Australia‘s $270 billion defence spend as China tensions rise

After a year of international relationships being strained by the pandemic, the Australian government says it will pump an additional $1.9 billion into strengthening our national security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

As Australian troops begin to come home from Afghanistan, the federal budget today said the focus in defence will be shifted to the Indo-Pacific region — after a year of increased tension between Australia and China.

As part of this, the government is upgrading four key training areas and ranges in the Northern Territory to ensure our troops are “battle ready”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that while Australia had been fighting COVID-19, other threats to our security “have not gone away” — and that the pandemic had raised new challenges.

“We need to be prepared for a world that is less stable and more contested,” he said in his budget speech.

“This is why we are investing $270 billion over 10 years in our defence capability.”

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Big spending to counter Indo-Pacific threat

As part of the defence splurge, the budget states that the government will work with other nations in pursuit of a “free, open and resilient Indo-Pacific”.

In a bid to “protect our interests” in the region – amid rising tensions between China and South East Asian nations in the South China Sea – the government has committed $747 million to upgrade four key military training areas in the Northern Territory.

It’s part of the government’s commitment to invest $270 billion in defence capability over the next decade, but it says the focus on the top end will further support our “ability to promote an open and peaceful Indo-Pacific”.

It says these upgraded facilities will enable the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to conduct simulated training exercises and ensure its troops “battle ready”.

“Essential upgrades will be made to four key military training areas and weapon ranges, including Robertson Barracks, Kangaroo Flats, Mount Bundy and Bradshaw,” Defence Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement.

“This significant investment will ensure Australian Defence Force continues engagement with allies and other nations through the conduct of world-class joint training, including the US Marine Rotational Force in Darwin.”

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Enhancing national security

The government says it will also be providing $1.3 billion to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) over the decade.

It says this will support ASIO’s technological capabilities, enhancing its ability to address threats to Australia’s national security.

In addition, the government is providing $51.8 million to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to enhance its capabilities in combating transnational, serious and organised crime.

“The government remains committed to protecting Australians from threats to their security through support to our law enforcement agencies,” the budget states.

The government is also spending $42.4 million to improve security arrangements to stop “significant cyber-attacks” on critical infrastructure in Australia.

Securing our borders

To support Australia’s border protection policies, the government is committing $464.7 million to bolster domestic detention capabilities and a further $38.1 million to support Indonesia with its “irregular migrant population”.

It says this arrangement with Indonesia is an “essential deterrent and disruption factor” in stopping illegal immigrants coming to Australia.

Wrapping up in Afghanistan

While the government has committed to concluding its operations in Afghanistan and pull out ADF personnel by September 2021, it says it will spend a further $181.8 million in 2021-22 to support major ADF operations in the Middle East and the protection of Australia’s borders and offshore maritime interests.

It says it will shift its focus to focus to the Indo-Pacific region “in line with the United States and our other partners”.

Veteran suicide royal commission

The government has also committed to a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide, and says it will invest in a “world-class support system” for veterans and their families.

It says the spending will be focused on wellbeing, suicide prevention and more funding for critical departmental services to ensure “veterans can continue their meaningful contribution to our nation”.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester said the budget builds on existing commitments with an additional $702.6 million to be spent on wellness, support, suicide prevention.

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