The Government is set to finally release its Defence White Paper later this week, with the document having been delayed a few times under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and then set back several months when he was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.
Abbott has written an op-ed on the White Paper for The Australian today which will no doubt feed perceptions of him as the Liberal Party’s internal opposition leader.
The theme of the piece is spending: how his government and the Howard Government increased it, and how Labor under Rudd and Gillard messed things up in between by failing to maintain defence spending as a percentage of GDP and not placing orders on major pieces of naval kit. The subtext is clear: this White Paper will determine whether Turnbull’s government follows the path set by Howard and Abbott, or whether it will offer Labor-like defence spending levels.
Abbott is drawing a clear line when he says, near the close of the piece, that ‘Almost certainly, the defence white paper will reiterate the Abbott government’s commitment to lift defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP’.
Pay careful attention to that ‘Almost certainly’. The 2% figure became a mantra for Abbott when he was PM, but rumours have circulated in Canberra for some months now that under Turnbull, it was no longer inviolable. Abbott is signalling that this, along with big decisions on naval shipbuilding, will be the measure by which he and his supporters judge the new White Paper.
Image courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library