National security wrap: budget special

Intelligence and policing

AFP and ASIO get funding boost

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Federal Police have received $570 million over five years for counterterrorism and counter-intelligence operations. The AFP will receive $512.8 million, much of which is earmarked for improving digital surveillance capabilities. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says the AFP is conducting seven times more counterterror operations than it was five years ago.

Foreign interference in focus

A ‘foreign interference threat assessment centre’ will be established within ASIO as part of a broader $35 million effort to bolster intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ efforts against foreign interference. New cybersecurity teams and a cybersecurity response fund will be established by the Australian Signals Directorate to defend against cyberattacks. Interestingly, $8.5 million has been set aside to fund the prosecution of suspected foreign agents.

Child sex offender register to be established

Almost $8 million has been allocated for a national public register of child sex offenders, to be managed by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. The register will enable the public to identify convicted child sex offenders, giving access to their names, photos, dates of birth and general details about their crimes.


Show me the money

Though the federal government is close to pushing defence spending to 2% of GDP in 2020–21, that would require a 5.3% increase in real terms—around $3 billion—from 2019–20. Defence received a modest increase of 1.2% in real terms over the last financial year. Its allocation this year reaches $38.7 billion, hovering just above 1.9% of GDP.

Defence acquisition and shipbuilding

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne announced that the development of the submarine shipyard at Osborne North in Adelaide will continue, alongside the $535 million redevelopment of the frigate shipyard at Osborne South, which is scheduled for completion in 2020 in time for the start of construction of the Hunter-class frigates. Spending on the frigates will more than double next year from $222 million to $492 million as the project gathers momentum. Spending on offshore patrol vessels is also ramping up.

Defence will spend nearly $2.4 billion in 2019-20 for further purchases of F-35 fighters. At this stage, the government has approved the acquisition of 72 of the multi-role jets. Also, the remaining four of 12 Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will be delivered in 2019–20 with $360 million of the $5.4 billion project cost to be spent in the coming financial year.

Defeat of Islamic State cuts ADF costs

The defeat of Islamic State ground forces in Syria and Iraq has allowed spending on Operation Okra to decrease from $306.5 million to $269.3 million. Overall the cost of operations in the Middle East has declined from $792.7 million to $703.6 million.

Cost of military operations in the Philippines revealed

Under Operation Augury, Australia provided military assistance to the Philippines at the height of the Marawi crisis, assisting in fighting against terrorists who had captured the city. The budget papers reveal that Augury cost Defence $40.1 million last year, up $12.5 million on the cost of its involvement in 2017-18.

Foreign affairs and aid

Australia sharpens Pacific focus

The 2019–20 foreign aid budget includes $2 billion for a new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility, a regional bank designed to help Pacific island states avoid Chinese debt traps. Growing concerns over China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its increasing influence in the Pacific have led Australia to refocus its commitment to the region.

Cuts to overseas aid

Aid funding will be cut by $117 million in 2019–20. Direct bilateral aid to Pakistan will decrease from $39 million to $19 million. Other countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Nepal will also receive less financial support.

Australia has also cut funding for measures intended to tackle climate change like the Green Climate Fund. But it’s not all doom and gloom, funding for a range of global health and education programs has increased significantly.

The government says foreign aid is being used more strategically to fund specific infrastructure and development projects in the region. But non-government organisations and aid groups have criticised the measures, highlighting that there have been six consecutive cuts to Australia’s aid budget in the past decade.

Funding allocated to Jerusalem office

The budget includes $3.9 million over five years to establish a trade and defence office in West Jerusalem. Last year, the government  was heavily criticised for announcing it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but decided against immediately doing so.

Immigration and border security

Government to close newly re-opened detention centre

The government will close the Christmas Island detention centre before 1 July, just weeks after reopening it at a cost of more than $185 million. The centre was reopened in response to the passage of medical evacuation legislation which ensured that refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru could be evacuated to Australia to receive urgent medical treatment.

A total of $178.9 million was committed to cover the costs of transferring people from Nauru and Manus Island for treatment, $3.2 million was allocated to increase the Australian Federal Police presence on Christmas Island and a further $3 million was set aside to reinforce the Operation Sovereign Borders ‘offshore strategic communications campaign’.

Refugee support services hit

Refugee support services have been dealt a $77.9 million blow in the budget. New arrivals will need to wait one year to access Centrelink’s job search program, as opposed to six months under the previous scheme. It’s estimated that 3,200 refugees will be affected by these changes each year. The government has also committed $64.2 million to ‘social cohesion’ programs, which will provide funding for sport, language and community activities that ‘foster belonging and break down barriers to social and economic participation’.

Immigration intake cut by 30,000

A cut to immigration numbers will reduce the cap on Australia’s intake from 190,000 to 160,000 per year. These measures are meant to complement the building of $15 billion worth of ‘congestion-busting’ roads and rail lines. The goal is to ensure sustainable population growth in major cities. Skilled migrants will be encouraged to settle in regional areas through the use of new visas.