With a former chief of defence and defence minister set to lead the largest review of the Australian military in decades, reactions toward the announcement have been divided.
This week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles held a press conference in Canberra to announce the launch of a new strategic review of the Australian Defence Force.
The review is scheduled to be the largest assessment of force structure, posture and preparedness in 35 years, and provide a foundation to enable Australia to overcome security challenges beyond 2033.
Led by former chief of the defence force, retired Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, and former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith, findings are scheduled to be handed down in March 2023.
“Professor Smith and Sir Angus bring a unique blend of knowledge and experience to their role as independent leads,” Prime Minister Albanese said.
“Their depth of expertise will be invaluable in informing the review.”
According to Minister Marles, the review would also explore opportunities to “better integrate and operate” with the United States, the United Kingdom and other strategic partners.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister’s announcement of former defence Minister Stephen Smith’s role within the review has raised some eyebrows within defence and parliament.
The Australian Defence Association (Neil James) took to Twitter this week to question the appointment.
“As puzzling as it is grimly ironic,” a tweet from the ADA read.
The appointment also prompted questions from the opposition, attacking the former minister’s legacy during his time in the role.
“Smith widely rated as in 5-worst Defence Ministers since early 60s”.
The Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Phillip Thompson raised his concerns about the appointment of Smith to oversee the review.
“We’re in a period of uncertainty the likes of which we’ve not seen for a long time, and the last thing we need is a repeat of the cuts we saw under Labor during Stephen Smith’s period as Defence Minister,” Thompson said.
“It was then we saw Defence spending as a percentage of GDP drop to 1.6% in 2013, which the Coalition then managed to recover to 2.1% in 2020.
“The review is being run by the very person who gutted the Defence budget, something which was felt in a very real way by serving men and women, and was a huge hit to our capability.
“It’s not a bad thing to take stock and ensure that our structure and posture are appropriate for the times in which we operate – but I, and those who serve our nation, would like to see a guarantee that this review will not lead to any spending cuts or program delays.
“I’ve already spoken to diggers, warrant officers and senior commissioned officers, some who were around during the years Stephen Smith was Defence Minister – they’ve asked me whether this review will mean cuts to equipment, or maybe even if their jobs could be on the line.”
Nevertheless, Major General (Ret’d) Mick Ryan took to Twitter to describe the review as “timely, necessary and may also provide a good foundation for a subsequent National Security,” providing some guidance and considerations on the scope of the review.
The retired Major General began his analysis highlighting the importance of a timely review, noting that “every recommendation must be capable of implementation in the next 3-5 years.”
An important observation regarding the vicissitudes of in geopolitics within the Indo-Pacific.
He then continued by arguing that that Australia needs cost-effective deterrence capabilities that are in line with the country’s defence budget – making “nuclear submarines and B21 bombers” difficult assets to acquire.
Rather, “survivable, long-range strike missiles, launched from air, land and sea platforms, and built in Australia, will be vital” to deter foreign aggression, employed in concert with a greater uptake in unmanned assets.
In his recommendations, MAJGEN (Ret’d) Ryan continued by shining a spotlight on Australia’s exposure to missile systems, requiring greater defence and oversight regarding the vulnerabilities of our military and civilian centers to enemy attack.
“We need to enhance our military and national resilience. Air and missile defence in the ADF is in a parlous state. We would be unable to defend most of our existing bases against missile or air attack, let alone our cities,” he wrote.