Mike Pezzullo, Home Affairs secretary, is beating the drums of war. Peter Dutton, minister for Defence, talks about the real prospect of conflict over Taiwan. Our relationship with an increasingly militarised China gets tenser by the day. So it’s little surprise that this budget was a generous one for the defence force and national security agencies.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg flagged an additional $1.9 billion for national security, law enforcement and intelligence services in his speech tonight.
“We also need to prepare for a world that is less stable and more contested,” Frydenberg said.
The budget papers highlight just what that commitment looks like. Defence spending is set to rise to $34.4 billion, which represents an increased commitment. Last year, spending was set to increase by 8.2% over the forward estimates. This time around, it’ll go up 1.4% in the next year, but 10.1% until 2024-25.
That reflects last year’s Defence Strategic Update, which presaged (in slightly more sober language) much of Pezzullo’s dire warnings about the terrifying state of the world, and called for a commitment of $270 billion in defence capability over the next decade, which is reflected in this budget.
It’s also a generous budget for Pezzullo’s (current) stomping ground, Home Affairs, which is, importantly, the department which covers the spooks. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) gets $1.3 billion in funding over the next decade, which is intended to “identify and respond to threats in a more complex security environment”.
There’s an extra $51.8 million this year for the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to fight transnational crime, and $464.7 million over the next two years to support immigration detention, both onshore and on Christmas Island, which the government says is to use for removing unlawful non-citizens from Australia.
Staffing numbers are also set to rise over the forward estimates — in the defence force, the department itself, Home Affairs and ASIO.
The Australian Signals Directorate, which confusingly falls under Defence, also saw increased funding this year.
China is barely mentioned in this budget, except to discuss its growth forecasts. But the spectre of China is all over a steady but persistent military buildup.