Statement on Army restructure
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) must be ready to defend Australia. They are the ones who are trained to fight and win our wars. The ADF has a vital mission, and failure is not an option.
To prevail in a crisis, the ADF need our support—from the Government, from the Parliament and from the Australian people. The ADF must have clarity from its elected leaders.
Clarity about the threats we face. Clarity about the national strategy. Clarity about the mission. Clarity about capabilities. Clarity about funding. Clarity about resolve. Yet, so far, we’ve seen little clarity from the Albanese government. Instead, we’ve seen dithering and indecision.
The Defence Strategic Review (DSR) painted a deteriorating strategic environment for Australia, yet the Albanese government response was underwhelming. There was no new money. Instead, there was cost-shifting. There was cannibalisation of capability. There were yet more reviews. The DSR hinted at a smaller, shrunken Australian army under Labor.
Today’s announcement about the relocation of Army units to Darwin, Townsville and Adelaide confirms that Labor intend to shrink and disperse the Australian Army. This will make us weaker.
We need to be investing in Army, our people, and combat power. Instead we are shrinking our land forces to one armoured brigade. That means we only have one hand to play in a high intensity conflict.
This decision disintegrates the Adelaide based 9th Brigade, through the redeployment of the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) to Darwin and the removal and consolidation of personnel and armoured equipment to Townsville.
The shrinking of armour is a consequence of the cuts imposed by the Albanese Government to the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) program from 450 to 129. These cuts to Australian armour degrade our land power and weaken our ability to win the close fight. Only fools would rule out the use of armour in future ground wars, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. We ignore military history at our peril.
The Opposition recognises the strategic importance of Northern Australia. We acknowledge our deteriorating strategic circumstances—as we did in the former Coalition government—through the Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan of 2020. Which is why we disagree with this weak approach by Labor.
The Australian Army will be impacted by this decision. Our soldiers and their families will face serious disruptions to family life, schooling, local connections, networks and spousal employment. This will damage morale.
The ADF is struggling to recruit and retain people. It is clear that Labor has no plan for our personnel and their families. We have no details on how the move will be supported by additional housing and infrastructure, and the impact on the communities affected.
Questions that need to be answered include:
- How will the Labor government recruit and retain people for Northern Australia?
- What incentives will be offered for service in the north?
- What is the plan to address the chronic housing shortage?
- What additional funding will be needed for base upgrades?
- What will the innovation and experimentation unit do?
- How will we retain our armoured warfare expertise without tanks?
Without clear answers to these questions, we can expect to see higher separation rates from the ADF. In 2022, ADF numerical strength was 2.7% below guidance. In 2023, that shortfall is expected to double to 5.6% below guidance. We are meant to see the force grow to 62,000 people but under the Albanese Government real numbers will be 3,500 short.
Our people must come first. They are our greatest asset in national defence. Investing in Army, retaining and bolstering presence in our capital cities, and giving certainty to our serving families should be Labor’s focus.