Armed forces get $1.5b shot in combat arm

Budget winner: $1.5 billion fast-tracked for Defence. Photo: Gary RamageDefence has emerged strongly as the winner out of Tuesday’s budget, with spending on the military set to grow about 6 per cent above inflation in coming years.
Nanjing Night Net

Despite the belt-tightening elsewhere, the government has fast-tracked $1.5 billion in military spending to help meet promises for major new hardware. About 1200 Defence bureaucrats’ jobs will go but these savings will be pumped back into combat capabilities.

Australia’s leading defence economist, Mark Thomson of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it was “a very good budget for Defence”.

“In the current environment, where everyone else is being cut, this is a good outcome for Defence,” he said. “I was on the record saying that the budget Labor gave [in 2012] left things in an unsustainable mess. What we’re seeing here is the first stage of the repair job.”

He said the budget took defence spending to about 1.8 per cent of gross domestic product, well on the way to meeting the Abbott government’s pledge to raise it to 2 per cent within 10 years of being elected. Under Labor, defence spending fell to less than 1.6 per cent, the lowest since World War II. “I think the 2 per cent target remains a credible proposition,” Dr Thomson said.

Australia’s neighbourhood is seeing considerable increases in defence spending, prompted largely by the rise of China. China, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines are boosting their militaries.

Since coming to power, the Coalition has pledged major new acquisitions, including an additional 58 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of more than $12 billion, new P-8 Poseidon spy planes and Triton surveillance drones.

While the budget does not fully explain how the money will go towards those big-ticket items, Mr Thomson said the fast-tracking of $1.5 billion would be a big immediate boost for the military.

“It’s payment for the sinews of the whole organisation . . . The money brought forward will help provide the capacity to initiate those big acquisitions going forward.”

Australia will spend $29.2 billion on defence in the coming financial year and $122.7 billion over the four years of the forward estimates.

Defence Minister David Johnston has repeatedly promised to move money from the so-called “tail to the teeth” of defence, by correcting the ratio of defence bureaucrats to combat personnel. The axing of 1200 civilian jobs will save $1.2 billion over four years.

Further savings will come from cuts and delays to “lower priority projects” such as unarmoured vehicles and a defence accommodation precinct project.

The budget also reveals that Defence expects to pay nearly $28 million for the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The resumption of the Defence Force Gap Year program, which allows school leavers to sign up with the military for just a year – rather than the usual requisite minimum of four years – will cost $192 million over four years.

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