The former defence chief appointed to review Australia’s defence capabilities has delivered a shock warning as tensions rise with China that the current strategic circumstances are “the worst” he has seen in his lifetime.
A former Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston issued the grim assessment as the Prime Minister faced questions over whether military conflict with China was inevitable.
“Clearly our circumstances have changed dramatically over the recent past,’’ Sir Houston said.
“A land war in Europe, all sorts of issues in north-east Asia, particularly around Taiwan, east China Sea, issues in South-East Asia and issues up on the Himalayan border and northern India.
“So there’s much happening. It’s a fast changing environment and it’s absolutely imperative that we review the current strategic circumstances which I rate the worst I have ever seen in my career and lifetime.”
Asked if he agreed with the assessment, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese replied “I do agree with Angus Houston’s assessment.”
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“And I also know that AUKUS isn’t just an arrangement that is about the subs,’’ he said.
“One of the things that the review will consider is interoperability between Australian defence assets and that of our allies.”
Announcing a major review to be conducted by a former ADF chief Sir Angus Houston, and a former Labor defence minister, Stephen Smith, Mr Ablanese said he wanted to ensure the ADF is “fit for purpose”.
“It is incumbent on us to deliver a frank assessment of our capabilities and pipeline. To take stock of the billions of dollars in defence investment programs, many of which are over budget and delayed,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“I have commissioned this review to ensure that Australia has the necessary capability to defend ourselves in the most complex strategic environment we have encountered as a nation in over 70 years.”
But Mr Albanese insisted that conflict was not inevitable.
“We need to do all that we can to advance peace and security in our region,’’ he said.
“And that is our starting point. I visited Ukraine a short time ago. I saw firsthand on theground the consequences of what conflict looks like.”
Asked about China’s claim that Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was “playing with fire” and risked targeted military operations, Defence Minister Richard Marles said the context of the review was well known.
“We live in an era where there’s strategic competition and increased tension in our region,’’ he said.
“And where China has taken a more aggressive posture in the region. But our position on Taiwan is clear – we don’t want to see any unilateral change to the status quo and we’ll continue to work with partners to promote peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”