By Kate Grayson, a PhD candidate in the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University.

So far, much of the analysis of the Australian Defence White Paper 2016 has focussed, rightly so, on the strategic outlook, force acquisition and defence spending. However, in a departure from previous Defence White Papers, DWP2016 publicly acknowledges Australia's role in the Five-Eyes intelligence community, Australia's 'security alliance' with the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. FVEY is important because it enables Australia and its other members to benefit from global intelligence gathering and sharing through the worldwide satellite network. Its inclusion in DWP2016 is a significant development.

Specific reference to FVEY is made on three occasions in the international defence relationships section with the US, UK and Canada including:

  • 5.24- The alliance, and Australia's membership of the Five-Eyes intelligence community (comprising Australia, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada) provides Australia with information superiority and intelligence cooperation that is a vital input into our defence planning.
  • 5.81- We cooperate closely as members of the FPDA and the Five-Eyes intelligence community.
  • 5.85- Australia and Canada cooperate closely as members of the Five-Eyes intelligence community. Although geographically distant, our strategic outlook and approach towards security and defence matters is similar and is reflected in a growing relationship, including: intelligence cooperation, operational cooperation, working level exchanges, senior-level dialogue and science, technology and materiel cooperation. 

Though there is no detailed examination of what FVEY provides in the White Paper, one of the stated aims is to maintain and build on Australia's security relationships, including existing bilateral defence relationships and multilateral security arrangements. Importantly, its inclusion signals a marked shift and adds weight to the claim that the DWP2016 'is the most rigorous and comprehensive in Australia's history.

The interesting question is: why now? Why, after 40 years and seven Defence White Papers, have strategic defence planners finally acknowedged FVEY? The inclusion may be symptomatic of a wider change in the politics, policy and posture of defence and national security thinking by openly acknowledging Australia's intelligence credentials as show of strength in the Indo-Pacific region. Perhaps it is also an outcome of Edward Snowden's revelations about FVEY, and reflects a desire to openly acknowledge and own Australia's role, one silenced in the past.

Whatever the reasons, for this keen observer at least, the decision to acknowledge the security alliance marks an interesting shift from previous form. It is a welcome addition to the Defence White Paper discourse.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Stefson