Defence Minister Ron Mark seems to be blissfully unaware of what’s going on in his own portfolio, National Defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.

“Earlier this month, the Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Tim Keating warned his senior officers to prepare for spending cuts, asking them to ‘reprioritise’ resources in the coming years. He highlighted a need to focus on ‘reducing growth in personnel costs,’ and ‘moderating demand for new strategic initiatives,” Mr Mitchell says.

“However, when both matters were put very clearly to Mr Mark in Parliamentary questions this week he denied that either was occurring.

“While it’s encouraging that Mr Mark says there is broad Government support for the $20 billion Defence Capability Plan launched in 2016, it appears he’s in danger of losing the arm wrestle with Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

“The plan, and the accompanying 2016 Defence White paper, were consulted on heavily with Australia, to ensure a focus on appropriate future requirements and interoperability with our closest ally.

“What will be of concern come Budget 2018 – in light of Lieutenant General Keating’s communications with his senior officers – is any indication that because of the Government’s tight spending restrictions any much-needed Defence spending is put off to a later date.

“The Defence Force simply can’t cope with delays to the upgrades to our Orion search and surveillance aircraft, the now over 50 year-old C130 Hercules air frames, and a rapidly changing technology environment, to name just a few cost pressures.

“Any major change to the 2016 Defence Capability Plan will have a hugely detrimental effect on the Defence Force’s ability to respond as it needs to, not to mention morale, which the National Government got to an all-time high.

“The Defence Capability Plan 2016 provides a solid blueprint of what work the Defence Force needs to undertake over the next decade.

“It includes the sort of asset upgrades the Defence Force needs to prioritise to make it not only fit for purpose, but also interoperable with its major defence partners.

“This is something Australia will more than likely seek some confidence on at the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum today,” Mr Mitchell says.

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