‘$200b of exports, 30 defence personnel’: Defence Alliance backs calls for more defence personnel in NW

Cain AndrewsBroome Advertiser
North West Defence Alliance spokesperson Geoff Haerewa.
Camera IconNorth West Defence Alliance spokesperson Geoff Haerewa. Credit: Jakeb Waddell/Broome Advertiser/Broome Advertiser

Concerns over the vulnerability of Australia’s North West to military aggression have resurfaced, with WA Defence Industry Minister Paul Papalia calling for more military assets to be stationed in the region.

It comes as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Defence Minister Richard Marles announced on August 3 a “vital” sweeping strategic review of the Australian Defence Force, set to be the first in 10 years.

Minster Papalia warned the capability to defend WA was greater during World War II, when Broome was attacked by Japanese bombers, than now.

“Now is the time for a major rethink about where Australia’s Defence Forces are located. WA is essentially undefended, apart from the Navy,” Mr Papalia said.

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“The Army has no regular combat elements in WA other than the Special Air Service regiment and the Air Force has no warfighting capability in WA.

“WA generates the vast majority of export revenue for the nation, most of it originates from the Pilbara and we have no defence presence there other than a very good, but understrength and under-armed reserve unit.”

And Mr Papalia is not alone in his concerns.

The North West Defence Alliance, an advocacy group made up of representatives from nine local governments around the North West, called for missile defence systems to be placed in the North West earlier this year.

North West Defence Alliance spokesperson Geoff Haerewa said it was “about time” the ADF conducted a strategic review.

“The Pilbara produces between 40 and 50 percent of the other country’s income and yet we only have four per cent of military personnel based in WA,” he said.

Mr Haerewa also said the military bases in the North West haven’t been properly utilised.

“They haven’t been used, in our eyes, the way they should be used,” he said.

“They should be manned permanently and used as a deterrent for any foreign forces that are wanting to flex their muscles coming down this way.”

His concerns were echoed by City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long who, when speaking to the Pilbara News recently, said there was $200 billion in exports in the Pilbara defended by 30 personnel.

“I always use the example in Townsville, where there used to be 8000 defence personnel, they change all the time,” he said.

“You’ve got 8000 defence personnel guarding the Great Barrier Reef and you’ve got $200b worth of export income coming out of the Pilbara and we’ve got 30.

“So it doesn’t seem quite right. Everyone actually agrees but it’s a big step between doing more and making these things happen.”

Following Mr Papalia’s comments, China launched missiles in the Taiwan Strait during training exercises on August 4, thought to be in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s diplomatic visit to Taiwan on August 2.

Premier Mark McGowan described the Chinese reaction to the visit as “over the top”, urged Beijing to “calm down” and said he was concerned with rising tensions in the region.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong also condemned China’s actions.

Two convoys of Royal Australian Air Force personnel from Darwin arrived at RAAF Base Curtin on August 9 for Exercise Pitch Black, which will involve 2500 people and 100 aircraft from Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, India and Singapore.

On August 8 Mr Papalia also announced a $1.19 million dollar investment in developing defence technologies with universities across WA.

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