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Australia Reviews Military Deployment to Better Protect Oil Assets

Towers and smokestacks are silhouetted at an oil refinery in Melbourne (2010 file photo)
Towers and smokestacks are silhouetted at an oil refinery in Melbourne (2010 file photo)

Australia has begun a review of its military capabilities that could lead to a new focus on the country's resource-rich northwestern coast. Defense Minister Stephen Smith says the reassessment was not being conducted to counter China's rising military might, insisting that Canberra is confident that Beijing will emerge as “a responsible stakeholder.”

Australia’s reevaluation of its military is called "The Force Posture Review." It will consider whether defense resources should be relocated to protect valuable oil and gas facilities in Australia's sparsely populated north. Defense Minister Stephen Smith says it is also important to ensure Australia is prepared to respond to security challenges and natural disasters across the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region.

Smith rejected suggestions that the assessment was being undertaken in part because of China’s military growth or its territorial disputes in the south China Sea. The minister stressed that Canberra has had strong ties with Beijing dating back to the 1970s. China is Australia’s largest trading partner.

The review will be the most thorough appraisal of Australia’s domestic military deployments in four decades.

Smith told reporters Wednesday that the country’s defense assets must be positioned to meet future demands.

“As circumstances change our posture needs to change. So historically for example, in World War II with the Brisbane line we saw that places like Townsville and Cairns, Darwin and Perth were essentially secondary defense areas," he said. "That can no longer be the case with the growing significance of the Indian Ocean, the growing significance of the Asia-Pacific and growing demands on Australia to be in a position to assist the Asia-Pacific region in the face of ongoing tsunamis and earthquakes and the like.”

Smith said the project would complement a global defense forces review currently being undertaken by the United States.

Offshore energy projects that are under development off the coast of Western Australia and the Northern Territory are worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The projects supply energy for the country’s domestic needs, as well as lucrative exports across Asia, including liquefied natural gas to China, Japan and South Korea.

Australia has already committed to buying 100 U.S.-built state-of-the-art fighter jets, as well as boosting its submarine fleet.

The review will be undertaken by two of Australia’s most respected national security experts, Dr. Alan Hawke and Rick Smith.