Australia's home affairs secretary has been told to "tone it down" after declaring the global "drums of war" are beating and Australia must prepare for regional conflict.
Mike Pezzullo said Australia must strive for peace, but not at the cost of its liberty, in a hawkish speech to mark Anzac Day.
"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," he said.
"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."
His comments come as Australia's relationship with China grows increasingly fractious, with Defence Minister Peter Dutton expressing concerns about Beijing's stance on Taiwan.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong warned "words matter" when it came to national security and diplomacy.
Senator Wong said the secretary's remarks appeared to be inconsistent with Mr Dutton, who said on Sunday: "We are in peace time and we want to stay in peace time."
"His language is a little more measured," she told reporters.
"When it comes to issues of national security, when it comes to issues of foreign policy, when it comes to issues as sensitive as Taiwan, our language should be sober and it should be cautious."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia's objective was to "pursue peace for a free and open Indo-Pacific".
"Australians want us to pursue a peaceful outcome - that's what is in their interests, that's what the government is doing, working with our partners in the region, working with ASEAN, our strategic partners, that includes China," he told reporters in Sydney.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan told the secretary to tone it down.
"What good does that do, saying things like that? It's totally unnecessary," Mr McGowan told reporters.
Mr Pezzullo is widely tipped to become the next secretary of the Department of Defence.
His Anzac Day message invoked the words of two US generals and reflected on Australia's alliance with America.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews confirmed she read the "very strong" speech in advance.
"The overarching message from government is that we need to be alert but not alarmed," she said.
"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."
Nationals senator Matt Canavan said there was no doubt the drums of war were beating.
"I welcome Mike Pezzullo speaking frankly from his obviously well-informed position because I do think the Australian people need a wake-up call," he told Sky News.
But Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said Mr Pezzullo's language was inflammatory.
"By all means, we need to stand up for our trade, stand up for human rights, but language like 'drums of war', I think that is pretty hyper-excited language," he said.
Australian Associated Press