Sometimes the Australia-New Zealand rivalry just goes too far. It’s one thing to bitch and moan for decades about bowling a grubber, but trying to outdo each other in having the lamest defence policy is quite another. New Zealand cut its air force back to a bloke with a .22 hanging out the door of a Cessna… and Australia got the Albanese government to review its defence spending.

Labor will boost Defence spending by $50bn over the next decade and claw back $72bn from dumped weapons programs to pay for new submarines, ships, missiles and drones, as the government seeks to deter an increasingly aggressive China.

The swath of cuts includes a ­decision not to proceed with an extra squadron of F-35 joint strike fighters, saving $3bn, and the cancellation of two large support vessels for the navy that would have cost $4.1bn.

Defence will get $330bn worth of new weapons systems over 10 years, including long-range missiles, air and maritime drones, and enhanced air ­defences, to deny potential adversaries the ability to attack the Australian mainland or deployed Australian forces

The Australian

Sound impressive? Maybe — until you see through the pea-and-shells gambit.

Defence Minister Richard Marles is a like an ageing carnival magician: he keeps performing the same four-card trick, hoping his audience never gets wise to the old-fashioned and obvious trickery.

Marles is playing the same gambit as Julia Gillard did, when she announced the NDIS. The scheme, Gillard claimed, was “fully-costed”. But the truth was that only the first couple of modest years were costed — the rest, the bulk of the spending, was pushed out beyond the Forward Estimates, meaning that Gillard avoided any mention of the real cost of the total scheme. A decade later, we know: it’s now the single most expensive item on the government books — bigger than Medicare or Aged Pensions — and growing exponentially.

Marles is trying the same trick.

Look a little closer at the figures. The increase over the next four years, the budget forward estimates, is just $5.7bn. So 90 per cent of the alleged increase in defence spending occurs after the forward estimates, almost all of it in the ­latter part of the decade ahead. That means the government will start to increase defence expenditure meaningfully in its third and fourth terms, if by some miracle it gets a third or fourth term.

Which hardly seems in keeping with the government’s declaration of a critical defence emergency.

Marles himself told us that our strategic circumstances, which the government had already declared the worst since World War II, had deteriorated further in the past 12 months. The response to that is to increase defence expenditure in the next four years by about 2.4 per cent a year.

Marles’s defence policy is ­riddled with contradictions and illogicality. He says we no longer have a 10-year warning period. Our circumstances have become urgently worse. Yet he’s not going to do anything that delivers significant results within 10 years.

But… but… the drones!

Here’s what Marles had to say about drones: “We have all seen the prevalence of drones in combat, including Ukraine and the Red Sea. So we are increasing funding for drone and counter-drone capabilities. To make this happen, we are providing an additional $300m over the next four years and $1.1bn over the decade”.

A billion dollars over 10 years? That’s our drone effort? By golly, our enemies will tremble at that […]

This monumental con job is an attempt to construct an excuse for doing nothing now, by promising to do something in 10 years. It’s ­irresponsible, and it doesn’t remotely meet our strategic needs.

The Australian

Con job? Irresponsible? Not meeting strategic needs? That could describe nearly every Australian government of the past few decades.

Australia has lost 15 years of critical strategic advantage by “dropping the ball” on submarines in an era of a rising China, says Mike Pezzullo, formerly the country’s most powerful bureaucrat and author of the 2009 defence white paper.

Breaking his silence on the issue of submarines for the first time, Mr Pezzullo said the Defence Department and governments from both sides of politics would be judged harshly for their failure to build more Collins-class submarines when they had the chance. “Defence should have been held accountable for this from mid-2009 … that was 15 years ago,” Mr Pezzullo said […]

Neither the Rudd-Gillard Labor governments or the Abbott-Turnbull Coalition governments acted on the plan, leaving Australia with its current fleet of six ageing Collins-class boats.

To his credit, Scott Morrison did much to create new strategic partnerships, from the Quad informal alliance, to the AUKUS alliance, complete with a pledge to acquire US nuclear submarines. But that acquisition is decades away — leaving a handful of ageing Collins class subs to fill the void till then.

“(We) could have gone to (more) Collins because it still would have been quite new then … and ultimately mixing it with successor nuclear boats that would leave us in a much better state than we find ourselves with the Collins workhorses (now) having to be extended and 50 years old by the time (nuclear boats arrive).

“The thing that kills you in strategy, and certainly in defence planning, is lost time; regrettably we’ve got too much lost time that one day must be accounted for.”

The Australian

And, as Allied governments in thrall to the disarmament mania of the 1920s and 30s found, re-arming in haste at the last minute is a disastrous recipe for near-defeat in the face of an enemy who had no hesitation about re-arming.

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In the last decade...