A major charity has urged the federal government to back its proposed $270 billion boost to Australia’s military defences with an increase in foreign aid.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the record spending package in a speech to the Australian Defence Force Academy on Wednesday, as he warned of “a post-COVID world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.
Mr Morrison wants the Australian Defence Force to firmly focus its efforts on the Indo-Pacific in a mega-spend that boosts planned defence spending by $75 billion more over a decade than set out in 2016.
Under the plan, Australia will – for the first time – be armed with long-range missiles as it adopts a more aggressive footing and tries to deters unfriendly foes.
But Save the Children wants the government to back up the defence boost with an increase to foreign aid.
“The decline in Australia’s aid budget is as stark as the increase to defence,” deputy chief Mat Tinkler said.
“We need to support our neighbours right now. Not only is it in our national interest but it’s the right thing to do.”
Mr Tinkler said Australia’s aid budget had been repeatedly cut in recent years – including $100 million in recent months that was redirected towards a regional approach to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019-2020, the country’s aid budget was just a tenth of its defence budget.
“As Australia responds to perceived strategic threats in our region, we can’t ignore the immediate threat to people’s lives and livelihoods,” he said.
“We need to support our regional neighbours right now, as well as those facing the worst humanitarian crises on the planet.”
China – whose relationship with Australia is increasingly tense – has spent years splashing billions of dollars on infrastructure projects and health care in the Pacific.
Its plan has been so successful that – despite the Morrison government cutting foreign aid budgets – funding in the Pacific has largely been quarantined.
Mr Morrison said Australia would never surrender its sovereignty or seek to intimidate its neighbours. But he said the country’s prosperity and security were under increasing strain.
He said strategic competition between China and the US was creating “tension in the cord and a lot of miscalculation”.
Other regional tensions – underscored by border skirmishes between China and India – have also accelerated in recent years.
“We need to also prepare for a post-COVID world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly,” Mr Morrison said.
He said the strategic environment and heightened risk from any miscalculation made it vital that Australia could respond with credible military force.
It also needed stronger defences: “Capabilities that can hold potential adversaries’ forces and critical infrastructure at risk from a distance, thereby deterring an attack on Australia and helping to prevent war.”
The ADF cash boost will allow it to look for long-range weapons that could strike ships or land from thousands of kilometres away, as well as test long-range hypersonic weapons.
It will also boost cyber capacity and surveillance, and build a network of satellites so Australia has an independent communications network.