Linda Reynolds has also spoken of China’s rising influence and a deepening sense of anxiety throughout the Indo-Pacific.
In her first major speech since taking on the portfolio, the minister outlined new forms of pressure on national sovereignty.
Addressing the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, Senator Reynolds detailed an emerging form of “hybrid warfare.”
Taking care not to name any specific incidents, Senator Reynolds pointed to a spate of cyber attacks in Australia.
“It is an increasing use – not just for commercial purposes – but also… what we’re now calling hybrid warfare,” she told reporters afterwards.
“Traditional military tactics are used, but now in conjunction with new technologies, such as cybersecurity.
“So that is something the Australian government is very well aware of, and is investing additional resources in, to make sure that not only do we protect our commercial interests, but also our strategic and military interests.”
Senator Reynolds’ speech touched on the ongoing threats of terrorism, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and challenge to international laws in the South China Sea.
But looming large over her speech was the intensifying competition between the US and China for regional clout.
The minister spoke of trade and investment increasingly being used as tools to build strategic influence, not just commercial advantage.
Senator Reynolds raised concerns about countries struggling to withstand these pressures, and having to compromise their interests and national values.
Defence is increasingly working with other government agencies to boost Australia’s pull in the Pacific.
“What Australia is intent on doing is making sure that not only are our sovereign interests, economically and security-wise, reserved, but also that we continue to work with our southwest Pacific partners, in particular, to ensure that they maintain their sovereignty, and also that we can assist them to develop.” the Minister said.
Senator Reynolds said there was no doubt China was increasing its influence.
“These are changing strategic circumstances and we need to reflect on those and chart our course,” she said.