Western Australia's key role in Indian Ocean defence and security
The 2022 Indian Ocean Defence and Security Conference Beyond Transits: The emerging security relevance of the Indian Ocean was hosted at Optus Stadium on 25 and 26 August 2022, and attended by over 500 attendees across government, academia, and the defence industry.
In the context of geo-political competition in the Indo-Pacific, the two-day discussions focussed on the importance of regional cooperation, a strong domestic defence industry, and the strategic importance of Western Australia for engagement in the Indian Ocean region.
The significance of the Indian Ocean to Australia's strategic and security goals
The Indian Ocean region has grown in strategic significance for Australia, and our neighbourhood. China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean was a challenge to Australia’s interests, former Defence Minister Kim Beazley noted in his opening address. For ASEAN neighbours, like Indonesia, it’s in the region’s interest that “no single country exercises hegemony over the Indian Ocean,” as pointed out by Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs to the Vice President of Indonesia.
The growing importance of cooperation
To protect a rules-based international political order, the Indo-Pacific region needed strong cooperation. There was work to do explaining to partners like India, Japan and ASEAN that partnerships such as AUKUS would also benefit them.
Chair of the Australian Defence Strategic Review Stephen Smith said Indonesia must be a priority relationship for Australia’s regional cooperation, and across all sorts of sectors – education, research and innovation, the commercial sector, and the defence industry.
The strategic position of Western Australia
Western Australia’s location was central to Australia’s defence. And the state had an important role to play in Australia’s defence industry, with its abundant resources, strong industrial base, and capabilities in space, cyber, remote operations, and robotics. And with WA in economic surplus, the time was right to grow the defence industry in the state, Premier Mark McGowan argued.
Perth USAsia Centre CEO Professor Gordon Flake reiterated the key takeaways from the two-day conference: the quickening pace of geopolitical change; the diversity of viewpoints across the Indo-Pacific (including on the strategic alliances that would best serve the region), and the unique role Western Australia had to play both in driving engagement in the Indian Ocean region and specifically in supporting Australia’s defence industry.