By Max Blenkin, AAP Defence Correspondent
22 June 2011
More warships and combat aircraft could be based in western and northern Australia to provide frontline defence against terror or pirate attack on the booming oil and gas industry.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said a new review of the defence force’s posture would ensure the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was geographically positioned to meet emerging security and strategic challenges.
That included the rise of the Indian Ocean rim powers, the need to be able to respond to regional humanitarian disasters and the emerging challenge of energy security.
Mr Smith said there was a prospect that more ships and aircraft would be based in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and northeast Queensland.
“As circumstances change our posture needs to change,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“Off the coast of the northwest of Western Australia and off the coast of the Northern Territory we are now seeing a significant petroleum resources energy belt.
“So, into the future, considerations arise which go not just to the physical security of a growing resources industry infrastructure but also the general question of energy and energy security.”
The review will be conducted by former Defence Department secretaries Alan Hawke and Ric Smith who will report by March 2012.
It will feed into the next defence white paper, due in 2014, and take into account a number of other reviews.
They include the Australia-US assessment of joint use of Australian defence facilities, the base consolidation study and the Palmer review of security of offshore oil and gas facilities.
Defence head Angus Houston said this review would help provide a strategic context for the next white paper.
“I welcome the review,” Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
“It’s very useful to have a look at the issues. Resource security is important and, as we go forward, energy and resource security are areas that we will have to be more and more concerned about.”
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett also welcomed the review, saying the government needed to reassess where naval, army and air force assets were deployed.
“It does seem to me logical that more of those resources get placed in the north of Australia, including Western Australia,” Mr Barnett told ABC Radio in Perth.
“There is no doubt we are being drawn ever closer to Asia, and the problems of Asia are now our problems.”
The CEO of Perth-based strategic think tank Future Directions International, Major-General (rtd) John Hartley, said WA was becoming more important in terms of defence strategy.
“Things have changed greatly in Western Australia. It has become very much more in our national psyche and will be much more so within 10 years’ time,” he said.
“It’s an area which will attract a lot more attention nationally and internationally, and therefore it’s only fair that we look at the entire defence approach to that region. We are not looking just at that region, but it’s a very significant part of it.”
General Hartley doubted that this would result in the construction of a major new military base in the north or west.
“It’s more likely to be that we will have more deployments there for training, more exercises and more assessments of what would be needed if we were to deploy people there,” he said