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Reader riposte: The forgotten white paper

Reader riposte: The forgotten white paper
Published 3 May 2013 

The Defence White Paper is due to be released within the hour. Luke Maynard, a graduate of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, writes:

Hugh White was right – this white paper probably should have been shelved. Today's release of Defence White Paper 2013 will enter a hostile political setting of fiscal limitations, competing policy priorities and severe criticism from the Opposition, former bureaucrats, and commentators alike.

Positioned between the operational necessity of the military and the policy direction and priorities of the political realm, the creation of a white paper is always an exercise in management; of budgets, forces, and expectations. This will be no exception.


The challenges of the domestic political sphere in particular undermine the viability of this paper, with a genuine risk it could be rendered obsolete with a potential change in government in September.

An opinion piece by Peter Reith signals the tone of rhetoric to come, while an address from Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston to the Lowy Institute this week was similarly critical of Labor, with the caveat that the Coalition will not increase defence spending immediately but rather protect existing funding.

However, reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope. Through consecutive public addresses, Minister Stephen Smith has dutifully repeated the now familiar list of circumstances that will influence the paper: the rise of the Indo-Pacific, our alliance commitments to the US, and abiding economic pressures. For the Government, the costs of achieving a smooth drawdown in operational tempo and coming to terms with a region in transition are largely without political benefits.

As Andrew Davies has demonstrated, much of Australia’s force structure can be traced back over 40 years in response to external influences. For the present moment however, the more pressing influences appear to be internal. Media focus remains on the spectre of a decade of budget deficits, and the likelihood of a tough federal budget this month.

While defence is a significant issue, the coming federal election will be fought over the dual pressures of strained revenue and major domestic budget measures such as the implementation of Gonski education reforms and the establishment of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. I fear the strategic advice of this paper is likely to be largely drowned out by these priorities.

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