Lowy Institute

Hugh Simpson is a strategic risk management consultant and former naval officer. During his 11 years in the navy, Hugh spent over three years working on border protection.

Shadow immigration spokesman Scott Morrison this week indicated a return to Howard era immigration policies, specifically involving 'forcibly repelling' suspected refugee vessels from arriving in Australia while in international waters.

Disappointingly, both sides of politics are proposing impractical and legally ambiguous policies, but the Coalition's policies are especially troubling as the Royal Australian Navy becomes a pawn in this increasingly dangerous game.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young stated this week that any returns would be in clear breach of international laws such as the Refugee Convention, but that is not the only grey area. Under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Article 33, Australia has the right to prevent infringement of immigration laws applicable within territorial waters (12 nautical miles) out to an additional 12 nautical miles beyond territorial waters called the contiguous zone.

The boarding of any suspected illegal entry vessel in 'international waters' beyond the 24 nautical mile limit would be a breach of international conventions except in limited cases relating to the prevention of piracy or slavery.

These suspected refugees are desperate to get to Australia, having endured countless days in floating death traps. Vessel sabotage by crew or passengers is a real threat with a turn-back policy, as all would need to be rescued under the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, thereby possibly allowing them to claim refugee status on Australian soil.

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The term 'forcibly repelled' used by Mr Morrison has far reaching implications if lethal or non-lethal force is used during the boarding or subsequent turn-back operation. The navy is highly skilled at conducting maritime interdiction operations and would be more than capable of the task, but is the increased safety risk to our people worth the political gain?

Once the passengers realise they are being returned, the risk of sabotage and acts of violence increase exponentially and the small boarding teams could easily be overwhelmed and forced to use lethal force to protect themselves on small unseaworthy and overcrowded vessels.

And where would you take the Sri Lankan boats back to? Would Indonesia accept them?

Armidale class patrol boats were designed to conduct boarding operations in support of immigration and fishery laws, but it's over 5000km to Sri Lanka from Australia's north west coast; the Armidale class does not have enough fuel to escort the boats back to Sri Lanka, and refueling at sea is not a viable option.

Larger ships such as the ANZAC frigates could possibly reach Sri Lanka, but depending where it started its journey, an ANZAC frigate may require a refueling ship or port visit to complete the operation. Assuming you use a refueling ship, the cost-benefit analysis of such an operation for a Sri Lankan boat carrying 200 people would be prohibitive.

Use of frigates or larger ships continuously on station at Christmas Island would be a drain on finances, excessively disruptive to navy families and take the larger ships away from their core responsibilities. The navy does have the capability to turn back the boats, but it is up to the government of the day to make sure the navy's actions are legal, cost efficient and morally appropriate.

Photo by Flickr user greensambaman.


For Australia, the principal threat posed by the growth of China's military power is not yet to its direct strategic interests but rather to the US-led order from which much of Australia's security derives.

As China's ongoing accumulation of advanced air, maritime and surveillance capabilities hollows out US military dominance, hitherto the defining feature of Asia's order, the benign regional dynamics which have resulted from that order, and from which Australia has benefited for so long, are being eroded, seemingly faster than many anticipated, in at least three mutually reinforcing ways.

First, having imposed new limits on America's capacity for intervention in the Western Pacific, China has greater latitude to resort to coercion in its dealings with lesser regional powers. Beijing's recent management of its territorial disputes with Japan and the countries of Southeast Asia – in which more aggressive patrolling by Chinese ships and aircraft, backed by the latent capacity for escalation dominance, is being used to establish more favourable terms – reflects the extent to which this dynamic is already underway.

Second, the US is increasingly unable to preserve its preponderant power, much less deploy it in ways that dampen strategic competition, as it has for decades. No longer able to fulfil its self-appointed role as regional pacifier, Washington is instead becoming a direct participant in the kind of strategic competition that its power has traditionally been used to ameliorate, with the 'pivot' (or 'rebalance') exemplifying the trend.

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Finally, patterns of balancing among lesser states – both through tighter strategic relations with the US and each other and, to a lesser extent, through military acquisition – are becoming more urgent and pronounced, contributing to the overall deterioration of the regional security environment.

Taken together, these processes have already produced a situation which looks much more ominous than any time in recent memory. Almost imperceptibly, coercion has become one of the principal means by which major powers relate to each other.

Interactive patterns of military procurement are accelerating. These reflect the advent of an arms race and, together with the development of offensive military doctrines that rely on speed and escalation, which compress the time available for cooler heads to prevail in a crisis, they portend new dangers of miscalculation and escalation. Virulent forms of nationalism are increasingly finding expression in the form of national policy rather than just public demonstration, while economic interdependence shows no sign of inhibiting competition - and in some cases may even be at risk of going into reverse.

Unfortunately for Australia, its stake in the continuation of a peaceful Asian order is, as for many other countries in the region, unmatched by its capacity to do anything meaningful to preserve it. While Canberra has little to lose from encouraging some kind of Sino-Japanese-American accommodation (one of the only ways a new Cold War, if not an actual shooting war, can be averted) it is only realistic to acknowledge that, with competition so deeply embedded in the structure of the international system, it will most likely prove impervious to even the most adroit diplomatic efforts. Perhaps worst of all, however bad the situation in East Asia looks today, history and theory affirm that it is likely to get much worse as the balance continues to shift in coming years and decades – that is, if it doesn't combust sooner.

All of this should serve as a much needed wake-up call to the executors of Australian strategic policy. As risks multiply, serious changes are needed in the way Australia does defence. Given the time cycles associated with military modernisation, this should have begun a decade ago and now needs to begin immediately.

But don't hold your breath. The traditional impetus for change in Australian strategic policy has almost always been an immediate crisis, at which point it's usually too late to do much other than rely on dumb luck to muddle through. Given the calamitous state of Defence today, with inadequate funding and, worse, a questionable ability to formulate and execute coherent policy even when there is money, Canberra is on track to repeat its past mistakes.

Photo by Flickr user Sharon Drummond.

5 of 5 This post is part of a debate on Gillard's National Security Strategy

Senator David Fawcett (Liberal) is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

The National Security Strategy announced last week by Prime Minister Gillard overlooks the important lessons from Australia's 1999 intervention in East Timor.

The Australian public wanted to protect the East Timorese people from violence. The Government assumed the ADF could easily protect the East Timorese from a militia. Most of us would probably make the same assumption today. How quickly we forget that in 1999 we only just succeeded. The realisation that Australia was ill equipped to project and sustain a relatively small force in a neighbouring country such as East Timor was recently described as a 'strategic shock' by Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison. 

East Timor provides a good benchmark for what we expect our military to be able to do at short notice. In turn, this should inform both Government and public on how much we should be spending to sustain a balanced force, capable of repeating such an intervention if required. There is remarkable similarity in the thinking that underpins Prime Minister Gillard's National Security Strategy, however, and the policies that led to a decline in defence capability and the subsequent strategic shock of 1999. 

The strategic thinking prevalent at that time was that Australia's national security should be predominantly concerned with defence of the mainland against state actors. This theory led to an investment in capital equipment to defend the air-sea gap, but allowed a run-down of the Army, the Reserves and the national capability to deploy and sustain an armed force.

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Despite the theory, history tells us that most of Australia's recent military operations have involved deployed forces (with significant land force components) protecting communities from non-state actors (Somalia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan). As the current French operation in Mali demonstrates, this can be expected to be a feature of conflict well beyond the '9/11 decade' that Ms Gillard has just pronounced to be a thing of the past.

At a time when 'budget priorities' are necessarily on everyone's mind, it is also important to remember that the capability taxpayers have to fund is not just the aeroplane, ship or tank. These capital assets are only made effective in combat by enablers such as materiel support systems, supplies, maintenance, facilities, individual and collective training and even doctrine. Enablers such as these are largely invisible to the public (they don't make for good photo opportunities) and they are expensive. This makes them an easy target for cost savings because it is possible to save money while retaining the appearance of a credible defence force. East Timor should remind us of the dangers of 'hollowing out' the back-of-house functions that make Defence capable and effective in combat.

There is an underlying assumption in the National Security Strategy that defeating credible threats will involve coalition partners in joint operations, which will make additional resources available to the ADF. 

While alliances and regional cooperation are imperative, they should complement rather than replace adequate levels of sovereign force readiness. This is because the national interest of allied and coalition partners will inevitably take priority. Australia experienced this from both the US and European nations during the Iraq conflict when shipments of ammunition and spare parts were withheld by the supplying nation for their own use. The ADF was unable to deploy some requested capabilities, such as armour, due to low stocks of ammunition, inadequate maintenance and training, and poor availability of spare parts. Even in East Timor, despite UN resolutions and eventual support from 22 nations, Australia's initial deployment had to rely on existing capability which proved barely adequate to engage a lightly armed militia.

There is much to commend in the National Security Strategy, which outlines a vision for a more integrated approach to national security underpinned by a strong, credible ADF. Vision without dollars, however, is hallucination. 

The National Security Strategy highlights the significant percentage increase in Defence budgets after East Timor, as if this somehow justifies current and future 'consolidation'. There is no recognition of the very low funding base at the start of this period or the significant cost-growth pressures articulated by the Pappas Review in 2008.

Using Pappas indexation figures, the successive budget cuts since 2009 mean that there is a shortfall of some $25 billion over the forward estimates just to maintain the existing force. This shortfall has manifested itself through maintenance being skipped on armoured fighting vehicles, upgrades being delayed and decreased levels of training, all of which sounds depressingly like the situation prior to East Timor. 

The fiction perpetuated by the Minister that all is well because cuts are not affecting current operations relies on the Australian public not understanding the basis of 'operational supplementation'. Put simply, when operations cease, so does the additional funding that has enabled the ADF to acquire and sustain much of the state-of-the-art equipment used in Afghanistan.

Simply increasing the defence budget, however, is not the answer. The other lesson from East Timor is that the large budget increases which came afterward have perversely led to many of the inefficiencies identified by the recent Senate report into Defence Procurement. The Government needs to take account of the measures highlighted in that report concerning governance, sovereignty and engagement with industry that will increase the productivity of taxpayer capital invested in Defence.

The National Security Strategy, like the Defence of Australia policies of the 1980s, assumes that there will be time to prepare for conflict against a state actor. Recent experience shows that the requirement for deployments such as East Timor (or the French in Mali) arise at very short notice, meaning that our forces deploy with whatever they have available. 

The East Timor experience should, above all, be a salient reminder that our national security and the fate of Australian men and women sent into harm's way by future governments will rest largely on what current governments are prepared to spend, and how productively they spend it. Lest we forget.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.


Last July I expressed scepticism about the idea that Tony Abbott's fondness for the 'anglosphere' implied that he was too focused on Australia's traditional partners and didn't fully appreciate the opportunities and challenges of a rising Asia. The release of the Liberal Party's new policy booklet last weekend reinforces my view. An Abbott Government won't be the Menzian throwback that some breathless left-wing critics fear.

To see why, don't look in the foreign policy section of the booklet; as far as I could see, there's nothing new in there. But the introduction to the booklet is revealing, in that it couches the Liberal Party's entire agenda for the nation in an international context (my emphasis):

To safeguard Australia’s economic future the key challenge facing Australia is to compete successfully in a more fiercely competitive world.

If anything, this is a bit hyperbolic. As Paul Krugman argued back in 1994, countries don't compete with each other the way companies do (then again...). Still, the emphasis on Australia's place in the world is welcome.

The focus on Asia in this section is particularly striking. In fact, so thoroughly is the document soaked in the Asianist mindset that the only (implied) criticism offered of the Government's Asian Century White Paper is that it stated the bleeding obvious: 'Many businesses don’t need to be told by government that Asia offers opportunities because of a rapidly rising middle class.' In the booklet as a whole, Asia gets 43 mentions; the US gets 2.

Unfortunately, the booklet also shares a glaring weakness of the Asian Century White Paper, in that it talks solely about the opportunities created by the rise of Asia, not its risks.

4 of 5 This post is part of a debate on Gillard's National Security Strategy

After 29 months of government, Wednesday's launch of the National Security Strategy was welcome yet well overdue. Although the strategy has been widely panned as disappointing and unfunded, the strategic framework and development process look sound, and certainly a great improvement on the 2008 National Security Statement.

A recent US Strategic Studies Institute report (link was down at time of writing) found that Australia's bureaucrats coordinate much better on strategic policy than their peers elsewhere. This document's clear structure, logic, and writing show the fruits of that coordination. But ultimately, the Government gets to decide what to do with all that hard bureaucratic work. And yesterday, it decided to subordinate it all to domestic politics.

That's why we heard about the threat of guns in communities in western Sydney before the threat of escalation between powers in the South China Sea. And that's why there's no new funding. The coming election is unlikely to be decided by national security voters. The selected five-year objectives (enhance regional engagement, integrate cyber policy and operations, create effective partnerships) happen to be a lot cheaper than building a brand new submarine.

The eight national security pillars are entirely sensible and it is great to see some prioritisation of the relationships Australia should seek to enhance (China, Indonesia, ASEAN Japan, Korea, and India). But as has been stated countless times on this blog, Australia's ability to influence our region and build key relationships will depend on restoring funding to DFAT.

When it comes to a discussion of defence funding this strategy is downright tricky. To reassure voters that the Australian Defence Force is in good hands, the Prime Minister made two claims at the tail end of the speech:

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Our level of defence expenditure will ensure that Australia remains one of the top 15 nations for absolute defence spending, and second only to the United States on a per capita basis.

The first claim is misleading. The gold standard comparison of defence budgets is as a percentage of GDP. On that basis, Australia's current spending level (1.56%) would put us in at least 50th place in the world, according to the latest SIPRI data, just behind military giants like Senegal and Croatia, and barely in front of New Zealand. On absolute defence spending, Australia remains in the top 15, though the strong value of the Australian dollar must be taken into account.

The second claim on defence spending is absolutely false.

There are at least seven countries that spend more on defence on a per capita basis than Australia. Our neighbour Singapore, for example, spends US$1853 on defence per citizen, ahead of Australia's  $1157. The claim was amended yesterday in the speech as released by the Prime Minister's office and now reads:

Our level of defence expenditure will ensure that Australia remains one of the top 15 nations for absolute defence spending, and second only to the United States on a per capita basis among the G7 countries plus China.

Got that? So fear not, citizens. Australia has the largest defence budget and mightiest military force below the Tropic of Capricorn and east of Rottnest Island. On Wednesdays. But not the Wednesday after pay Tuesday. Or on ANZAC Day when everyone gets drunk.

You can cut the figures anyway you like, but Australia is still underfunding its defence ambitions.

The National Security Strategy also helpfully shows how Australia divides up the pie on national security spending (see chart above). The total is $33 billion on national security annually, $26.289 billion of which belongs to the defence budget. But those are 2011-2012 figures and don't account for the 10.5% of defence budget cuts that occurred eight months ago in FY 2012-2013. The current defence budget is $24.2 billion. In an otherwise tightly drafted document, this mistake is glaring. The National Security Strategy overstates the national security budget by at least $2 billion.

On their own, one of these mistakes would look like poor staff work. Taken together, they look very tricky indeed. And that makes it hard to take the rest of the strategic planning framework established yesterday seriously.

3 of 5 This post is part of a debate on Gillard's National Security Strategy

It may seem odd that Prime Minister Julia Gillard would use the occasion of the launch of the nation's first ever formal national security strategy to endorse the view that the 'national security decade' is over. 

This begins to make sense, though, when you note the strategy's conclusion that the nation's biggest security challenges in the new era will come not from terrorists or fragile-state anarchy but from the actions of powerful states. If the national security or 9/11 decade is indeed at an end, then a new age – the international strategy decade — is just beginning. 

Does this make Australia's security environment more or less threatening than during the 9/11 decade? Is the nation safer today than it was when Kevin Rudd presented his national security statement in 2008? If so, then why all the fuss about the need for a strategy? If not, then why is the Government tightening the overall security budget, especially in defence? 

On these points, there are no clear answers, at least none that the Government is willing to state.

The new strategy document also pulls its punches when it comes to identifying the states that worry Australia's security planners. Rudd's 2009 defence white paper was perhaps excessively blunt about China, but this new strategy, like the Asian Century White Paper, swings too far in the direction of cryptic coyness. There's plenty of reference to cyber challenges, espionage, even something mysteriously called 'foreign interference', but the prospective sources of these risks are politely left unnamed.

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To be fair, it is hard to fault the new 47-page strategy on its structure and bureaucratic word smithing. This is a considerably more coherent and crafted document than Kevin Rudd's laundry-list national security statement of 2008, and it is mercifully shorter than the 300-odd page Asian Century paper. It seems to reflect commendable consultation across government, demonstrating the very kind of coordination and efficient use of limited resources that the PM is calling for.

This is also substantially more than an election pamphlet, contrary to some of the media's less charitable characterisations. Yes, the Prime Minister's speech was needlessly partisan in giving the Howard Government no explicit credit for its national security achievements across most of the 9/11 decade, such as the massive, sustained and effective response to the Bali bombings.

But the new strategy itself is not, thankfully, a mere party-political confection. Drawing on the Asian Century white paper, it embeds national security within a framework of Australia's wider international aspirations. It also sets the scene for a new defence white paper. In that sense, it is the middle step in a logical policy cascade.

But, like Ms Gillard's speech, the strategy leaves unanswered at least two glaring questions on the crucial issue of resources and priorities.

Repeatedly, it emphasises international engagement and partnerships as critical to Australia's security. This would seem to be adding further to the demands on our overstretched, underfunded Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). But beyond the Prime Minister's carefully worded claims about expanding the Department's 'footprint', there is no evidence that the Government plans to give DFAT the resources to do the job.

Second, if the future really is about interstate risks, including those relating to military power, then presumably having a strong defence force is one way to deter or manage them. Nowhere does the strategy explain why the dawn of an era of intensified state-on-state challenges is precisely the right time to cut the defence budget. Perhaps that is one feat of drafting gymnastics that has been reserved for someone else. Spare a thought for the defence white paper team.

2 of 5 This post is part of a debate on Gillard's National Security Strategy

Robert Ayson is Director of Victoria University’s Centre for Strategic Studies in New Zealand.

It's time for me to fess up. I used to be one of those sometimes annoying people who thought it was a good idea for governments to produce a formal national security strategy. I wanted them to show me how various pieces of the national security puzzle fitted together and I wanted them to do so in a publicly released document. But I am now less sure this is a good idea, and the Gillard Government's newly released National Security Strategy has confirmed my unease. It does so for a number of reasons.

The first is the illusion of coherence. The National Security Strategy talks about Australia's approach to national security as representing a 'unified system'. That's an immensely challenging ambition, and with so many national security issues involved, this can quickly turn into a listing process which describes all the things being done rather than quite how they fit together, let alone how choices might be made between them.

One rule of thumb is that the coherence of any written strategy exists in inverse proportion to the number of bullet points it contains. And there are quite of few of these in the National Security Strategy.

The second is the dependence on coordination. The National Security Strategy concludes that there are three priorities for the next five years. These are: enhancing Australia's Asian engagement, developing an integrated approach to growing cyber-security problems (which attract the adjective 'malicious' at least a dozen times in the NSS), and building security partnerships.

All of these follow the main message of the document: we are going to be better at working together in the national security community and with others, including domestic actors and overseas partners.

Now, a coordinated effort can be a good thing if it can be had, but it is not a strategy in and of itself. A truly all-in approach (the 'whole of government' nirvana and beyond) can even work against the making of choices which clear strategy normally requires. One could be overly cynical and think that the emphasis on coordination in the NSS is even stronger than it would have been had there been some more money (and not less) going around. But I don't think that's the only thing going on here.

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I say that partly because of the third issue: the problem of defence. The National Security Strategy shows that defence accounts for the vast majority ($26 billion per year) of Australia's overall national security expenditure ($33 billion). And cyber-security issues aside (on which about half a billion dollars are spent a year), it is only when the document alludes to the changing military balance in the region and what that means for Australia that one gets the sense of real energy.

Despite the talk about building a range of relationships in Asia (a boiled down version of the vast Asian Century White Paper), there is some real ambivalence here. While the Indonesia relationship gets a big thumbs up, the NSS also warns that 'regional powers could seek to exercise influence over our national decision making and use of our resources.' Rising larger and taller is Australia's defence-rich alliance relationship with the US which 'is critical to our ability to deter and defeat adversaries'.

The NSS appears to be saying that the alliance is Australia's big national security answer. It may be wondered if this is a sustainable judgment when Western power is being challenged in the region. But at least it means that the NSS is making a choice. That choice endorses defence as the national security king in Canberra, regardless of what is currently happening to the ADF's budget.

If the real choice here is to pursue Australia's national security through a strong military alliance with the US, this National Security Strategy offers more than coordinated comprehensiveness. It actually provides a decision, and that's something real strategies offer. As the same decision will likely underpin this year's Defence White Paper, one can't accuse the Gillard Government of strategic inconsistency. But one can wonder how essential the production of the NSS really was.

Photo by Flickr user Todd Ehlers.

1 of 5 This post is part of a debate on Gillard's National Security Strategy

We're going to have substantive commentary on the newly released National Security Strategy over coming days, but as a first offering, I wanted to alert readers to Michael L'Estrange's op-ed in today's Australian (to get around the Oz's paywall, just Google the article's headline and click on the relevant link).

The simple point I want to get across here is about the importance of ideas.

L'Estrange's op-ed is all about the slow and subtle shifts in the way people conceptualise 'national security', and how that's reflected in the Strategy paper. I remember the 'human security' debate really getting up to speed around the time I was an undergraduate, and now here we are in 2013, and the tug of war between the 'expansivists' (L'Estrange's term for those who want a broader definition of national security that includes non-state threats and environmental issues) and 'traditionalists' (those who argue that national security has not changed fundamentally and is still centered on the behaviour of states) is determining the course of Australia's national security policy.

L'Estrange doesn't mention it, but we might make the same point about the National Security Strategy's tentative grasp of the 'Indo-Pacific' concept, a term to describe our region which the paper says has 'emerged more recently'. What that leaves unsaid is just how the term emerged, and the short answer is that clever and motivated people needed to come up with the idea, promote it and defend it. See Rory Medcalf's Interpreter post for the definitive account of just how this happened in the case of 'Indo-Pacific'.

The moral here is that students and scholars reading this blog ought to be encouraged. The lonely and difficult task of coming to grips with theoretical ideas in international policy is REALLY IMPORTANT. Yes, it feels distant from the daily headlines, and it's not particularly exciting. But these ideas ultimately shape the world.

Photo by Flickr user Sidereal.


One of my favourite online distractions, ArchDaily, yesterday posted a photo spread on Gibraltar's glorious new airport.

This got me thinking about the two-decade debate over a second Sydney airport, which everyone except the owners of the existing airport seems to agree is necessary. Problem is, no politician is prepared to spend the political capital to put it where expert opinion says it should go, Badgerys Creek in western Sydney.

If a miracle should occur and we do get a go-ahead on Badgerys Creek, how about a little architectural symbolism in the design of the facility?

Several foreign airports I can think of do this (Beijing's dragon-like main terminal is pictured), and it would make a nice change. Australian airports tend to be reasonably functional but architecturally unadventurous; Canberra's new facility is a case in point (in fact, Canberra's entire decade-long building boom, while greatly improving the functionality of the city, has to my mind produced little of lasting architectural merit, though that's another story).

Crikey's aviation reporter Ben Sandilands often argues that the second Sydney airport is necessary for Australia's 'world city' to cope with the demands of the Asian Century, so perhaps the design of the airport could gesture towards Australia's embrace of Asia (this would be particularly appropriate if the airport becomes a hub for Asian carriers, less so if it serves mainly domestic traffic).

Alternatively, what if the building spoke to Australia's embrace of the world through post-war immigration and multiculturalism? An airport in western Sydney is an obvious venue for such symbolism.

Photo by Flickr user jiazi.


Satish Chand is a Professor in the School of Business, University of New South Wales.

Last December it was revealed in the media that the Australian Government would divert $375 million from its foreign aid budget (of a total $5.2 billion) to fund the onshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Foreign Minister Bob Carr defended the move: 'Spending money on refugees who've landed on Australian soil is as valid as spending it on refugees who are in refugee camps around the world.'

Minister Carr has argued that the use of aid funds to process asylum seekers is consistent with OECD guidelines and is practiced in the US, France, and Canada. Stephen Howes agrees, pointing out on his blog that 'the rationale for including domestic refugee-related costs as ODA is solid, and has been accepted by the OECD'.

I disagree. Unlike Australia and its 'Pacific Solution', I do not know of any other OECD member that interns asylum seekers, particularly on foreign soil. Australia's policy of incarcerating those who arrive with a view to seeking asylum is an integral part of its policy on border protection. Thus, normal duty of care applies to interns while in confinement. This is no different to the obligations to prisoners, including prisoners of war. 

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This is in sharp contrast to providing food and shelter to refugees in camps abroad, since they are there for their own protection and can leave at their own volition. The provisions provided at these camps are motivated solely by humanitarian considerations. Australian refugee policy, by contrast, is designed to deter new arrivals by punishing those who attempt to 'jump the queue' in seeking asylum by reaching its shores illegally.

When I made this argument in the comments section of Stephen Howes' blog post, he countered with a fresh argument: that resettling refugees achieves the aim of poverty reduction and thus the outlays on the above qualify as official development assistance. 

Interning refugees is not the most efficient means of reducing their poverty, but more importantly, such an argument can put Carr on a collision course with the Refugee Review Tribunal. 

The motivations for raiding the aid budget are many, including the disappearing projected budget surplus and the rapidly rising costs of the new refugee policy. The number of boat arrivals reached 16,800 in the 2012 calendar year. It is projected to increase further in 2013. Processing these claims takes up to five years, thus the demands on the budget to fund the refugee policy has ballooned.

But dressing up what is clearly an outlay on border protection as official development assistance is beyond the powers of even the parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia; the parliament can reallocate expenditure, but it cannot mislead.

The claim that the outlay on refugees reduces their poverty is flawed, as refugee status and a protection visa is granted solely on the grounds of 'persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion'. The UN mandated Refugee Convention to which Australia is a signatory places no obligation to provide protection to people who do not fear persecution even if their home nation is engulfed in war, famine, or environmental collapse. In fact, those deemed by the Refugee Review Tribunal to be seeking residency for poverty reduction are classified as economic migrants and denied asylum on this very consideration. 

If refugees cannot use poverty reduction as a reason to be granted residency in Australia then the Australian Government cannot use the same excuse to justify its use of aid to intern them.

The Australian Government has the powers to reallocate funds earmarked for foreign aid to border protection but it must be transparent about this shift.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.


Professor Wadan Narsey is an Adjunct Professor at The Cairns Institute.

The Fiji regime's clear breach of its own decrees and roadmap to democracy, as described in my previous post, has unsettled traditional donors and must also create serious question marks over the continuing support by China and India.

When it comes to Fiji, the media focus is usually on what Australia and New Zealand think. Most commentators ignore China and India, whose support to Fiji's military regime after the 2006 coup has undermined the diplomatic stances and sanctions of Australia, New Zealand and the EU. Australia and New Zealand, with the support of the US and EU, urgently need to engage with China and India to achieve a common position that can get Fiji back to a credible parliamentary democracy.

In 2006, some international observers were astonished that India so readily supported the military coup in Fiji. India is not only the world's largest democracy, but is painfully aware of the terrible consequences of having a military dictatorship as a destabilising neighbour.

India's support for the Fiji regime may initially have been driven by the regime's rhetoric that the coup was to protect people of Indian descent from unfair domination by the indigenous Fijian majority. This was reinforced when the largely Indo-Fijian Fiji Labour Party, led by Mahendra Chaudhry, joined the military regime in 2007. But that excuse dissolved when Chaudhry was ejected after a year.

India's major economic contribution to the regime, a large loan from the ExIm Bank of India to upgrade the milling efficiency of the Fiji Sugar Corporation, has also become a double-edged sword. The loan proceeds have largely been squandered through a combination of inept management at the Fiji end and inefficient sub-contracting at the Indian end. The sugar industry has not come out of its slump, due to a potent mix of farming, harvesting, cane transporting and milling deficiencies, and India has been under enormous moral pressure from Fiji to convert that loan into a grant.

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To preserve its goodwill with the regime, India has supported Fiji's chairmanship of the International Sugar Organization for 2013. While purely a symbolic role with no impact on the Fiji sugar industry, local sugar industry managers used that chairmanship as propaganda for the regime, no doubt also enhancing the security of their own jobs, despite the disasters they preside over daily.

India is fully aware that the regime has imposed draconian media censorship on all matters, including public discussion of the draft constitution, and that it continues to deny a whole range of basic human rights in Fiji. Having seen the regime already renege on one promise to hold elections in 2009, India may be ruing its past blind diplomatic support of the Fiji military regime. India now has to worry that the regime's machinations over the next two years will further discredit India's support.

Chinese support for the Bainimarama regime does not pose any great dilemma for political analysts: China does not believe in full democratic rights for its own people, or a free media, or indeed the many basic human rights which are taken for granted in the West.

The Chinese economy has enjoyed two decades of incredible economic growth not seen in the history of the capitalist world and has saved the West during the recent global financial crisis. It is inevitable that, as China rivals the US in world politics, its own performance in investment, trade, aid and environmental issues throughout the world will come under greater international scrutiny. China will also have to pay greater heed to good governance, human rights, and environmental issues in the countries to which it gives assistance.

While some in the Fiji regime hold China up as a model, there is no comparison on economic grounds. While Chinese development for the last three decades has been brilliantly managed by the Chinese technocrats, Fiji's has been implemented by a cadre of energetic but ultimately ineffectual military officers, guided by a few powerful civilians.

Chinese investments in Fiji are relatively minor compared to their economic interests in Australia and New Zealand, but China's aid/loan program to Fiji has resulted in many infrastructure developments which will be of significant economic value if and when the economy grows. But Fiji's economy has totally stagnated under the military regime for six years, with rising public debt and increasing poverty. During the same period, other comparable Pacific economies have prospered.

Ultimately, Fiji will have an accountable parliamentary government which will not view favourably China's current unquestioning support for the military regime. China's support of the Fiji regime also undermines the diplomatic stance of Australia and New Zealand, which have a legitimate interest in discouraging unlawful regimes and political instability in Pacific Island countries.

Chinese diplomats in Fiji ought to view the Fiji regime's antics on the draft constitution with disquiet. A regime that tries blatantly to hang on to power, regardless of the massive economic and social costs to its own people, and the continued diplomatic displeasure of Australia and New Zealand, is not in China's long term interests in Fiji or the wider Pacific.

China and India cannot continue to undermine the diplomatic efforts of Australia, New Zealand, the EU and the US in Fiji. One of the weaknesses of international diplomacy in the Pacific is that the traditional powers (Australia, NZ, US, Britain, EU and Japan) have tended not to include China and India as equal dialogue partners (I commented on this anomaly in 2011).

This may be a result of traditional and new powers seeing themselves as competitors for influence with Pacific countries, part of a zero-sum game. In Syria, such rivalry, as exemplified by the refusal of Russia and China to join in common purpose with the West, is the cause of an ongoing human catastrophe in which all are losing.

There is little justification for such great power rivalry in the South Pacific. It would be of great help to Fiji if Australia, New Zealand, the US, EU, and Japan were to invite diplomatic dialogue with China and India to assist in a more 'pacific' solution to its current crisis.

Photo courtesy of Fergus Hanson.


Late last year I traveled to Port Moresby to interview some of PNG's newly elected MPs for the Lowy Institute's Leadership Mapping Project. Earlier interviews in this latest series were with Deputy Opposition leader Sam Basil, and one of the three female MPs, Governor Julie Soso.

One of the most interesting discussions I had during my week in Port Moresby was with the new Attorney-General, the Hon Kerenga Kua. He is new to both the portfolio and to parliament, although politics formed a definite part of his very clear career plan.

Kua has had a distinguished career in law, having been a founding partner in a successful commercial law practice in Port Moresby for 19 years after a 5-year stint in Sydney with the Australian firm Blake Dawson Waldron. His goal, he told me in October, was to establish a sound financial footing for himself and his family so he would not be vulnerable to the notorious corruption which infects PNG politics.

The Attorney-General has featured in the Australian press over the last week because the 'colourful' Opposition Leader, Belden Namah, is suing the government in the Supreme Court in an attempt to close down the Manus Island processing centre. While Namah says the court action is entirely motivated a desire to uphold PNG's constitution, his words suggest a slightly deeper agenda, telling ABC radio 'we can't go outside of our constitution, outside of our laws to try and please our friends.'

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My conversation with the Attorney-General in October, however, suggested that 'pleasing our friends' might indeed be one of the PNG Government's motives in hosting Australia's asylum-seekers. The Attorney-General has a great admiration for Australia as a country that 'gets things right', and told me:

The two countries are deeply bonded from the PNG perspective...knowing that we're stuck with each other...you can only understand it in times of crisis. There are very few things PNG can do for Australia...[with] Manus Island, I see that as one opportunity to help Australia — to thank it for everything it's done for us...to reciprocate for all the help we have been getting in the past.

Kua explained that opposition in PNG to the Manus Island processing centre was presented in myriad ways; as a criminal issue, as an issue of international legal obligations, and now, Namah has painted it as a breach of the nation's constitution. The Attorney-General is well-equipped to take on the Opposition in the Supreme Court, having been the lawyer for the Somare Government before the last election.

In our interview, the Attorney-General looks in some detail at the challenges for PNG's law and justice sector, the capacity and structure of the legal system, the make-up of the Supreme Court, the role of the Ombudsman and plans for an Independent Commission against Corruption.


Derek Woolner is a Visiting Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU. He was Director of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Group in the Commonwealth Parliament's research service till 2002.

My earlier posts in this series were about the nature of the financial difficulties faced by the Australian Defence Organisation over the last three decades of the 20th century. Now, after a decade when this experience seemed irrelevant, Defence again faces a period of reduced budgets.

This time the challenge is different. It follows a sustained period where defence funding increased in real terms, supporting growing personnel numbers, approval of capability developments and sustainment of expensive overseas deployments.

What did not happen was provision of the capital equipment to enable the enhanced capability. When given the money, Defence couldn't spend it.

The 2000 White Paper was to provide the financial framework to sustain ADF capabilities. Yet by February 2004 the second edition of the Defence Capability Plan showed that acquisition projects had fallen behind by an average of 2.7 years; remarkable for a process itself no older. Hence the 2004-05 budget reprogrammed $2.2 billion allocated to capital equipment to years beyond 2008.

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The process continued and a total of $4.4 billion worth of acquisition spending had been reprogrammed by the time of the 2009 White Paper. After 2010-11, a further $1.1 billion of capital appropriations remained unspent. This time it was returned to revenue, in turn forcing a rescheduling of $3.3 billion to later years.

Of the $5.5 billion cut from the 2012-13 budget and the three Forward Estimates years, some $4.2 billion or 77% was achieved by deferring capital projects to some unspecified date in the future. $1.6 billion came from following the Americans and delaying for two years acquisition decisions on the project to replace the RAAF's F/A-18 Hornet aircraft with the F-35.

It is the accretion of overruns in the acquisition of capital projects, not financial parsimony by the Government, that has destroyed the capability development objectives of the 2009 White Paper, labeled as Force 2030.

We now know that the accumulated obligation to deliver these projects by that date has reached $200 billion (see p.10). For all these deferred projects to now be delivered, expenditure on major capital equipment after 2016-17 would have to be sustained at over $13 billion a year. This is almost four times the 2012-13 appropriation and almost 2.5 times the highest level of expenditure achieved for major capital investment of $5.15 billion in 2009-10.

Clearly, the objectives of Force 2030 will not be achieved, regardless of any amount of additional funding. The 2013 White Paper will have to rewrite force capability objectives for the ADF in the knowledge that current planning is untenable.

Yet, because the reductions in the 2012-13 budget have been achieved on deferred capital expenditure, the Government has to date avoided pain over its policy settings. It has been able to pledge that ADF personnel numbers will not be cut and that support for operational deployments will be sustained. Blatant incongruities will be settled by the 2013 White Paper.

Nonetheless, ADF military capabilities do need attention. The F-35 project may be problematic but the bulk of the RAAF's tactical fighter force will require replacement from 2020. Recently, the Government sought cost and scheduling options on 24 additional F/A-18 Super Hornets. So it's probable that the 2013 White Paper will approve building Australia's future tactical air combat capability around the more predictable option of an aircraft already in service and abandon plans for any immediate acquisition of the F-35.

Of course, when acquisition projects are no longer deferred they will have to be funded. Given the fiscal circumstances of the Commonwealth, for some time such finance will have to be diverted from elsewhere within Defence appropriations. So the Government is pursuing an efficiency program. Unfortunately, the Strategic Reform Program seems as likely to fail as those at the end of the 20th century (see p.141). Significantly, areas of activity which were supposed to contribute to SRP objectives have been among those to receive a reallocation of $2.9 billion from other areas of Defence.

It seems inevitable that savings will be drawn from the concluding of Australia's 13 years of overseas operational deployments.

These deployments have changed the distribution of funding within the Defence budget. Before the Timor deployment, the ADF's target strength was 50,000 personnel. That number will soon reach 59,000. Of the 2012-13 reductions, only a little over $300 million was due to cutting personnel strength (and this was a decision to not employ an additional 1000 civilians). It seems likely that the 2013 White Paper will approve real reductions in personnel strength.

The costs associated with Australia's operational deployments was quickly discovered to greatly exceed expectations. $2.6 billion was required to develop a force that could sustain the Timor deployment and this figure was eventually absorbed within the 2000 White Paper financial base. Demands on equipment in operations greatly exceeded predictions. In 2004-05 most of the money no longer spent on reprogrammed acquisition was used to provide $2 billion for enhanced logistics to support the ADF's new tempo of operations.

The 2013 White Paper team can be expected to disaggregate some elements of this supplemental capacity and divert the funds to other areas of Defence once the Afghanistan deployment is completed.

Prediction is always dangerous, especially within the comparatively short time to the release of the 2013 White Paper. Nonetheless, Defence has little room to manoeuvre and it would not be surprising if the financial framework that emerged promoted capital acquisition with superior risk and schedule management, funded in part by reductions in ADF personnel numbers and spending on force sustainment.

Photo by Flickr user createordie.


After five years and 300,000 words, this is my final Canberra Column. Is that a mountain of punditry or just a maze?

A quick wade through the wordage leaves little doubt about the recurrent theme that runs through the five years: this was the era of Kevinism. As Prime Minister, The Kevin was his own über foreign minister. Then, as PM-in-exile, he was foreign minister. A column devoted to Canberra's place in the foreign policy firmament could ask for no more.

In the month the column kicked off, April 2008, two efforts were devoted to Rudd's 2020 Summit, covering the discussions on 'Australia's Future in the Region and the World', one of ten streams running through the giant talkfest in Parliament House involving 1000 Australians. We had a new leader who wanted to try new things; there's a thought and a moment that faded fast.

Much of the coverage of The Kevin was devoted to his efforts to remake Asia's security architecture. The first ever Canberra Column mused on the old divide in Australian diplomacy between the Northeast Asianists and the ASEANists, suggesting that Kevin Rudd, as a Northener, would run into plenty of trouble with ASEAN.

The spark had been a speech Rudd gave in Washington saying the Six-Party talks should be broadened (and Australia enrolled as a new member) to create Asia's new security structure; this was at a time when a deal with North Korea looked possible and the Six Party process seemed like a success. The implied Rudd message was that ASEAN might be in the driver's seat, but it wasn't actually driving anywhere; time for a new vehicle and more drivers.

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From that speech, ASEAN had Rudd in its sights. Then, in June, 2008, Rudd unveiled his idea for an Asia Pacific Community. The Canberra Column had a great time charting the ups and downs of the struggle with ASEAN that followed. The right to roam well beyond Canberra meant I was in Singapore in mid-2009 to hear the Rudd speech to the Shangri La Dialogue on how absolutely wonderful and central ASEAN is. And, more importantly, to note that, in the written text of the speech, Rudd had gone from large 'C' Community to small 'c' community. 

Australia no longer aspired to an Asia Pacific Community; ideas of Asia Pacific community would suffice. Getting excited about stuff like this explains why one of my career highlights was covering a dozen APEC summits (it's not the funny shirts, I tell you, it's the zest and zing of the communiqués). 

By April, 2010, the column interpreted a Rudd speech as the Prime Minister flying the white flag of surrender to ASEAN, calling it a nod of obeisance rather than an actual surrender. The turning point in the Canberra Column's view of Kevinism was a three-part series in July 2009, all built around a one-word description of the Rudd Government: 'dysfunctional'. That view of Rudd had become the whispered consensus around much of this town by the end of his first full year in power. By mid-2009, it was the interpretation begging to be written. 

When Rudd walked away from his climate change commitments in 2010, this was the Canberra Column conclusion: 'It's all very well to campaign in poetry yet govern in prose, but Kevin Rudd is in danger of descending to direction-via-drivel.'

Rudd had a bad case of the first term balls-up blues but caucus wasn't going to give him time to recover. In the work of a moment, he was cut down, disposed of like a state premier no longer able to dominate the nightly news.

The Rudd encore as Foreign Minister was frenetic: his work rate was prodigious, the ambition nearly as high. The self-confidence and the sense of conviction never flagged. The intensity was undoubted; only the ultimate intent was regularly questioned. Then, in February, Gillard took The Kevin back into caucus and did it to him again, only this time with feeling.

Rudd's ability as an international thinker is undoubted. Just scan the series of foreign policy speeches he has penned as a backbencher in the last few months on a US-China strategic roadmap, the priorities of China's new leadership, the UN Security Council and the Middle East, and the latest version of the argument he has been making throughout the year for a Pax Pacifica to replace the Pax Americana and avert a Pax Sinica.

For any foreign affairs tragic, The Kevin is the gift that keeps on giving, and the Canberra Column gives appropriate thanks. Time now to give thanks also to Sam Roggeveen and Allan Gyngell.

The Column came about because in building the Lowy Institute, Allan decided he needed a blog not a printed journal; Lowy had to be in the game every day, not monthly or quarterly or whenever. It seems more of an obvious a call today than it did then. Having got that right, Allan then achieved the perfect fit for the editor's job in Sam Roggeveen. I don't need to tell you why Sam is a good editor – you have the evidence before you every time you look at The Interpreter.

I came on board by arguing to Allan that if he was doing journalism, then a Canberra journalist might be handy. That handshake with Allan and the Roggeveen combination of competence and ambition have happily driven my bit of the experiment; for a few idle seconds it was going to be the Canberra Causerie, but there are some things even The Interpreter should not try to translate.

Breaking the iron habit of a lifetime in daily journalism, the column had no deadline: file when finished, rather than finish because it's time to file. Luxury! The digital domain offers many freedoms. No longer driven by the daily hack version of the Cartesian mantra (write now, think later) I have, instead, been able to enjoy the related pleasure James Reston ascribed to writing a regular column: how do I know what I think until I see what I write?

I am off next year to repeat the experience at a similar address just up the street at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Farewell to the Canberra Column; it has been a privilege and a huge pleasure to write for this audience in this place. Thanks and cheers.

Photo by Flickr user Don Shearman.


It's a blue moon occasion for Australia's foreign aid program to be the lead story across the morning news media.

But bad policy decided in secret and then leaked to the media can ensure front page headlines, even for aid. And that's what has happened this week with the Government's decision to shift $375 million from its aid budget to meet domestic asylum seeker costs. The Government's scrambling to justify this decision hasn't dulled the outcry or criticism. And it hasn't turned a bad policy into a good one.

In fact, there are now two bad aid policies instead of one. The first bad policy was when the Government committed in 2007 to increase the aid budget to 0.5% of Australia's gross national income by 2015.

The increase in itself isn't the bad policy; it's the tight deadline that undermines it. Given Australia's economic position at the time, it would have meant doubling the budget to around $9 billion, with much of the increase postponed to the last four or so years even when the commitment was pushed out to 2016 in this year's budget. In other words, the Government's aid agency would have to spend an extra $1 billion a year every year for four or so years. Hardly an effective or efficient way to ensure value for money.

The second bad policy is this week's decision to follow the lead of a number of other developed countries which use aid funds to cover in-country refugee costs.

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Australia is certainly not alone in deciding to use aid money in this way. OECD figures show that the US spent US$885 million of its total aid budget on this in 2010, France US$435 million, Sweden US$397 million, and Canada US$284 million. Switzerland spent almost 16% of its total aid budget on this item.

So the amount the Government wants to spend isn't out of the ballpark and it is internationally recognised as a legitimate use of official aid money. What makes us different is that the Government didn't want to tell us and it took a leak from Treasury for it to get into the public arena.

This doesn't necessarily make it bad policy. What does make it bad is the impact this has on our reputation as a development partner. The money being diverted from this year's aid budget, so late in the year, will come from scheduled and planned aid programs developed in consultation with Australia's developing partners. We don't know who they are because the Government hasn't told us. So we have to assume that there will be a mixture of bilateral partners and multilateral organisations which had been led to believe that Australia would be supporting them in some project in health or education or another important development priority. Now, that activity won't go ahead or will be delayed.

Cutting programs isn't bad in itself – what's bad is when it's unilaterally and secretly decided, when it remains unexplained and when it runs counter to stated policy and operational imperatives.

Photo by Flickr user Leo Reynolds.