Prepare ADF ‘to fight our own fights’, says Richard Marles

By Geoff Chambers & Sarah Ison

Richard Marles has warned Australia can no longer rely on the US as our “security guarantor” and must get nuclear-powered sub­marines in the water and develop a sovereign long-distance missile capacity to “project force and power” in the Indo-Pacific.

In the first of three major speeches outlining the government’s response to the defence strategic review ahead of its ­release early next year, the ­Defence Minister on Monday night said “we have to be willing – and capable – to act on our own terms when we have to”.

Mr Marles, who received ­interim advice from defence strategic review co-authors Stephen Smith and Angus Houston earlier this month, said the Australian Defence Force must focus on ­“impactful projection” to deter military threats.

Ahead of Anthony Albanese’s meeting with Xi Jinping at the G20 summit, Mr Marles said “we must invest in targeted capabilities that enable us to hold potential adversaries’ forces at risk at a distance and increase the ­calculated cost of aggression against Australia and its interests”.

“We must ensure we accord ­adequate priority to high-end military capabilities to do this. The ADF must augment its self-reliance to deploy and deliver combat power through impactful ­materiel, enhanced strike capability – including over longer distances – and better logistics and supply chain support, including through a vibrant and innovative partnership with industry,” Mr Marles told the annual Sydney ­Institute dinner.

“The war in Ukraine has ­underlined that we must improve the ADF’s ability to sustain the capability and material required for high-end warfighting, ­especially ammunition. We have to draw more effectively on both domestic industry and international partners to establish more responsive and secure supply chains.

“This includes developing new manufacturing capabilities, better integrated with key partners, such as through Defence’s guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise.”

With the government due to announce in March whether the US or Britain will be Australia’s preferred nuclear submarine AUKUS partner, Mr Marles said “at the heart of our nation having impactful projection will be the ability to operate a nuclear-powered submarine capability”.

Amid a severe shortage of ­defence personnel, the Acting Prime Minister said Australia must forge new partnerships to ensure that the “military arm of national power is match fit”.

Mr Marles lauded a US-Australia alliance, in which Australia was an “active rather than a passive participant”, and outlined the need to help “shape a far better American engagement in the Indo-Pacific”. But he warned that Australia must be prepared to stand on its own.

“Gone are the days of simply paying the entry price to obtain our guarantee from our security guarantor. The world and our ­region are far too precarious for that. We will have to be willing – and capable – to act on our own terms when we have to,” he said.

“Australia’s defence capabilities cannot match those of major powers. Australian statecraft is only viable if it is underpinned by the ability to project force and power: to deter military threats, and defend Australia’s national interests within our immediate ­region.”

After meeting with US President Joe Biden on Sunday, Mr ­Albanese confirmed they had discussed the strategic review and importance of AUKUS in strengthening the alliance.

In response to the defence personnel crisis, Mr Marles said “what is completely clear is that urgent action is required”. “The reality is Defence faces greater challenges to recruit, retain and grow its workforce than we have for decades. The ADF is almost 3000 below its allocated force strength.”

On relations with Beijing, Mr Marles said “a commitment to stabilising our relationship with China does not mean we won’t also maintain a clear-eyed focus on our security”.

“The idea that Australia has to choose between diplomacy and defence – or, as some critics would have it, between cooperation and confrontation – is a furphy, and a dangerous one at that.”

“Speaking frankly about what we see in our region isn’t confrontation, it’s common sense. Improving our national security isn’t provocation, it’s prudence. And deterrence isn’t an alternative to cooperation – together, they are mutually reinforcing.”

Mr Marles said the government’s approach to stabilising relations with China would be “steady and consistent”.

“We look for avenues of cooperation where they exist, and we are prepared to disagree where we must. Australia values a productive relationship with China. And we expect China will play a more prominent role consistent with its economic and strategic weight.”

“We seek that China’s increasing influence is exercised in a manner which reinforces the global rules-based order and promotes habits of cooperation that benefit the interests of all countries.

“This is the only credible basis for a durable security order in the Indo-Pacific.”


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