Massive military spending: Election distraction?


ABOVE: HMAS Darwin enters Darwin Harbour passing HMAS Coonawarra as it proceeds to come alongside Fort Hill Wharf, Darwin, for the last time before decommissioning in December 2017. (Department of Defence photo.) BELOW: KC-30 refuelling aircraft.




Youth crime, phenomenal Budget blow-out and COVID-19 move over: The August 22 election has a new issue the voters can expect to be harangued with.


It’s the supposed fortunes from defence spending, $8 billion in the NT over 10 years, mostly in the Top End, part of a staggering increase by $270 billion across the nation.


It’s being touted by Territory and Federal leaders in the way that Michael Gunner promotes most projects,  including the national Aboriginal art gallery in Alice Springs: We need it because our tradies need the work.


Of course, the massive military boost has the troubling aspect of making money from creating assets to be used for killing people, but ethical questions are neither raised nor answered.


The people of the Territory had scant opportunity for a say on these matters before they were told by Scott Morrison and Mr Gunner, mostly during this week, what’s going to happen on their patch.


“Defence” spending is hardly the appropriate way to describe it; “offence” sounds more like it: Tindal air base will be upgraded “to support a squadron of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, KC-30 refuelling aircraft and a number of forward deployed, MQ-4C unmanned aircraft” – the latter also known as drones which Australia’s American ally uses for not infrequent extra-judicial assassinations in several countries which we are not at war with.



KC-30s have a range of nearly 12,000 kilometres, capable of flying almost as far as Beijing and back, which gives them an enormous operational radius from Tindal (see image, Department of Defence).


The current media releases dealing with “US Enhanced Air Cooperation initiative” and “US Force Posture Initiatives” as well as “closer interoperability with US forces” in these military developments, and especially mentioning the capacity of the Australian Defence Forces “to operate further towards our northern approaches” and “for national defence and as a forward base for regional engagement” all beg the question: Are we gearing up for defence or attack?


The involvement of the Territory public in the decision making has been minimal, according to two Central Australian Members of the Legislative Assembly, Chansey Paech (Labor, Namatjira, now also the Speaker), and Scott McConnell (formerly Labor, now Independent in Stuart, and standing in Braitling in August).


Mr Paech, who has the US-Australian military base Pine Gap in his electorate, when asked by the Alice Springs News supported his government’s economic arguments but is frank about the limited consultation that has taken place.


Mr McConnell, who was sacked from the Labor Caucus by Mr Gunner for being critical of certain policies, is blunt when asked how much the Caucus has been told about the military build-up: “Nothing, absolutely zero. We were not informed. The Cabinet would know.”


He says the public has not been asked if it is a “willing participant in the further militarisation of the north.


“A lot of Territorians don’t agree,” says Mr McConnell.


The NT is home to more than 6,000 defence personnel, including ADF permanent and reserve members and Australian Public Service employees, spending $2 billion in 2018 to 2019, or around 7.6% of the gross state product.


There are up to 2500 US Marines in the Top End.


Mr Paech, who in the August election will be standing in Gwoja in the western half of the NT (south from Victoria River to the SA border), says the Chief Minister has “carriage of those defence conversations.


“I’ve had no negative reactions from constituents when the Chief Minister has spoken about this in his year ahead speech in Alice Springs [and] when the government has made those statements.


“I’ve not had adverse reports back to me.


“We’re accepting the Commonwealth’s investment into the Territory about which the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister had an ongoing dialogue,” says Mr Paech.


MQ-4C drone to be flown from Tindal.


“The Chief Minister has often spoken about the economic benefits. The [planned] ship lift will be used to service Navy ships. There is money, people’s jobs.”


NEWS: Foreign military ships as well?


PAECH: I’m not privy to this. I don’t have a portfolio. I am not in Cabinet. If constituents want to know I am always happy to get the information for them.


NEWS: Has there been a specific, deliberate effort by the NT Government to seek consent from the public for a major military upgrade?


PAECH: Katherine and Tindal are not my area. I don’t know what consultation has taken place with the local community. Tindal was established as a military facility, locking in the potential for future growth and development.


NEWS: For American air tankers?


PAECH: That’s part of the consultation, one would assume it would have happened when we first reached an agreement for the United States to have a presence in Darwin.


NEWS: With the current boost in military spending in the Territory, has the Government made an effort to consult with the whole population?


PAECH: I’ve not been involved at that level. I would suspect we welcome that investment. It brings with it a large economic opportunity.


NEWS: Was the Caucus consulted about this?


PAECH: The discussion around the United States military having a presence in Darwin has existed long before I was a local Member.


NEWS: During your four years in Parliament, has that issue been a prime issue in Caucus?


PAECH: No. The issues that come to Caucus are things like remote housing, roads, the economy.


NEWS: To what degree would Mr Gunner rely on the upturn of the economy flowing from this massive increase in defence spending?


PAECH: That’s a question for Michael.


NEWS: What do you think?


PAECH: I would think it is a welcomed opportunity, but the Government has done significant work to diversify the economy and make it stronger.


Mr Paech made it clear that he is always prepared to take views and messages from constituents to the Government.


Mr McConnell says he suspects the Federal spend is mostly re-directing money from other areas, not new money.


He is adamant that NT claims of massive economic benefits are “absolute garbage” as “military construction is highly specialised” and mostly beyond the scope of local operators.


“There is no magic carpet flying in.”


Mr McConnell says the NT public and even the Labor Caucus would have had “absolutely no say” in these military issues. Advice from the Federal Government would have gone little beyond a “courtesy phone call”.


Defence Minister Linda Reynolds (pictured) says over the 12 months to March this year “Defence has invested around $500m in the NT, including support for the Jindalee Operational Radar Network at Harts Range and Mt Everard (about 305 jobs); sustainment elements for the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter fleet supporting around 55 jobs and sustainment, maintenance and repair for the Armidale class patrol boats (around 145 jobs).



UPDATE July 7 at 9.30am


The Alice Springs News asked the  Department of Defence: The Australian Government will be spending in the NT $8 billion over 10 years. How much will the US Government be spending?


The department replied: “To date, the United States Government has awarded four construction contracts for USFPI infrastructure projects worth US$101.785m in the Northern Territory.”


The locations (all apparently in the Top End) are shown on a map on the department’s website which has the following caption: “The Australian and US governments have agreed to invest about A$2 billion on a range of capital infrastructure works and supporting arrangements to assist with implementation of the Initiatives.”





  1. A de-facto Federal takeover of hapless NT politics: Get smart and own Darwin Harbour.

  2. So we are getting ready for war in the NT, a nice little WWIII concocted by sweet Minister Reynolds?
    A defence (or offence) presence to assist our for ever allies the USA in the Pacific?
    All these millions and billions for the upgrade of Tindal or Jindalee?
    How does this profit the people on the ground, in the bush, how does it allow better performance for our school kids?
    How does it reduce the drama of bushfires, the too hot and to long summers and cold winters, or floods after droughts – I am referring to global warming for those who wonder and the lack of actual policy to survive more than the next 50 years.
    To what extent we the people have a say in the matter?
    At the elections of August 22 who is the leader who will represent us Territorians at the COAG that bears now another name? Many questions.
    Please give me some answers.

  3. Hong Kong is now an integral part of the Peoples Republic of China. No more will foreign interference be tolerated.
    Japan has cancelled participation in the US’s Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System.
    The South China Sea is open for all commercial traffic, but it is controlled by China.
    The “containment” of China is simply not happening.
    Instead of acknowledging this new geopolitical reality, we persist with doomed and demented projects like Five Eyes and the Angle-Zionist Empire of Chaos.
    The US likes Australia. They get to tell us what to do.
    And Chansey Paech seems to have a lot of excuses for not knowing anything.

  4. Billions to be spent? Great, we should all be able to get a job then and make a living. Darwin will benefit greatly, not sure about Alice.

  5. We will not feel the economic benefits for years from this projected estimates funds, maybe not at all with weirdo fracking people. It’s up to the people on these issues, economic enterprise and prosperity or weirdo anxiety affected that creates high unemployment and extreme poverty. Your choice, NT.

  6. Maya, what higher purpose does the democratically elected government of Australia have which is greater than national defence?
    I am more than happy for my tax dollars to go to the cause of keeping Australia safe. That is job number one.
    If you prefer a government that will instead raise taxes and spend it all on social outcomes such as education, housing and health – well that is your choice to vote those people in.
    But Australia as a whole obviously doesn’t have an appetite for that. I can educate my children with or without taxpayers’ involvement. What I cannot do is buy and operate a missile system. That is what governments are for.
    To believe that China does not or will not pose a threat to our way of life is naive in the extreme.

  7. We have been blindsided by China and will be forced to take crash courses in Mandarin.
    China is after our resources – rare earths in particular and both China and USA are fighting for the same thing for both consumer electronics and defence.
    Without rare earths no missile or fighter works and China has control of around 80% of the world supply.
    Their methods of mining them are an environmental disaster, and the USA has been caught with their pants down. (Look at Mountain Pass in the USA and the American strategic metals policy.)
    Both China and the US have lasers that can bring an aircraft down 50 km away. They have set up “naval bases” posing as tourist resorts in Cambodia New Hebrides, Sri Lanka and Mongolia and an airfield in WA supposedly to train civilian pilots.
    Now they are heading for conflict with Russia over Vladivostok.
    They will collar the box market for beef in Queensland with their proposed abattoir in North Queensland (Huenden) and put trade restrictions on the Australian meat producers just as they have done with barley.
    We were recently accused by the Chinese ambassador of being “non compliant”.
    I thought it was all hype until last year in Fiji there was a Chinese surveillance ship with several hi tech dishes from bow to stern and was told that Chinese have lent $300m to Fiji for infrastructure, and removed a lot of bauxite.
    The “loan” has to be repaid in US$. Fishing agreements? One sided! We are naive in the extreme.
    When the Government closed own the HF radio recently they also closed much of the Radio Australia network in the Pacific and guess who took up the bandwidth.
    Look at what is happening on the China Indian border to see what may well come here.

  8. What concerns me is September 2020: What happens when Job Keeper is reviewed and business will need to make a decision on closing a failed business due to the recession we are in?
    Also, it really is a selfish mind that puts out their petty ideologies in front of kids who will suffer the most from abject poverty.
    Jobseeker will be reduced to poverty status as before.
    Any business needs help now and I as everyone else who breathes wants a cleaner environment, but reality must be realised, putting food on the table and feeding our kids at this point in time is the priority.
    Australia is in a huge recession, we thought a Corona Virus pandemic would never happen? These fracking people make me wonder what planet they are living on? I believe they are about to be awoken.

  9. So the government can spend billions on the military, whilst our hospitals and primary health care struggle for funding? So arms corporations get richer? Wake up, Australia.


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