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Defence Rationale
letter published in The Australian, 1 June 2012
[square bracketed sections omitted by editor]

Greg Sheridan paints an alarming picture of the cuts in defence capability(“Incredible shrinking defence forces”, 31/5). [Separately,] Defence Minister Stephen Smith claimed this as “understood” by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta because it is due to “the need to tighten the budget given the pressures on the (Australian) economy” Yet Treasurer Wayne Swan continually tells us that Australia’s economic performance is a “stand out”. [Indeed, using official forecasts Australia’s real GDP will have increased by about 11 per cent between 2008-09 and 2012-13.]

[The first budget of the Labor government in May 2008 promised an extension for annual defence spending of “its 3 per cent real growth commitment from 2015-16 to 2017-18”. However, the defence provision in the 2012-13 budget means real expenditure will be about 4 per cent lower than in 2008-09. Even if the (much) higher forward estimate for 2015-16 is achieved, this would mean real growth of less than 1 per cent per annum since 2008-09.]

Suddenly, the government has given defence a much lower priority than other spending, [which includes considerable allocations of benefits to higher and other income groups. In his admirable analysis of defence spending and failed political promises, Mark Thomson of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute also suggests a less ambitious defence strategy could be adopted responsibly.] But for a rich country such as Australia “economic pressure” cannot responsibly be used as a rationale for a significantly lower defence capacity.

[That would be effectively undermining our capacity to help the only country that is capable of providing support if Australia faces a serious defence problem, as it did even in East Timor.]

Des Moore
[Life Member, ASPI]
South Yarra Vic

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