The impact of foreign military involvement on the development of northern Australia

16 Feb 2017


Globally, governments are under increasing pressure to allocate ever scarcer land resources while taking account of economic outcomes, environmental sustainability and social benefits. Food production, mineral resource extraction, tourism, industrial infrastructure and urban development are just some of the essential activities that compete for land. Similarly, airspace is becoming increasingly crowded as the demand for travel and trade increase.

One less obvious, but also important use of land, sea and airspace, is military training. Australia, with its large area, relatively small population and its geographical positioning on the periphery of principle sea and air trade routes, is uniquely placed as it still has sufficient land and airspace available where it can adequately meet the demands detailed above and can still allocate land for large military training areas, particularly in the north.

During World War Two, Australia provided training areas to the United States to support the conflict in the Pacific. The United States has continued to conduct military training on Australian soil and airspace to the present day. The United Kingdom conducted 12 major nuclear weapon’s tests in Australia between 1952 and 1957. More recently, regional neighbours have been provided permanent training facilities, particularly for pilot training. These arrangements provide both benefits and costs to Australia. They invest in infrastructure, provide employment to the local workforce and inject money into local economies. They can also be environmentally and culturally disruptive and can prevent land use for other purposes. The negative aspects of permanent, foreign military bases in Australia notwithstanding, they can be used strategically as a development tool for northern Australia.

Key points

  • Foreign forces have a history of land use for the military training extending back to World War II.
  • Allowing foreign defence forces to access Australian military establishments and field training ranges is fundamental to maintaining regional security and long-standing strategic alliances.
  • Expenditure by foreign forces visiting northern Australia has had significant impact on local economies, which will grow exponentially due to increasing numbers of personnel over extended periods.
  • Environmental risks relating to land clearing, infrastructure development and military operations are mitigated through robust management and control systems.
  • Social impacts of visiting foreign forces have been negligible where troops have been permitted to interact with local communities.
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