‘Need to be prepared’: Hidden warning to China in the Budget

Amid increased discussion from the Australian government of potential military conflict in the region, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg outlined his intent to bolster the nation's defence as he delivered the 2021 Federal Budget.

Echoing recent comments from Defence Minister Peter Dutton, Mr Frydenberg warned the threats posed to Australia's national security "have not gone away".

He pledged an additional $1.9 billion over the next decade for national security, law enforcement and intelligence services in what is another indicator Canberra is readying itself for conflict in the Indo-Pacific.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has given further funds to defence. Source: AAP
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has given further funds to defence. Source: AAP

It follows the government's 2020 commitment of $270 billion for defence over the next decade. Last month, the government said its $747 million commitment to four Australian Defence Force bases in the Northern Territory was to ensure the ADF remained "battle ready".

“We need to be prepared for a world that is less stable and more contested,” he said in his budget speech.

And while not naming China directly like Mr Dutton did in an Anzac Day interview last month, Canberra's continued resistance to Beijing's increased push to enforce its one-China principle on Taiwan will suggest the latest financial backing of Australia's defence makes the Morrison government's position clear.

Members of the honour guard use a string to ensure that they are standing in a straight line, ahead of a welcoming ceremony for Australia's Governor-General Quentin Bryce, hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 17, 2013. 
China itself has committed to bolstering its defence capabilities. Source: Reuters

After all, in a separate Anzac Day address Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo warned the "drums of war are beating" in the region.

His concerns appear to have been heard with The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) receiving $1.3 billion over the next decade in a bid to “identify and respond to threats in a more complex security environment”.

Defence spending comes amid rising tensions

Relations between China and Australia have rapidly deteriorated in the past 18 months, and despite China enforcing a series of trade sanctions in what appeared retaliative moves, Prime Minister Scott Morrison's resolve has failed to waver.

Tensions have flared as Australia criticised China's actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, the South China Sea and Taiwan – all matters Beijing declares as internal matters and ones that do not warrant Australia's input.

Increased discussion of conflict prompted anger from the Opposition, including from Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong who called for a more cautious approach.

Yun Jiang, managing editor at the Australian National University's Center on China in the World, said the government's increased focus on a potential conflict has been fuelled by domestic politics, CNN reported.

"Focusing on an external enemy has usually been quite effective in uniting public sentiment and rallying around the government," she said.

"I think it's irresponsible for the government to talk it up likethat. War is very serious business."

The Morrison government has faced widespread criticism over the nation's stuttering vaccine rollout while parliament was rocked in March by a series of allegations of sexual abuse by ministers and staffers.

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