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Royal United Services Institute (Qld), 29 May 1999: speech.



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The Hon Bruce Scott MP

Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence

Speech to the

Royal United Services Institute (Qld)

29 May 1999

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.

It is a pleasure to be here with you today to address your Defence Seminar.

I see from your program that you have quite a range of speakers from the Defence Forces here today to address you, including the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie.

I am positive that you will find what they have to say interesting and informative.

As for myself, I have been asked to talk to you today about Australia’s perspective on regional security, and on the link between our strategic policy and personnel issues, including the Defence Reform Program.

The Global Environment

To begin, I would like to briefly discuss the global strategic environment in which we now find ourselves.

As you know, the end of the Cold War was the most significant change in our strategic environment since World War Two.

With its demise, we have seen the risk of global nuclear war diminish enormously.

But with the end of strategic competition between the USA and the Soviet Union, new challenges have now arisen.

Our security environment is significantly more difficult to manage.

It involves many more players - including non-state actors - operating to a more diverse range of agendas.

In past years we have described this as a more complex and less predictable situation.

But that phrase doesn’t really sound adequate to describe our situation any more.

The Australian Government has a responsibility for the defence of Australia and its interests, and we need to be substantially self reliant in doing so.

In its 1997 strategic review, the Government adopted a force structure and capability plan that allows us to achieve these goals.

It will also give us the capability to promote both our regional and global security interests.

*****

Changes in the international environment have impacted on our enduring strategic interests and on the tasks given to the Australian Defence Force.

As a consequence, the Defence Force must be capable of fulfilling a broader range of roles than it has before.

It must be better prepared to undertake operations to provide humanitarian assistance, support to UN operations - including peacekeeping - and similar "operations other than war", while still being capable of fulfilling its traditional warfighting roles.

It must also be capable of undertaking operations far from home, as our strategic interests sometimes lie beyond our region.

HMAS Melbourne’s recent deployment to the Gulf is just one example of such an operation.

Of course, the Defence Force has long undertaken tasks such as these - we have a proud history in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations far from our shores.

But now it must be prepared to undertake these tasks more often than it ever has before.

Australia’s Strategic Policy

The Government’s approach to strategic issues was outlined in November 1997 in the document Australia’s Strategic Policy , otherwise known as ASP 97.

As you might recall, ASP 97 provides the framework for our strategic decision making - it identifies Australia’s interests, as well as the methods by which the Defence Force can protect and support those interests.

With that approach, ASP 97 identified a clear set of priorities for the development of the Defence Force's capabilities, and reaffirmed the two central and enduring aspects of our strategic policy:

  • The highest priority is ensuring that Australia's armed forces continue to have the capability to defend our territo ry and interests from armed attack.
  • Our second priority is to work to keep the Asia-Pacific region peaceful and secure.

It is obvious to most of us just how closely linked these two goals are.

Our involvement in contributing to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific isn’t simply an "add-on" to a defence of Australia philosophy.

Rather, our regional role is a key element in our own defence, as we work to make sure direct threats to Australia never arise.

ASP 97 identified a maritime focus for Australian Defence and set four priority areas for development:

  • The knowledge edge,
  • Defeating threats in our maritime approaches,
  • Strike, and
  • Defeating hostile land forces on Australian territory.

Recognising the dynamic nature of Australia's security environment, the Government sees value in reviewing our strategic circumstances more frequently in order to adjust our planning targets when we need to.

Defence is currently reviewing the changes that have occurred in our area of strategic interest since ASP 97 was produced.

This new strategic assessment will allow us to 'fine-tune' the plans articulated in our most recent Strategic Review.

Minister Moore has also announced that the Government has directed a defence White Paper to be drawn up for consideration next year.

White Papers are more comprehensive documents than strategic assessments, reviewing the full range of defence policy issues.

The White Paper will draw upon the Strategic Assessment this year and set the course for the development of the Defence Force in the years to come.

But Australia’s strategic environment is not standing still waiting for the White Paper, and nor is the Defence Force.

Accordingly, we will continue with our course of reform and modernisation adopted in the Defence Reform Program.

The Asia-Pacific Region

I would like to talk now in a little more detail about the changes that we have seen in our region in the past two years.

As I am sure you recognise, the relative tranquillity of the Asia-Pacific has been shaken by the economic downturn since ASP 97 was written.

This downturn has had a number of significant effects.

It has been a cause of serious economic unrest in several countries.

It has played a role in fomenting significant political change, notably in Indonesia.

It has accelerated reform in many areas, including in the military organisations.

And across the region it has impacted on military capabilities and force modernisation plans, widening the capability gap between some states.

Events such as the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, and the ballistic missile test by North Korea, are reminders that the potential for conflict remains in the Asia-Pacific.

It is now clearer than ever before that our security and prosperity are linked to that of our region.

This is a fundamental principle of the Government’s Strategic Policy.

*****

In ASP 97 we looked out on a secure region of rapidly developing nations, with growing defence capabilities and which were enjoying good relations with one another.

These nations were expanding their influence with the major powers through their collecti ve actions in organisations such as ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

This is no longer the case.

I must emphasise here that there is still no threat to Australia, but now, instead of dealing with the challenge of a successful and rapidly growing region, the region faces some economic and political instability.

Major Power Relationships

The major powers - the United States, China and Japan - will each play a crucial role in determining the stability of our region for many years to come.

The relationships between the major powers will help determine the framework for all other relationships in our region.

We believe that despite tensions over a number of specific issues, for the most part these relationships have an underlying stability.

This is not to say that the potential for differences of interest between these powers will be eliminated, especially with regard to the China-US relationship.

The end of the Cold War has left the United States as the sole superpower.

Fortunately for us, it is also a key strategic partner and ally of Australia, and the principal major power in the Asia-Pacific region.

We believe that the strategic presence of the US, and its engagement with the region, are key factors in maintaining regional security.

This presence is underpinned by a strong set of alliances, which contribute individually to the maintenance of stability in our region.

The shape of the future security environment in the Asia Pacific region will depend to a considerable extent on the relationships the United States has with the other major powers, Japan and China in particular.

Australia has successfully developed defence relations based on dialogue with China and Japan, and a low key relationship with Russia.

Unfortunately, the Indian nuclear tests have damaged what was a very promising relationship between that country and our selves - we look forward to the day our Defence contacts with India can resume.

Regional Bilateral Relations

A framework of strong bilateral and multilateral relationships with the countries of our region is another way in which Australia achieves its broader strategic interests.

Through this framework, Australia seeks to develop and support a sense of shared strategic objectives with as many countries in the Asia-Pacific region as possible.

We believe that the nature of our region is such that no regional country can consider its security in isolation.

Australia has long-standing, and very strong, bilateral defence relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific.

We are very much an "insider" when it comes to the strategic interaction between these countries.

In addition, we see great value in multilateral security organisations, such as the Five Power Defence Arrangements. I will speak more on this topic shortly.

We believe that stability in the Asia-Pacific region should be underpinned by professional, well-trained and well-equipped security forces, which are of an appropriate size to fulfil their respective roles.

Such forces are necessary to create the environment of mutual respect that is conducive to dialogue on security and strategic matters, as well as to the evolution of strong and effective security structures within our region.

In this context, the uneven reduction of military budgets throughout most of the region is a cause of concern to Australia.

It is when neighbours begin to see a significant and growing disparity between the relative budgets - and therefore military capabilities - that there can emerge a loss of confidence.

If this leads to withdrawal and breakdown in communication between militaries, it can end in suspicion and miscalculation.

It is much to the credit of the Howard Government that our military budget has escaped unscathed from the financial downturn.

Many of the lessons we have learnt over the past decade while undertaking our own defence reforms will have great relevance to other countries in our region.

We are leaders in this area, and our expertise is recognised throughout the region.

We have developed tools and learned lessons that may assist regional militaries, as they struggle with reduced budgets.

Five Power Defence Arrangements

I said before that the Five Power Defence Arrangements are a significant plank in the security arrangements of the region, and we have a long-standing and concrete commitment to it.

This commitment is not without cost, as was underlined recently by the tragic loss of an F-111 and its crew while undertaking FPDA exercises.

Nevertheless, we believe that the maintenance of these arrangements is of enormous benefit to Australian security, as well as to the security of the other countries involved.

In this context, I must say that we are disappointed that the program of multilateral exercises planned for 1998 was unable to be completed.

We are also concerned about the uncertainties that existed until recently on this year’s activities.

This uncertainty imposes a cost on Australia as these exercises are substantial, have long planning cycles and require the identification and commitment of significant assets.

We hope that the resolution of the issues that clouded recent Five Power Defence Arrangements activities will allow a return to a strong and vibrant FPDA.

Since its inception in 1971, FPDA has achieved important benefits for its members, both individually and collectively, and it continues to offer significant benefits.

It promotes cooperation, transparency and trust building in the region and promotes a shared sense of strategic purpose among its members.

It will be important, however, to keep the Arrangements relevant and for the members to focus on how best we can pursue mutual value from them.

Indonesia

Indonesia occupies the central position in the strategic imagination of Australia, and has done for a very long time.

It is both natural and logical, given its proximity and size, that Indonesia should be of great interest to our strategic thinkers.

As our daily newspapers and news broadcasts remind us, the political and economic challenges facing Indonesia are enormous.

It is in our interest, as Indonesia’s friend and neighbour, that it successfully manages these challenges.

It is also in the interests of the region.

Indonesia’s importance to regional security cannot be understated.

Australia, and the other countries of the region, need a strong and stable Indonesia, which is prepared to play a confident and constructive role with regard to regional security issues.

In the short term, Indonesia is preoccupied with economic and political restructuring, as it comes to grips with both the causes and effects of economic contraction.

There are understandable concerns in the region that East Timor’s future sovereign status - its choice either for independence or to remain part of Indonesia - is managed in a manner that does not add to instability.

The Australian Government has made its view clear on this matter.

We hope that the future of East Timor can be settled amicably and that there is a peaceful and smooth transition to autonomy or independence.

The agreement between Indonesia and Portugal is a very important development, and it is in our interests, as well as those of the parties involved, that it is fully implemented.

Naturally, we stand ready to provide such assistance as is required, as is our obligation as good citizens of the region, and more importantly because we have a direct security interest to assist.

Whatever happens in East Timor, we clearly have a vested interest in the future development, integrity and stability of our largest neighbour.

*****

A key focus of the defence relationship is to secure a stable long-term future for Indonesia in which the Indonesian Armed Forces play an appropriate role, that is characterised by professionalism and respect for the rule of law.

Although the Indonesian military is currently undergoing significant re-evaluation of its role in national life, it remains and will continue to be a key institution in Indonesian society, and a critical factor in the success of Indonesia’s transition.

Cooperative defence activities between the Australian Defence Force and the Indonesian military have developed and diversified strongly in recent years, and have continued despite the economic hardships Indonesia has experienced.

Our close and relatively frank relationship also allows us to discuss potentially sensitive issues with the Indonesian military, such as reform, human rights concerns and the future of East Timor.

Defence Reform Program

I would now like to talk a little about the Defence Reform Program

The Australian Defence Force must keep at an appropriate level of readiness to undertake the range of operations which could occur in the current strategic environment.

But readiness is expensive.

The current readiness upgrade for a force equivalent to an additional brigade group in Darwin, which will be complete by 30 June, has been made possible because of savings generated by the Defence Reform Program, or ‘DRP’ as it is known.

The DRP is not about cuts - indeed, defence funding has been maintained in real terms for the 1999-2000 budget.

The DRP is about moving defence assets towards the sharp end.

That is, transferring Defence assets from support related roles and into capability.

The reforms represent a vital step on the road to a more capable defence force.

Then Defence Minister McLachlan first announced the reforms in April 1997, and since that time our progress has been very good.

280 million dollars in ongoing efficiency gains will be achieved this year.

This is 30 million dollars ahead of schedule, as the DRP progresses to its target of up to one billion dollars per annum.

That’s not to say that there aren’t further efficiencies which can be made in Defence.

The whole organisation must continue to make efficiencies and savings so we can redirect resources into a more combat-capable force.

Personnel and Training

Without properly investing in our people, all of our planes, ships, and tanks are next to worthless.

Training is part of the development of the "knowledge edge", a critical area the Defence Force must continue to develop if it is to be capable of fulfilling its mission into the 21 st century.

"Train hard, fight successfully," is the policy we must live by.

Our approach to training and education will rely to a great extent on our ability to attract and retain the right people, and the challenges here are enormous.

Demographic and social changes mean that we are faced with a workforce that is older and more diverse than at any time in our history.

If we are to continue to face the challenges created in our strategic environment, we must learn to draw more effectively from groups in our community that have not been well represented to date in the Defence Forces.

Similarly, social changes mean that we can not expect all our people to stay with us as long as they have done in the past.

In order to react to these shifts, Defence must offer appropriate benefits and remuneration packages that are competitive in today’s economy.

But, more than that, we must offer our employees opportunities for growth and development in a professionally rewarding environment.

We must also respond more effectively to the needs of families, for whom service life can be difficult and demanding.

We need to develop ways of managing our people so that the impact of a career in the services upon children and spouses is minimal.

Service personnel have often felt a conflict between their domestic responsibilities and their duty to the nation.

Our task is to find a way of reconciling these two as much as possible.

Reserves

At least part of the solution to our problems lies with the more effective use of Reserve forces.

Reserves are a way in which we can access the type of skilled and experienced people we need without bearing the cost of full-time service.

The use of Reserves is vital if we are to get the full value from our defence dollar, and it is clear that the role of Reserves in the defence of Australia will continue to grow.

There are a number of challenges to the ability of Reserves to fulfil their role.

First, the restriction currently placed on the employment of Reserves.

Second, the relationship between Reservists and their civilian employers.

And third, what is generally referred to as Reservist protection.

Firstly, there is the restriction currently placed on the call-out of Reserves.

In simple terms, the legislation with regard to call out is antiquated and does not represent adequately the full range of roles for which defence personnel are likely to be required.

Under current rules, Reserve service outside Australia on operations such as peacekeeping are unlikely to be justified, as they do not involve a direct threat to Australia and its interests.

This problem must be addressed if we are to make full use of the Reserves.

Secondly, there is the relationship between Reservists and their civilian employers.

We must never forget that the Reservist also has a responsibility to an employer in civilian life, who in most cases, provides them with their primary source of income and support for their family.

We must work to reconcile the interests of employers with those of the Reservist and the nation.

Employers must be convinced of the vital role that Reservists play in the defence of the country, as well as of the benefits of employing them.

There are a number of ways in which we can better integrate the interests of employers and Reservists.

Reimbursing the employer for lost productivity, or covering the cost of employing part time staff to temporarily replace the reservist are two options.

Better aligning our Reservist’s training to his or her field of civilian employment is another.

Happily, the vast majority of employers recognise and appreciate the skills brought to the workplace as a direct result of Reserve training.

Finally, there is an issue of "Reservist Protection".

By this I mean things such as the maintenance of employment security, the provision of support and assistance to their family left at home, and the consideration of issues such as insurance and loss of income.

These are difficult problems. However, the Government is committed to overcoming them, and should we do so the rewards to Defence and to the nation will be immense.

We will be able to make greater and more efficient use of our Reservists.

I hope to see a discussion paper canvassing these issues at some stage before the end of the financial year.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is evident that the next decade or so promises to be a time of immense change and complexity for the Australian Defence Force and for the Asia-Pacific region.

The challenges faced by the Defence Force in the future will not be small, and we will have to continue to manage all of our assets wisely if we are to overcome them.

If we can manage our people properly, many of the other difficulties we may face will be overcome more easily.

Thank you very much.

 

 

jy  1999-08-20  15:36