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Australia should consider missile defence to counter North Korea: Kevin Rudd

Australia needs to consider deploying a missile defence system to defend against attack from nuclear-armed North Korea, according to former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

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Mr Rudd has reversed the position he held in office, saying that North Korea's newly demonstrated ability to reach northern Australia meant it was time to consider homeland defence.

And top regional security and defence experts have backed that call, arguing Australia and its regional allies must invest heavily in missile defence as the "only alternative".

A roll out of the US-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system began in South Korea but was suspended last month, amid objections from China and Russia.

North Korea's recent provocative launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially brings Darwin and the US states of Alaska and Hawaii in range - though their missile's accuracy remains in question - and has prompted dire warnings from the United States ahead of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, where it is set to dominate discussions.

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The Rudd government's Defence White Paper of 2009 explicitly opposed missile defence for Australia, as "such a system would be at odds with the maintenance of global nuclear deterrence," the paper said, though it signalled an annual review.

On Friday, the former prime minister said: "Given North Korean developments, Australia would be well advised to begin analysing ballistic missile defence needs, available technologies and possible deployment feasibility for northern Australia."

The Turnbull government has shown little appetite to consider a missile defence system for Australia, with the Prime Minister arguing backing in April that there was no immediate need for the billion-dollar THAAD system. Australian defence chiefs said this week that North Korea's new missiles posed "very little risk".

But Pusan National University associate professor Robert Kelly told Fairfax Media that given North Korea's missiles could potentially reach northern Australia, the nation should acquire a missile defence system.

"I don't think the Russia-China idea of a 'freeze freeze' will happen - that's North Korea freezing nuclear tests in exchange for a freeze on US-South Korea military exercises. It's really up to China. Donald Trump is actually right - if they tighten their sanctions that will have an impact [on North Korea," he said, adding such a move appeared unlikely.

"Air strikes [on North Korea] are off the table, they are a horrible idea. It's sanctions or nothing. But given China probably probably won't move to tighten sanctions, it has to be about missile defence - Japan and South Korea are complaining a bit about what it costs but that's too bad, it's the only alternative."

"And for Australia, you're probably not a target - but doing it wouldn't be a bad thing."

Australian Strategic Policy Institute director Peter Jennings said "there's been no serious thinking about ballistic missile defence, ever, and there will be now. It'll be a scramble to catch up".

North Korea's missile launch will overshadow discussions on counter-terrorism, climate change and trade at the G20.

Mr Turnbull's first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday canvassed the North Korean missile launch and it will be a key topic in bilaterals with South Korean President Moon Jae-In, Indonesian president Joko Widodo, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and in possible "pull aside" meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr Trump on Friday.

"The actions by the North Korean regime are illegal, they are dangerous, they're a provocation and they've been escalating them. The nation with the greatest leverage over North Korea is China," Mr Turnbull said after his meeting with Dr Merkel.

"We recognise that North Korea is not a compliant, client state of China like East Germany was to the old Soviet Union, so the relationship between China and North Korea is not without its difficulties. But the fact is China has the greatest leverage and of course we urge China to bring more pressure, more economic pressure in particular, to bear on North Korea to bring that regime to its senses."

The call for China to clamp down on North Korea with tougher economic sanctions has been repeated by other world leaders, including Mr Trump.

But the US President has also racheted up tensions by threatening "severe steps" against North Korea, including military force.

The first formal session for leaders at the G20 summit will focus on counter-terrorism and was due to get under way late on Friday night, Australian time.

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