David Ellery July 19, 2012
High-ranking Defence public servants are likely to be targeted for dismissal by an incoming Coalition government determined to redirect military spending.
Opposition defence spokesman Senator David Johnston said while the Coalition could not commit to immediately reversing Labor's funding cuts if it won office, the way available money was spent would be stringently reviewed.
''We would be committed to maintaining the existing budget [in the short term] and returning it to past levels when we could,'' he said.
He was speaking after former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said Australia was trying to hitch a ''free ride'' on the US in the the Asia Pacific.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has criticised the Gillard government's federal budget defence cuts of $5.45 billion over the next four years during a visit to Washington.
Senator Johnston said the Coalition was more interested in spending on ADF capability than supporting a public service presence that had mushroomed since Labor took office in 2007.
''There are 348 public servants [in Defence and the Defence Materiel Organisation] who are earning more than $270,000 a year plus superannuation and a car,'' he said.
''That is unsustainable and unjustifiable given nobody is held accountable when major things go wrong. Instead tens of millions of dollars are spent on inquiries and reports.''
Senator Johnston said 22,000 public servants were running 59,000 personnel in uniform.
''That is unsustainable,'' he said.
''There are 7500 public servants in the Defence Materiel Organisation. Given the Projects of Concern list, they get a lot of things wrong.''
Mark Thomson, a defence budget expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, agreed that accountability was in short supply.
He believes more needs to be done than just shifting funds from one area to another.
''Efficiency alone won't buy you the Defence Force that was promised in 2009,'' he said.
''I doubt if you can balance the books by imposing further austerity on Defence.''
Senator Johnston said the government's announcement in May that it would be cutting 1000 Defence public service positions was disingenuous. ''That is less than the public service [Defence workforce] was going to grow by [in the same period]. It is not a cut, it just slows down the increase.''
The Coalition dropped its bipartisan position on Defence, except for operations, after the May budget ended a longstanding commitment to increase funding by 3 per cent annually in real terms to 2017-18.
''We were committed to supporting the plan as it provided an opportunity for Russell and Defence industry to move forward in a confident way to enhance our existing forces,'' Senator Johnston said.