including the Joint Strike Fighter, air warfare destroyers, landing ships and submarines.
"But equally there have been a number of significant developments domestically and internationally since the last white paper was published which makes it right to start work on a new white paper now," she told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
Ms Gillard said a strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region was continuing while the transition timeframe for the drawdown of missions in Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomons was much clearer.
As well, with defence forces around the world having to deal with the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the impact on the Australian Defence Force (ADF) needed to be assessed.
"We need to take stock of those impacts for our defence arrangements and for the defence budgets of our key defence partners," Ms Gillard said.
Alongside the White Paper announcement, the government also released the final report of the Defence Force Posture Review.
The review found that the changing global strategic environment did not require widespread changes to Australian defence bases, although some adjustments should be made to meet future needs.
It identified some weaknesses and risks associated with the ability of defence capacity to sustain high-tempo operations in northern Australia and the region.
It recommended a more visible presence in the resource-rich north, where there are vital commercial ports, and an upgrade of some air bases, including a facility on the Cocos Islands, to handle new surveillance aircraft and drones.
For the navy, it suggested defence start planning for a supplementary east coast fleet base in Brisbane and for upgrading of facilities at Fleet Base West outside Perth.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the Force Posture Review would form part of the security and strategic considerations feeding into the 2013 Defence White Paper.
Australia Defence Association (ADA) executive director Neil James said no previous Defence White Paper had ever been fully funded so the implicit demise of the 2009 version was no surprise.
Mr James queried whether a White Paper process was the best way to assess Australia's strategic circumstances.
"The ADA view is that there are more intellectually and professionally robust processes - such as formal strategic appreciations based on formal intelligence estimates - that should be used instead," he said in a statement.
Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said the 2009 White Paper was not worth the paper it was written on.
"It was never even remotely properly funded or supported by successive Labor budgets," Senator Johnston said in a statement.
"The prime minister and the defence minister are simply hoping and praying there will be no major security crisis in Australia over the next five, 10 or 20 years because we will not have a properly funded defence force to properly defend our maritime borders."
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