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ASPI report confirms 2006 Budget prioritizes Defence equipment over Defence personnel.

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Robert McClelland MP Shadow Minister for Defence Federal Member for Barton

26 May 2006


The Cost Of Defence report, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s 2006-2007 Budget Brief, is further evidence that the Government is failing to address the crucial issue facing our Defence Force in the immediate future - the failure to recruit and retain adequate numbers of personnel.

The expert assessments made by ASPI are widely respected and should be given close attention by the Defence Minister. ASPI’s findings are consistent with Federal Labor’s view that this year’s Defence budget overwhelmingly prioritises equipment over people. This emphasis is wrong headed when the Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston has acknowledged that recruitment and retention of personnel is the number one challenge of the ADF.

The ASPI Budget Brief states:

“The process of building up the size of the ADF has worse than stalled, it’s gone backwards.”

The report notes there has been a cumulative loss of 891 personnel over the past three years. While capital expenditure for military equipment has been increased by some 20 percent, there is no indication of how Defence will actually have the soldiers, sailors and pilots to operate these billion dollar hardware acquisitions.

Although, the 3 percent real increase in spending will be worth approximately $750 million to Defence in the next financial year alone, there is less than $50 million allocated in the same period for measures to tackle the crippling personnel shortfall.

It is clear that the Government must directly address the widening gap between military pay and private sector wages. ASPI’s report again highlights that “defence salaries have consistently grown more slowly than average earnings”. While rates of pay are only part of a more complex issue, this widening gap cannot be ignored.

It is all the more significant that the Government have failed to scrupulously address the ADF’s personnel shortfall given that the focus in coming years will be on Australia’s ability to put troops on the ground to assisting struggling states in our region.

Instability in East Timor, the Solomon Islands and potentially Fiji and Papua New Guinea places pressure on our armed forces to have available the skilled people required to help restore law and order in different theatres of operation, often simultaneously.

Our military’s greatest asset is undoubtedly its people. The Government must reinvigorate their policy development and rearrange their budget priorities to ensure the ADF have adequate numbers of personnel securing Australia and our neighbourhood into the next decade.

Further information: Tom Cameron 0417 147 932