The Defence White Paper which was intended to be published before the end of last year is now expected to be published by the end of next month.
POLITIk understands it has been delayed by Treasury demanding more precise information from defence on the financing of its intended big ticket equipment procurements.
Defence is in the market for replacements for the P3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft; the C130 transport aircraft and also, possibly, an additional frigate.
But there are also suggestions the paper’s preparation has been made more difficult by a new attitude in Canberra to the role of New Zealand defence forces within the ANZAC relationship.
That new attitude includes Australia defining its defence relationship with New Zealand in terms of ANZUS.
“We (Australia and New Zealand) are close partners and ANZUS allies,” says Australia’s Defence White Paper released two weeks ago.
But he says the Turnbull government does not mean ANZUS “in all of its former trilateral glory.”
“Nonetheless it has been a little while since the alliance was couched in that way in depicting Australia-New Zealand defence relations.
“No such ANZUS reference, for instance, appeared in either of the White Papers that appeared in the tumultuous years of recent Australian Labor Party governments.
“Moreover, both the Rudd White Paper of 2009 and the Gillard era counterpart of 2013, keep New Zealand in a South Pacific defence box, as if the only relevance to Australia of the bilateral relationship was in the very near neighbourhood.”
Professor Ayson notes that the Australian White Paper makes another reference to working
in partnership with “our alliance partners the United States and New Zealand, friends and like-minded countries to address common threats and security challenges.”
After their February meeting in Sydney, Prime Ministers Malcom Turnbull and John Key appeared to confirm this shift in the way the ANZAC relationship is now operating.
Their communique said: “Prime Ministers affirmed their commitment to close defence and security cooperation.
“They agreed on the benefits of enhancing interoperability between the countries’ defence forces, recognising this would maximise the impact and effectiveness of our contributions to international peace and security and in response to regional emergencies.
“To further enhance strategic cooperation and strengthen responses to domestic security challenges, the Prime Ministers agreed their departmental secretaries would lead an annual dialogue on national security between the heads of Australian and New Zealand policy, intelligence and security agencies.”
But there are areas of difference between New Zealand and Australia on defence policy; most notably China which Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee described last year as a “true strategic partner”.
The Australians in contrast say only that they have a “productive defence relationship” with China.
But they make it clear that they regard their relationship with the US as critical and that it defines their relationship with China.
“The roles of the United States and China and the relationship between them will continue to be the most strategically important factors in the Indo-Pacific region to 2035,” the White Paper says.
“A strong and deep alliance is at the core of Australia’s security and defence planning.
“The United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power and will continue to be Australia’s most important strategic partner.
“Through this Defence White Paper, Australia will seek to broaden and deepen our alliance with the United States, including by supporting its critical role in underpinning security in our region through the continued rebalance of United States military forces.”
The New Zealand White Paper would be highly unlikely to share that analysis, a point that Professor Ayson makes.
“The wordsmiths in MFAT and Defence will need to take even greater care to safeguard the impression that New Zealand’s security policy on China is driven from Wellington and not from Canberra, or Washington.”
Nevertheless Professor Ayson believes Australia’s attitude has important implications for New Zealand.
He says Australia has to pay a strategic and budgetary price for its alliance with the United States.
“Many of the capability choices outlined in the White Paper make sense only for Australia as a close ally and operating partner of the United States,” he says.
“There may be a trans-Tasman version of this issue too.
“To the extent that Australia sees New Zealand as more than a South Pacific defence partner (and to the extent it knows the United States sees us this way too), what capability expectations does it have of Wellington as a more active ally?
“And how big a bill will that mean for Wellington if it is to continue to enjoy Canberra’s support?
“Watching for signs of this coming conversation in New Zealand’s 2016 Defence White Paper will be an interesting exercise.”