Top Australian national security leader warns 'drums of war' beating in chilling message as China-Taiwan tensions worsen

He said the country must be prepared "to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight".
He said the country must be prepared "to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight". Photo credit: Getty.

A top Australian national security figure has warned "the drums of war" are beating, just days after the country's Defence Minister warned conflict with China over Taiwan shouldn't be dismissed.

In an Anzac Day message to staff, Australian Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo has said his country must be prepared "to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight".

While the message doesn't explicitly mention China, tensions in the Indo-Pacific region have ramped up over recent months as the Asian superpower has increased its presence in the South China Sea and near Taiwan.

Last week, Peter Dutton, the Australian Defence Minister, said he did not believe conflict with China over Taiwan should be discounted, noting there was a "significant amount of activity" in the area and "animosity between Taiwan and China". 

A US military commander has warned China may invade Taiwan within the next six years, while the former Defence Minister earlier this month said chances of conflict were getting higher

In his message, Pezzullo said Australia must work to reduce the chances of war "but not at the cost of our precious liberty". 

"Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war, let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war," Pezzullo said, according to the ABC.

"War might well be folly, but the greater folly is to wish away the curse by refusing to give it thought and attention, as if in so doing, war might leave us be, forgetting us perhaps."

He also refers to US President Dwight D Eisenhower, who Pezzullo says instilled the notion that "as long as there persists tyranny's threat to freedom they must remain armed, strong and ready for war, even as they lament the curse of war".

Pezzullo says that the same challenge remains today. 

"Today, free nations continue still to face this sorrowful challenge," he said. "In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat - sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer."

While Pezzullo's message has been branded "inflammatory" by Australian Labor MP Bill Shorten, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the theme of the "very strong" message is that "we need to be alert but not alarmed". 

"We're obviously very conscious as a government of what is happening in the Pacific region, in particular, and we will always put Australia first, second and third."