National Security – Keeping Australians Safe

Federation Chamber 5/09/2022

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (18:12): I thank the member for Canning for bringing this critical issue to the House today and to this Chamber. We might be on different sides in this place, but when it comes to defence and national security we’re on the same side—the side of our nation, the Australian side. I look forward to continuing to work with the member for Canning and other members, such as the member for Fremantle, who have been announced alongside me on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security today in the House. I look forward to working with them on the oversight of our intelligence and security agencies to advance the national interest in a spirit of bipartisanship.

That spirit of bipartisanship is so important. While we can disagree on a number of issues, Australians rightly expect that, when it comes to keeping them safe, we will put our political differences aside and get the job done. But that does not mean the decisions of the past government are above reproach. We may be on the same page when it comes to defence and national security priorities, but the execution of those priorities by the Morrison government left a lot to be desired. With respect to the AUKUS security pact, I can agree with the member for Canning’s motion to the extent that AUKUS is the biggest development for our national security since the ANZUS treaty some 70 years ago, that it goes beyond submarines and into critical defence capability, and that is also about nation building. It will be vital to maintaining stability in our region and crucial to our naval and defence capabilities this century. But therein lies the issue—this century.

When it came to fireproofing our defence capability, there was a complete lack of comprehensive strategic oversight by the other mob—the previous government. The nuclear-powered submarines acquired under the AUKUS agreement are unlikely to hit the water until 2040 at the earliest, probably in the mid-2040s. The previous government’s cancellation of the French and before that the Japanese submarine acquisitions effectively left us facing a significant capability gap. Given the volatile geostrategic circumstances we face, it is vital to Australia’s national security that we have a submarine capability with an increased endurance, transit speed and stealth capability. Australia’s national security is now vulnerable because successive governments have botched it.

The defence capability gap is compounded by the lack of self-reliance in defence industry, leaving us exposed in the most unpredictable and volatile geostrategic period since World War II. There’s plenty of debate and analysis about the contract cancellations, but I think the assessment of the former Prime Minister and his government’s failings is rightly scathing. Through sheer incompetence, we had the unprecedented situation whereby the leader of one our most important allies and a major power in our region labelled our own Prime Minister a liar. The Australian people deserve better in their representation on the world stage, and, of course, they voted for better in May this year. Already, Prime Minister Albanese has sought to reset our relationships not just with the French president but also with many other world leaders, and started to repair the damage that had been done previously.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, as Minister for Defence, is acutely aware of the urgent need to improve our defence capability in the short term. He’s tasked former defence minister Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston to conduct the most ambitious review of the Defence Force in decades. This will include an examination of force structure, posture and preparedness, and the prioritisation of investment to improve our capability. This will identify challenges and opportunities over the next decade and beyond as we work to rapidly implement AUKUS and improve our defence posture.

The Albanese government is committed to this. It’s in our national interest. It’s not about politics. It’s about making sure that we preserve the stability in our region, the security in our region that has served us so well, and the prosperity that flows from that as we keep Australians safe. That’s what we’re about; we don’t want to play political games with this. We are focused entirely on the national interest, as we should be, and every government of Australia should be focused on the national interest.

There are many good parts of this motion by the member for Canning, and we support them, but the point that it is very important to make is that this should be above politics; it should be above partisan politics. It should be about a focus on what is best for Australia and on keeping Australia safe and secure in the coming decade.