Government rejects Anzac Day-Defence Strategic Review links
Labor frontbenchers have rejected suggestions the government deliberately timed the release of a landmark defence review to link it to Anzac Day.
Some Coalition MPs have criticised the government’s decision to release a declassified version of the Defence Strategic Review on the eve of the national day of commemoration for Australian servicemen and women.
They argue the government has used the timing to deflect from its $19bn overhaul of the Australian Defence Force involving cuts to some existing military programs to cover the cost in the short term.
But Veterans’ Affairs and Service Personnel Minister Matt Keogh said the government simply wanted to make its plans for a defence overhaul public before the federal budget early next month.
“The timing was really about, as we said, that we’re committed to releasing this before we got to the budget, which is only a few weeks away now,” he told ABC Radio from Gallipoli on Monday morning.
Opposition assistant defence spokesman Phillip Thompson said he was “appalled” the Defence Strategic Review had been released the day before Anzac Day, labelling the government “out of touch”.
“I think that this prime minister is so out of touch is disgraceful and disrespectful for what he did,” the army veteran and Herbert MP told Sky News on Monday.
Mr Thompson questioned if the government had deliberately timed the release of the review to try to avoid scrutiny over its decision to cut the number of infantry fighting vehicles the army will be equipped with.
The government has said the response to the strategic review will cost $19bn over the next four years, which includes the $9bn in spending already announced to fund the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines.
About $7.8bn will come from savings made through the gutting, delaying or cancelling of a number of existing Defence projects.
The army had planned to acquire up to 450 infantry fighting vehicles, at a cost of up to $27bn, but this number is set to be slashed to just 129 vehicles in line with the review’s recommendations.
Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie on Monday accused the government of engaging in “tricky politics” by releasing the review on the eve of Anzac Day.
He also directly raised concerns about the cuts to the infantry vehicle program.
“The Albanese government is using Anzac Day as a smokescreen hoping people would not notice some of these trade-offs and cuts to capability,” he said.
“But we’re calling them on this magician’s trick. And we will hold them to account over coming days and months.”
Asked to respond to Mr Hastie’s criticism the next morning, Defence Minister Richard Marles said he didn’t want to enter a “contest” on Anzac Day.
“I‘d simply say it’s … only one category of fighting vehicle,” he said.
Mr Marles said the government was seeking to “reshape” and “reimagine” the army to prepare it for the challenging strategic circumstances Australia faced, including by equipping it with long-range missiles.
Originally published as Labor rejects suggestions it timed release of Defence review with Anzac Day