The forthcoming Defence White Paper will be released in “due course”, Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne told an Estimates hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee on October 21.
“The White Paper will be released in due course at a time of choosing of the government,” Senator Payne said in response to questions from Shadow Defence Minister Senator Stephen Conroy.
“As I indicated to a number of our colleagues earlier, the White Paper is with government. We have a new Prime Minister, we have several new members on the National Security Committee, including myself. I think it is fit and proper that those individuals have the opportunity to properly examine the documents and the work that has been done to this point. That is under due consideration.”
Separately Peter Baxter, the Defence Department’s Deputy Secretary Strategic Policy, refuted a media report suggesting the White Paper had to be substantially rewritten to accommodate the government’s continuous shipbuilding plan announced on August 4.
“Is it the case that changes made to the Defence White Paper to reflect the government’s ship building announcements are one cause for the delay in the White Paper’s release?” Senator Conroy asked.
“As I mentioned, the development of a naval ship building plan has been an integral part of the White Paper process itself. So it is not as if it were a separate element that was brought in at the last minute. We had been working on naval ship building as an integral element of the force structure development process,” Baxter said.
“So you deny that your testimony is that there was almost no impact whatsoever on the drafting process as a consequence of 4 August?” questioned Senator Conroy.
“I did not say that. I said earlier that there were some minor adjustments that we made to the force structure, but there were no major changes made to the force structure, which has been developed as part of the White Paper process following the government’s decisions on ship building in August.”
Finally, also in response to questioning from Senator Conroy, Defence Department Secretary Dennis Richardson clarified remarks made by Kevin Andrews on September 20 ahead of being replaced as Minister for Defence that the White Paper was “finalised and ready for release”.
“As of that date it was neither finalised nor ready for release and that is a statement of fact,” Richardson said.
“It is a very important issue. To say the White Paper is finalised and ready for release – if I take that in its literal meaning, and there could have well have been a broader meaning – and in being asked a question on it I believe I do have to correct it simply as a matter of fact and nothing else.”