Australia signals Indo-Pacific focus for Five Eyes

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds says Australian-US cooperation will be about coordinating the nation's respective Indo-Pacific strategies, with an emphasis on developing "complementarities" and building self-reliance.

Australia has signalled a potential shift in the strategy underlying its alliance with the US as part of the so-called Five Eyes nations, as well as more generally.

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According to new Defence Minister Senator Linda Reynolds, Australia's "mateship" with the US "matters a great deal". However it's not just about the mutual support obligations in the ANZUS Treaty, first signed in 1951 during the early stages of the Cold War.

"It is about ensuring the alliance is more focused on, and responsive to, shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific," Reynolds said in her speech to the Australian Strategic Police Institute (ASPI) "War in 2025" conference in Canberra on Thursday.

"It is now about coordinating implementation of our respective Indo-Pacific strategies," she said.

"And it is about determining where we can have a better combined effect, particularly with our five eyes partners, where we need to develop complementarities, and where we must build self-reliance."

Along with Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Reynolds will be reinforcing these messages at the forthcoming Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).

"They will help guide how we focus lines of interoperability and where we direct effort to ensure that the alliance's whole remains greater than the sum of its parts -- in terms of the intelligence that guides us, the capability we operate, and the technology that advantages us."

Reynolds reiterated Australia's support of international rules-based norms, but noted that those norms "continue to be challenged".

"More and more frequently, malevolent cyber activity is threatening our security and economic well-being," she said. The "sense of common purpose" that has driven economic liberalisation and regional partnerships "can no longer be taken for granted", and trust is being eroded.

"This is not something the Australian government and people can accept. Especially at times of uncertainty, adherence to rules matters."

This includes "not misusing technology under the cloak of deniability".

But this doesn't mean Australia wants to "preserve the past as a way of shaping the future", Reynolds said.

"New rules also need to be written, especially in relation to potentially disruptive technologies that have advanced faster than have regulations governing their use...

"To this end, rising powers that have a pivotal role in global prosperity -- China and India, in particular -- must play a big part."

Reynolds also said that the Coalition government has "worked hard to put Defence's relationship with industry on a more collaborative footing". She cited the 2017 Naval Shipbuilding Plan and the 2018 Defence Industrial Capability Plan, as well as the establishment of the Australian Defence Export Office.

"This is about more than building a robust, resilient and internationally competitive Australian defence industry base – by placing trust in our industries and our people," she said.

"It is also about ensuring that our industrial base adds to Australia's strategic weight -- by fuelling innovation and developing and nurturing our own sovereign capabilities."

According to Michael Shoebridge, ASPI's Director for Defence and Strategy, Reynolds' speech signals her approach to the portfolio.

"The recognition of the need to test, review, and adjust policies, plans, and investments, I think that sends a message about a very activist minister, with a real agenda," he said.

"The minister is setting a demanding direction for Defence in this term of government."

Shoebridge also highlighted Reynolds' theme of assisting and building self-reliance, both for Australia and in the region, and linking industry policy and the industry base to the nation's strategic weight.

"To me that means a more regionally-focused defence industry policy as part of that broader strategy," he said.

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