That report’s author, Paul Dibb, said on Wednesday the task before Houston and Smith was a big challenge, particularly given the short timeframe.
There was an urgency both to finalize the review and to set the ADF up for the new strategic environment, he said.
“Time is not on our side, there’s some urgency about this. And in my experience … it is very difficult to get Defense to recognize that some things are urgent,” Dibb said.
“What we need is a long-range strike… capability – and it’s got to be something that’s quicker than ordering large amounts of new fighter aircraft, warships and submarines.”
Australian Strategic Policy Institute defense and strategy director Michael Shoebridge said the review had to consider the “disturbing” new direct security challenge through China pushing into our region, as well as the lessons from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine about the importance of self-reliance.
“Like the Ukrainians, we need to be able to look after ourselves to bring the support of partners, allies and friends,” he said.
“And the fracturing world means relying on global systems to supply what you need in times of crisis is a bad plan.”
Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defense Association, agreed the review was sensitive.
“If the situation is as bad as they fear, they need to increase the defense budget substantially. And they’ve got to actually sell that to the Australian people,” he said.
However, he said it was not ideal to have a former defense minister leading the review, saying there was a “legacy protection risk” since some delays plaguing defense projects now were a result of decisions made during Smith’s time in the portfolio.
The opposition echoed these concerns.
“When Mr Smith was last in government, he cut and canceled defense projects, delayed decisions, and dismissed warnings about the strategic environment Australia was heading into a decade ago,” opposition defense spokesman Andrew Hastie said.
Albanese said the government had found the best people to conduct the review, and he and Marles recommitted to at least maintaining defense spending.
Shoebridge said Smith and Houston brought a detailed understanding of how defense operated as an organization but warned they would have to revisit assumptions they may have held while in office about how the world works.
“This review isn’t about either of them defending their legacies. It’s about looking with clear eyes at the world we have today, Australia’s security challenges in it, and the kind of military that we need to deal with that,” he said.
“And I think they’re both smart enough.”
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