Aussie military likely a victor, whoever wins polls

Aussie military likely a victor, whoever wins polls
The Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield (left) docked at Garden Island navy base in Sydney.

AUSTRALIA - The Australian military may prove to be one of the biggest winners in the nation's elections tomorrow. Both candidates are vowing major boosts in defence funding.

Their promises come as analysts say the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) funding and capability have already been substantially scaled back in recent years and that the government needs to start setting more realistic spending goals.

The ruling Labor government has made particularly drastic defence cuts in four years. Funding last year dropped to its lowest levels since 1938 - about A$25.4 billion (S$29.8 billion), or just 1.6 per cent of the gross domestic product.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard said the reductions were necessary because of the long-term hit to the government's coffers from the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Now the two leaders of both parties plan to reverse the cuts.

Both have pledged to continue with plans to buy up to 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft as well as build up the submarine fleet.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott, whose conservative Liberal-National coalition traditionally tends to spend more on the military, has also pledged to reverse the cuts and lift funding to at least 2 per cent of GDP within the next 10 years, which would eventually increase it to A$50 billion a year in 2022.

But he has signalled that he will take a cautious approach to the JSF purchases and may back away from his earlier plan to spend A$1.5 billion on drones. The drones, likely to be the US Global Hawk or Triton, would be used for border protection and detecting boatloads of asylum seekers.

"The first duty of government is to support the armed forces of our country," Mr Abbott told a press conference at an army barracks near Sydney on Monday. "Unfortunately, since 2007 there has been a series of budget cuts and spending reductions which over time will jeopardise the capacity of our armed forces."

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