Leaders are calling for ‘missiles and infrastructure’ to protect $100 billion in assets in northern Washington

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Defenses such as missiles and large bases should be built in northern Western Australia to protect the region’s export industries, local leaders said.

The north of the state generates hundreds of billions of dollars for the national economy, with most of the funding coming from the lucrative extractive industries.

North West Defense Alliance (NWDA) Chairman Peter Long, who is also Mayor of Karratha, said despite the region’s importance to the country, there has long been a lack of defense investment and attention.

“We are really very concerned about the vulnerability that we have in an increasingly dangerous world,” he said.

The NWDA is made up of nine local governments in the region, which currently have observation units such as the Pilbara Regiment.

There are also two RAAF unmanned bases – at Curtin in the Kimberley and Learmonth near Exmouth.

Peter Long wants to see more military personnel in the Northwest.(ABC Pilbara: Susan Standen)

It was announced on Friday that a high-tech Chinese surveillance vessel had been spotted off the coast of WA near a secret naval facility in Exmouth that supports American and other allied submarines.

Mr Long said Australia was dealing with an uncertain strategic environment and called for a greater military presence to deter potential threats from targeting aggression at local gas and mining assets.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure is being built here and it’s really not being protected at all,” he said.

“If something happens, it’s likely to happen very quickly, and we think we need more deterrence.

Dampier harbor ships
The export earnings from the iron ore industry are vital to the region’s economy.(Supplied: Pilbara Ports Authority)

Ashburton prioritizes the base

The Ashburton Shire is a member of the NWDA and will campaign for a new defense base in the seaside town of Onslow.

Chief Executive Ken Donohoe said advocacy for the grassroots is one of the council’s top priorities this year.

He said the proposed base would reduce the defense’s reliance on Henderson Naval Base, more than 1,000 kilometers south in the Perth suburb of Kwinana.

He said the county wants to build a supply point in Onslow, claiming it could save the defense $6.1 million a year in fuel, food and personnel costs.

Mr Donohoe said the idea had not been costed and there was no timeline for completion.

“It’s an advocacy position and the council is identifying … the assets available,” he said.

A roadside sign with an illustration of a fish and the word 'Onslow'.
Ashburton Shire has highlighted Onslow’s potential as a defensive centre.(ABC Pilbara: Susan Standen)

Onslow unlikely but region vital

Northern Australia strategic policy expert John Coyne said the region is important to national security and forward planning is needed.

He praised the Shire of Ashburton’s plan but said it was unlikely to succeed as the facilities already in place at Onslow were not suitable.

Nonetheless, said Dr. Coyne said the region is a “junction point” between Australia and the world economy and has strong potential for further defenses.

“It has good strategic geography for Australia and its allies to operate across the region.”

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The Chinese spy ship Haiwangxing sails along the coast of WA.

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