Billions more in military spending won’t be enough to counter China: Morrison

Former prime minister Scott Morrison has argued Australia’s military spending should increase by billions of dollars a year to counter China.

However, he warned bolstering Australia’s defences would not be enough to protect the nation in the event of a conflict with the Asian superpower, stressing stronger ties with countries such as the United States and India were key.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison speaks during a symposium of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China in Tokyo last month.Credit:Eugene Hoshiko/AP

“Being prepared isn’t just having your own capability. It’s having the interlocking alignments and alliances that actually provide a counterbalance,” he said in an interview on Sky News.

“We’re a country of just over 25 million people. Their defence budget is multiple, multiple, multiple times that of Australia’s.

“The best outcome is there is no such conflict.”

Morrison, whose firm stance towards China’s increasing assertiveness in the region led to retaliatory trade strikes and a diplomatic standoff, stated defence spending should grow from just under 2 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent or more.

He said it was difficult to predict if, or when, China would seek to use force to claim Taiwan, a democratic nation that rejects China’s claim to the island. Some analysts, including Australia’s new ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd, say a conflict drawing in Australia could occur within years.

China would have been jolted, Morrison argued, by Russia’s difficulty in capturing key territory in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signalled last month he wanted yearly defence spending, which currently sits at $48.7 billion, to grow above 2 per cent of GDP, adding to the strain on Australia’s budget.

The Chinese government announced on Sunday it would increase defence spending by 7 per cent this year to $330 billion.

Discussing the AUKUS defence pact he helped enact in 2021, Morrison said he would support Australia acquiring a future submarine fleet from the United Kingdom rather than America. This differed from the position of Opposition Leader and former Morrison government defence minister Peter Dutton, who last week argued against British submarines.

In a broad-ranging interview, the pandemic-era prime minister also refused to criticise state governments for extended lockdowns, but emphasised his preference for the approach of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, who he said took a balanced path to COVID-19 mitigation.

Morrison claimed the body of state and federal chief health officers, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), never advised governments to enact vaccine mandates except for those in aged care and hospitals. Some states imposed mandates on other essential workers such as teachers and barred unvaccinated people from entering cafes or retail venues.

“I don’t regret the need to have the country vaccinated – that was incredibly important,” he said. “When it comes to the mandates … the federal government did not support any other mandate at all.

“Individual states went down that path … AHPPC never recommended those broader mandates should be applied.”

Morrison said his Christian faith helped him retain a positive attitude to public life after his election loss in May last year.

“My faith informs a lot of that,” he said when asked why he had not engaged in criticism of the Labor government or other political enemies since losing. “I’m just grateful, that’s my honest view.”

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