Defence insiders welcome first female minister Marise Payne

Australia’s first female Defence Minister has the daunting tasks of finalising the multi-million-dollar future submarine project, releasing a highly anticipated Defence White Paper and managing the Australia Defence Force’s (ADF) complex military operations in the Middle East.

Long serving NSW Senator Marise Payne has been sworn into her new role and is today receiving briefings from Defence Force bosses as she joins the Cabinet and its powerful National Security Committee.

The former human services minister replaces Kevin Andrews in the Defence role as part of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s sweeping cabinet reshuffle.

Her surprise appointment has been warmly received by many across the ADF community.

“I think she’ll go down very well with the Defence Force,” the director of the Australia Defence Association, Neil James, said.

“She was a very successful Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee, she also chaired the Senate inquiry into the first tranche of the counter-terrorist legislation [and] did a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances at the time”.

Marise Payne entered Federal Parliament in 1997, filling a casual Senate vacancy in New South Wales after the departure of Liberal Bob Woods.

Andrew Davies, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, is hopeful Senator Payne’s appointment could mark the end of the recent high turnover of defence ministers.

“I think the main thing that we’re looking for is some continuity in defence ministers,” Mr Davies told ABC News 24.

“The last half a dozen or so have only had a little over a year each in the job.

“And it’s such a complicated portfolio, they really need a bit longer than that.”

One of the most pressing tasks for the new minister will be the release of the Government’s long-awaited Defence White Paper.

The document is largely finished, but experts believe the new Turnbull Government will want to put its stamp on it, including how to respond to a rising China and the challenge it poses to American military power.

She will also oversee the daunting decision on who will be awarded the $50 billion contract to build Australia’s next generation of submarines.

She is expected to consult closely with the new Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, her most Senior South Australian colleague and a man many had touted as a possible Defence Minister.

Neil James believes it is a tricky decision with potential traps, but he is relieved Mr Pyne is not in charge.

“It would have been even worse if he’d been made Defence Minister,” Mr James said.

“I mean, what credibility would they have had, no matter which way the South Australian decision went.

“Marise Payne won this on merit and it’s a great choice, and not just because all the alternatives were terrible.”

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