Defence $50b spending boost as strategy unveiled

Defence Minister Richard Marles has set out a strategy for the military in a Canberra speech.

Defence Minister Richard Marles has set out a strategy for the military in a Canberra speech. Photo: AAP

Defence will be given an extra $50 billion over the next decade as part of a shake-up of the Australian military.

Launching the first national defence strategy in a major speech on Wednesday, Defence Minister Richard Marles unveiled a boost to spending in the sector, citing the most challenging strategic environment since World War II.

The spending boost will provide an additional $5.7 billion over the next four years, and will take defence funding to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2033/34.

It will be the largest growth in military spending since 1949.

The funding will include an additional $11.1 billion to speed up the delivery of the Navy’s surface combatant fleet and to expand the shipbuilding industry.

A further $1 billion will be spent in the next four years to accelerate long-range missiles.

Annual funding for defence will surpass $100 billion in a decade’s time.

“At the centre of strategic policy is defence funding. History will judge us not by what we say, but by what we do, and you can only do if you properly fund,” Marles told the National Press Club.

“The additional $5.7 billion will be the biggest lift in defence expenditure over a forward estimates period in decades.”

The strategy also calls for a widening of the eligibility for the defence force to bolster recruitment.

It also recommended the potential recruitment of non-Australian citizens, as well as encouraging defence personnel to serve longer through retention initiatives.

Marles said while Australia would play its “global part” in the world, the bulk of the focus lay in the immediate region, with significant strategic competition.

“This competition is accompanied by an unprecedented conventional and non-conventional military build-up in our region, taking place without strategic reassurance or transparency,” he said.

“Australia no longer has the luxury of a 10-year window of strategic warning time for conflict.

“The Australian Army must become far more amphibious and mobile in order to be able to project and contribute to the collective security of our region.”

The funding boost will come at the cost of previously planned upgrades to defence facilities in Canberra, worth $1.4 billion, which will instead be reinvested to northern air force bases.

The acquisition of two large support vessels for the Navy will also no longer be carried out, due to them being “no longer a priority”, saving $120 million in the next four years.

The strategy follows the release of a defence strategic review a year ago, which found the Australian Defence Force was no longer fit for purpose.

Last year, the government announced it would cut plans to build 450 infantry fighting vehicles down to 129.

Hundreds of defence force personnel will also be moved from southern bases to northern ones as the nation prepares for a possible conflict in the Indo-Pacific.

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said for the defence minister to pass the test of leadership, the new plans “must be more than just vague language, vague promises and vague time frames”.

“There must be real money, real commitment and real leadership,” he said.

“Richard Marles must be honest with the Australian people about the threats and challenges we face.

“This must be matched with a meaningful increase in defence spending and a clear strategy – real money, and a real direction. These are the metrics that count.”


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