Aussie Life

Aussie life

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

Indulge yourself with a fascinating read of Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson’s 1911 recommendation for the protection of Australia’s coast. This report he wrote after an arduous nationwide tour that he and a close team completed in 18 months covering every state and territory.

For the protection of Australia – at the time a nation of 4.5 million people – he recommended a fleet of 52 vessels including nine submarines, fourteen cruisers, twelve torpedo boat destroyers and three depot ships. All for the princely sum of $46.5m! Interestingly, he also recommended the fleet be increased proportionally with the increase in population.

111 years later, with a population of 26 million, Australia now has a naval fleet of only 49 vessels, 70 per cent of which are quite small and many are non-combatant. Our submarines are diesel-electric, no match for a nuclear sub in operating range or capability, and not remotely considered as a deterrent by any likely enemy.

Henderson also recommended bolstering port facilities to host military vessels and provide effective coverage of our exposed northern borders, the likely landing stage of any would be invaders. As a marine consultant to Atsic (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission) for twenty years, I have visited most of the remote communities in the north, and the only sign of coastal protection is the local population of crocodiles, sharks and venomous sea snakes.

Admiral Henderson proposed a fleet of four armoured cruisers, and five smaller cruisers to be based at Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, which is presently Australia’s area of highest border incursions. Today, there is not one naval vessel based at Thursday Island. Go figure !

Ten years ago I suggested in a column pro-active moves by Australian Defence on Daru, a PNG port just 7 nautical miles from our national border in Torres Strait. That horse has bolted with Chinese investment funds.  Now Australia is investing Defence funds in the backdoor port of Madang on PNG’s northern coast, unlikely to be helpful when an enemy is already at the front door. Hello? Is anyone home?

Without hesitation we should apply a tax-free zone in the north of Cape York, to immediately populate the area together with good quality housing to attract tourists, businesses and of course, border protection forces. This successful strategy was done by Malaysia who designated a tax-free zone in their northernmost town Langkawi, on the border of Thailand.


Combining more ships, ports and regional tax incentives is an essential northern policy strategy for any potential prime minister.

The last three decades in Australia has seen the empowerment of the greens, a poisonous group totally uninterested in the environment, but focussed on stripping not only the nation’s wealth, but the nation’s ability to defend itself. Aided by a one-billion-dollar marketing machine the ABC, the greens and their various guises, EPA, EPBC, Coastal Protection, a collective army of thousands of bureaucrats, have encapsulated the whole coastline in national parks, marine parks, sensitive fish habitats, and assorted biosecurity claptrap. Our weak and gullible federal and state leaders bought the storyline, and not one of them saw or can see the greens’ bigger picture.

To even put a small load-out facility such as a barge ramp for commercial vessels, takes five to seven years of EPA permitting as well as a fee structure that helps justify their lazy existence.  Trump’s decision to wind back EPA rules and regulations in his first days of the presidency opened up the US economy from this particular stranglehold.

Defence, and Navy in particular, during times of peace, is generally the first casualty in budget cuts as per Julia Gillard’s example.

There are significant enemies looming on the horizon, and we have to unshackle the nation from the obstructions of green nonsense.

Sensible Western governments have their defence fleet capability significantly enhanced by ‘dormant charters’ of commercial vessels. The Falklands War was a classic case where ships taken up from trade (STUFT) totalled 45 vessels. The main transport task of materials and equipment was carried out by passenger and cargo ships, totalling 21 vessels, all of which were fitted with helipads prior to departure to the war zone.

Facing budget challenges after decades of bickering and weak leadership and spiralling Covid debt, our nation should focus on financially effective dormant chartering of newer coastal vessels capable of multi-tasking, i.e. containers, roll-on roll-off cargoes and fuel.  Dormant charters are pre-signed at an agreed rate, so that in the event of conflict or emergency response, the vessel comes under naval control at an hour’s notice.

South Pacific Nations including Australia and New Zealand have a variety of coastal commercial vessels of 60-80 metres. Smart experienced people with ‘war wounds’ know regional emergency response and defence issues will require archipelagic designs and suggest governments should incentivise operators by funding new coastal commercial vessels to have six extra cabins for military personnel, helipad and missile capability, a communications centre, but most importantly, beach landing capability and axle loadings for M1 tanks

A really significant benefit of such an arrangement is the elimination of Navy’s tedious and expensive selection process which often results in the acquisition of ‘dud’ designs. The LCM 2000 is a classic example and people in the know were signalling the uselessness of these vessels six years in advance. After tens of millions of taxpayers dollars wasted in this exercise, these vessels were quietly palmed off for a song to unsuspecting holiday resort owners in Queensland.

A secondary benefit of dormant charters is that these proven designs are already manned with experienced and qualified crews, eliminating a problem that Navy already has. Treasury would easily ascertain that this is a very economic way to boost border protection capability and active training facilities.

Imagine if you will, the Border Protection fleet being effectively doubled in size without anyone crawling for budget approval. Logistically a highly mobilised fleet accessing all small ports, improves the frontline options for emergency response, border protection and defence as a whole.

Can someone with the vision of Admiral Henderson and a bit of spine make a simple thing like this happen in Australia and our close South Pacific neighbours?

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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