‘Increased risk’: Linda Reynolds warns of rapid military build-up in the Pacific


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Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will warn Australia needs to upgrade its defence forces to respond to a rapid military build-up in the region, accelerating technological advances and the growing use of coercive tactics from other countries.

In a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, Senator Reynolds will flag a further deepening of military ties with India and a strengthening of Australia’s munitions supply chains with the United States to boost the nation’s security.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will tell the National Press Club Australia needs to prepare for threats in the region.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will tell the National Press Club Australia needs to prepare for threats in the region.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Without naming any particular country, Senator Reynolds will on Wednesday sound the alarm on tactics such as cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns that are increasingly exploiting the “grey area between peace and war” and “challenging Australia’s interests in new ways”.

She has previously warned China’s actions have “deeply unsettled” the Indo-Pacific region and put at risk the security of Australia and its neighbours.

The Defence Minister, who is under fire for her handling of rape allegations made by former staffer Brittany Higgins, will say Australia is facing the threat of “military modernisation, accelerating technological advances and the use of coercive tactics” throughout the region.

“Great power competition is increasing, and nowhere more so than in our region,” Senator Reynolds will say, according to a draft of the speech.

“This is multiplying potential flashpoints and ratcheting up geopolitical tensions, and with that, comes an increased risk of conflict.”

The Morrison government last year released a major update to its 2016 Defence White Paper, acknowledging it no longer had a decade to defend against potential threats with the possibility of military conflict in the region, and committing to a $270 billion build-up of the defence force over the next decade.

Senator Reynolds will say the military build-up is needed to “shape” the nation’s strategic environment, “deter” actions against Australia’s interests and “respond with credible military force, when required”.

She will say Australia needs to build a sovereign industrial base so that the nation is not overly reliant on other countries for its military capabilities.

“Take our efforts to strengthen our munitions supply chains with the United States,” she will say.

“Just this week, United States officials visited Australian munitions factories in Mulwala, New South Wales, and Benalla, in Victoria, to explore new opportunities.

“A trial has begun at these facilities to fill US artillery rounds with high explosives – leveraging US intellectual property.

“This type of collaboration will enhance supply security for the ADF, for the United States, and help grow our own sovereign industrial base.”

Australia last year joined the Malabar exercises involving the United States, Japan and India in a move that was seen as a major military posture in response to China’s growing assertiveness.

Senator Reynolds will say she looks forward to “the next steps to further deepen our military-to-military ties” with India.

“Last year, Australia participated in Exercise Malabar with India, the United States and Japan,” she will say.

“This exercise is a wonderful example of the trust between our nations, and how our networked engagement across the Indo-Pacific complements our bilateral relationships.”