PM warned over Defence cuts amid China’s bullying
The Morrison government's huge budget deficit should not deter its commitment to national security with Australia's strategic outlook challenged like never before, deputy Labor leader Richard Marles has warned.
China has been using the cover of coronavirus to flex its military muscle notably deploying warships to around Taiwan and South China Sea as nearby nations are distracted with combating COVID-19.
As recent as this week a Chinese warship began shadowing a Malaysian oil rigger in contested waters prompting the US to deploy two navy ships to conduct an impromptu patrol.
The US has also this week deployed two Triton high altitude intelligence drones to the region, similar to the ones it plans to sell to Australia.
It is this sort of brinkmanship Mr Marles, also the Opposition's defence spokesman, said was why now was not the time for Australia to pull back from committed Defence spending, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg looks for cuts to fill the $360 billion economic black hole.
Mr Marles said Labor would provide bipartisan support for already committed acquisition of major defence platforms and capabilities.
"Australia's strategic circumstances are likely to get more challenging rather than less in the future," he told News Corp Australia. "Our defence forces are also being asked to assist with challenges at home, as we has seen with the recent bushfires and coronavirus.
"We believe our strategic circumstances should fundamentally shape how we spend in relation to the defence of our nation."
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds last year ordered a strategic review of Australia's national security as an update to the 2016 Defence White.
That review was completed and handed to her by her department weeks ago but is yet to go before cabinet's national security committee as it grapples with the implications of COVID-19.
During the 2009 Global Financial Crisis, more than $50 million of stimulus packages had to be accounted for forcing a rewrite of the Defence 'white paper' doctrine of the day, the coronavirus crisis accounts for four times that stimulus amount.
Security analysts fear that could happen again.
Architect of defence policy for successive governments in the 1980s and 1990s Professor Paul Dibb also said now was not the time for Defence budget cutbacks as the nation urgently needed a defensive strike deterrent against any power that would operate in our approaches.
He said it was only natural for the government to look for savings and education, health and social services were day-to-day money where as defence was banking on the future.
"My concern is we know there is a force structure review that has been completed the problem now is the government is, for very good reasons, so diverted and preoccupied does all that go on the back burner?" he asked.
"I hope not quite frankly because they've got a China now increasingly using coercion, bullying with military presence and moving into our strategic space to our north and to our east."
Originally published as PM warned over Defence cuts amid China's bullying