As Australia prepares to withdraw troops from East Timor, the Solomons and Afghanistan, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is working on renewing its engagement with Asia-Pacific nations, Defence chief David Hurley says.
General Hurley refused to comment on the content of the upcoming Defence White Paper, due for release in the next few months.
But he said issues which prompted the government to commission the White Paper earlier than scheduled, including the end of long-running defence operations, would obviously feature in the new strategic document.
General Hurley said the headquarters Joint Operations Command had devoted much time over the last year in revamping and renewing the campaign plan for defence engagement in the region, and new frameworks had been put in place.
"We are not rediscovering the northern region but being able to build up our interaction," he told an Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) function in Canberra.
General Hurley said defence had maintained a very high operational tempo for the last decade but would end East Timor and the Solomons operations this year and reconfigure deployments in the Middle East.
He said a key task for 2013 was resetting the ADF for the future and keeping it at a level of capability that would still allow it to respond to a government requirement to deploy troops somewhere in 48 hours.
General Hurley said at a time when the defence budget was under severe pressure, one reason to engage with the region was that it was far more expensive in the long run having to fall back on using defence capabilities.
"We have got to put the money where we are going to get the best bang for the buck at the moment and part of that will be shaping our environment and building up relationships and confidences in the region," he said.
General Hurley said defence was also rethinking how it operated in the Pacific, conducting the first meeting of south-west Pacific nation defence chiefs last year.
"We got that group together to say 'okay, how do we reshape the dollars we have all got, to do the best we can in terms of search and rescue, assisting with maritime security tasking, counter-piracy, the fishing industry'. We actually dragged Chile into that as well," he said.