National Security

Libs' Defence prescription to head off future conscription fight

April 23, 2024

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Geoff Chambers

The Australian

 The Coalition will turbocharge billions of dollars in additional defence  spending over the forward estimates in its 2025 election manifesto and order  a major shake-up of Australian Defence Force recruitment to avoid a damaging  future fight over conscription.
 In his ANZAC Oration at the Robert Menzies Institute in Melbourne on Tuesday  night, opposition home affairs and cyber security spokesman James Paterson  will warn that urgent action is needed to bolster the ADF and address a  workforce crisis.
 As opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie finalises an ADF workforce  election policy, Senator Paterson will say greater flexibility and more  attractive pay and conditions must be implemented to "recruit and retain  the best talent". After Defence Minister Richard Marles last week  released the government's 10-year national defence strategy, Senator Paterson  will raise the alarm about Labor spending, and signal bigger and faster  investment under a Coalition government.
 The Coalition, which is working on its defence blueprint along with a suite  of other election policies, has also promised an economic plan that will  deliver a better bottomline than Labor and provide greater tax relief for  more Australians.
 Invoking deep divisions triggered by historic clashes over conscription  tracing back to World War I, the Liberal frontbencher will outline key  principles guiding the Coalition's defence election policy.
 "(The Defence Minister) admitted last week that the Australian Defence  Force is facing a 'workforce crisis' as recruiting shortfalls have left the  ADF 4400 people below its authorised strength," Senator Paterson will  say. "At the same time, it is facing a separation rate of 10 per cent.  You don't have to be an expert to see the trendline here. We are on a path to  chronic shortages across our defence forces in the decades to come if we  don't make some significant changes soon." Senator Paterson's will say  the Coalition's plan to "turn these disturbing trends around"  focuses on what is required to "make military service compatible with  modern life".
 "You shouldn't have to move your family to the other side of the  country, take your kids out of school and force your partner to quit their  job to help defend Australia. While service in the ADF is never going to be  like working for a tech start-up, it can and must be more flexible if we want  people to sign up and stay on," he will say.
 "There's something even deeper and more profound which we must honestly  examine which is holding us back from recruiting and retaining the personnel  we need. It is a crisis of self-belief.
 "The division wrought by decades of fierce debate about conscription  highlight the importance of building and preserving a sense of national unity  and shared purpose. This is essential for any cohesive nation, and critically  so in Continued on Page 2
 Continued from Page 1 times of upheaval. In Australia we have seen our shared  sense of national identity coming under pressure on a number of fronts."  Amid warnings over Beijing's aggressive military build-up in the  Indo-Pacific, Mr Marles last week announced the government would boost  defence funding by $50bn over the next decade under a $330bn investment  program lifting spending to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2034.
 In his speech, which promotes greater public-private partnership enabling  better efficiencies and innovations that government cannot achieve alone,  Senator Paterson will say "while this is a step in the right direction,  there is a glaring and dangerous contradiction at its heart".
 "The government says the 10year warning time for conflict has gone. And  yet it does not plan to materially lift defence spending for a decade. Only a  small fraction of this increase occurs over the next four years.
 "But analysts broadly agree the period of maximum danger in the  Indo-Pacific is the next few years. And given the long lead times for  acquisition of military capability, it is clear the Albanese government's  defence strategy is to obtain the defence capabilities we need long after we  need it.
 "We simply cannot afford to keep kicking difficult decisions about  defence investment into the long grass. The Coalition has called for more  funding now, not later, and we have committed to higher defence funding than  the Albanese government. While an investment in deterrence might seem  expensive, it is much cheaper than the alternative a failure of  deterrence." After the US House of Representatives passed a bill that  would ban social media app TikTok unless Chinese owner ByteDance sells its  stake within a year, the US Senate is expected to vote on the legislation  within days.
 Senator Paterson who has been an outspoken critic of TikTok will ramp-up  pressure on the Albanese government to follow the US crackdown.
 "As we have seen in just the last few weeks, false information has been  ceded into our information system, sometimes deliberately, and then amplified  inorganically to cause harm and exacerbate social tensions.
 "After the Bondi attacks, users on platforms like X and Telegram falsely  claimed the assailant was a young Jewish Australian.
 "Following the Good Shepherd Church stabbing, some of those same users  spread lies that worshippers cut off the fingers of the alleged terrorist,  serving to inflame community tensions in response to an already distressing  event.
 "Australia is wide open to opportunistic weaponisation of horrific  incidents like this by foreign actors and their proxies on both  western-headquartered social media platforms, and those directly under their  control, like TikTok and WeChat." Senator Paterson will warn that  "allowing a foreign authoritarian government to control the primary  source of news and information about the world for young Australians today  would be akin to letting the Soviet Union buy a TV channel during the Cold  War".

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