ANYONE READING last month’s papers would be forgiven for thinking that the Rudd government is about to slash the military budget. Media reports suggested that Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon wanted a billion dollars a year cut from defence over the next decade.

Taken at face value, this sounds like a progressive reform. The $22 billion a year wasted on Australia’s military could indeed be spent on far more important things such as funding for hospitals and schools.But don’t be fooled-Labor has no plans to wield the axe. Here are the facts:

  • Fitzgibbon has guaranteed an above-inflation military spending increase of 3 per cent annually until 2018.
  • So-called efficiency measures will be applied only to civilian administration, which is less than 11 per cent of the military budget. This bureaucracy has grown from 14,000 to 20,000 employees since 9/11.
  • There is nothing progressive or new about such announcements. Former Howard government minister Ian McLachlan sought a 10 per cent increase in savings from the 1997 Defence Efficiency Review. Efficiency measures did not prevent the military massively expanding under the Howard government.
  • In March, Fitzgibbon complained that the Howard government had under-spent on weapons and military hardware acquisitions by $6 billion.

Labor has made clear its true intentions by sticking with the Howard government’s $6.6 billion order of Super-Hornet fighter jets to replace the RAAF’s fleet of F1-11s. Fitzgibbon has refused to rule out further increases in acquisitions spending. Furthermore, Labor remains committed to the former government’s policy of “inter-operability”, in which Australian military hardware is linked to the US and its allies in Europe and Israel.

To cap it all off, Labor recently announced the appointment of Howard’s closest confidante, former Chief of Staff Arthur Sinodinos as deputy chair of a new panel to review the new defence “white paper” which is due at the end of the year.

“His credentials speak for themselves,” Fitzgibbon told the media. There could be no greater indication that Labor is on track to continue the Howard government’s military legacy.

Tom Barnes

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