By Staff Writer.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to increase Australian Defence Force (ADF) numbers by around 30% by 2040. The ADF’s total permanent workforce will increase to over 101,000 personnel, including some 80,000 uniformed personnel, in a pre-election promise that will cost an estimated $38 billion.
Prime Minister Morrison made the announcement in Brisbane on Thursday morning. It follows a $10 billion announcement earlier this week concerning a future east coast fleet base for Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines.
“Our world is becoming increasingly uncertain, so it’s important we take steps now to protect our people and our national interest over the coming decades,” said the Prime Minister.
“You can’t flick a switch to increase your army, navy, and air force overnight, growing the type of people and skills we need to face the threats of the future takes time, so we must start now so critical skills can be taught and experience gained.”
Thursday’s announcement sees an increase of 18,500 personnel over the baseline growth targets already agreed to in the ADF 2020 Force Structure Plan. It is the biggest expansion of ADF numbers since the Vietnam War and a response to rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Defence spending as a share of our economy is 2.1% today. When I became Prime Minister, it was 1.9%.” the PM told assembled media. “When we came to government, defence force spending was a share of our economy was 1.57%, the lowest level since the second world war.”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton says growing the ADF workforce and its expertise will enable the delivery of promised nuclear-powered submarines, ships, aircraft, and firepower. It will also see the ADF build its capabilities in the space, information, and cyber domains.
“It will also build the resilience we need in critical areas and enable our people to increase intelligence, information, and communications capacity,” Minister Dutton said.
The increase in ADF personnel numbers will begin in earnest in 2024/25, with some 6,000 new employees being funnelled into supporting the nuclear submarine program.
But Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O’Connor says the Government has failed to meet 2016 Defence White Paper targets every year since 2015-16 and only met 90% of permanent force recruitment targets in 2020-21. The Opposition also criticised the extended timeline.
“Having sat on a decision taken last year to boost ADF numbers, the Morrison-Joyce Government has waited until the eve of an election to make yet another announcement that won’t take effect for 18 years. We have concerns about this Government’s track record when it comes to recruitment and retention of our ADF,” Mr O’Connor said.
Speaking at Sydney’s Lowy Institute after the PM’s announcement, Shadow Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said national security was any prime minister’s first responsibility and above politics.
But Mr Albanese was sharply critical of the Government’s defence procurement record since first elected, saying there were 30 defence projects now running a total of 79 years late.
The Opposition Leader said Labor would look at fitting Tomahawk missiles on existing Collins-class submarines and upgrading weapons systems on the Arafura class patrol boats and Hobart class destroyers as practical short-term capability enhancements.
Mr Albanese said he remains committed to the nuclear-powered submarine program and spending 2% of GDP on defence. But the Opposition Leader also accused the Prime Minister of timing his defence personnel announcement to deflect attention from his own speech today.
“We need to take national security seriously,” said Mr Albanese.