Cuts to Richmond RAAF leaked

A LEAKED document from the government’s white paper has stated Richmond RAAF Base will face further budget cuts. 

Australian Defence Association executive Neil James said the Australian Defence Force would be keen to close Richmond RAAF Base. 

The leaked draft white paper outlines the government’s Defence priorities for the next decade.

Within the document it stated that the government plans to shrink the Defence budget by “reforming and rationalising” bases and depots around the nation.

“Australia very clearly faces a new fiscal reality in which we need to balance both fiscal and national security and ensure that Defence resources are focused on the most important priorities,” according to the paper.

Federal member for Macquarie Louise Markus confirmed with the Gazette that the Labor Government has considered base consolidation since 2008 and has cut $26 billion from the Defence Force since 2009.

“We know from the leaked white paper that Labor’s plan is to sell off bases to help meet shortfalls in the Defence budget that are due to their economic mismanagement,” Mrs Markus said.

She said the government has failed to be upfront with the Australian public and reveal which bases were on the hit list.

“While the 2009 Defence white paper committed to $275 billion worth of acquisitions, since May 2009 there have actually been successive budget cuts totalling $25 billion to defence spending,” she said. 

The budget cut of $26 billion over the past three years has not been the only factor affecting the Defence Force, as 10,000 Defence jobs have also been lost over this time.

“Some of those job losses were on the Richmond RAAF Base which has impacted upon our community,’’ Mrs Markus said.

Mrs Markus told the Gazette she believes the community is unlikely to see the list of bases to close before the next election.

However, Labor candidate for Macquarie Susan Templeman told the Gazette the document was a draft and subject to changes and she would have to wait until the final paper was released to comment.

“The document referred to by the media last week is an early incomplete departmental working draft that has neither been presented to government nor circulated to other relevant agencies,” Ms Templeman said.

“I am advised that the departmental draft has already changed substantially in the intervening period.

“Successive drafts will be considered by government and culminate in the government’s Defence white paper to be published in the first half of this year,” she said.

The Coalition Defence spokesman, David Johnston told Fairfax Media that selling bases will provide a band-aid solution for the Gillard Government to prop up a Defence budget that they have left in an unstainable mess.

“The Defence just needs to come clean, and let the public know which bases are safe and which bases are on the hit list,” Mr Johnston said. 

Military fellow at the Lowy Institute James Brown said just because a base doesn’t have an immediate purpose doesn’t mean it should be closed.

The debate over further Defence budget cuts has come after Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke about the government’s national security strategy for the next five years in Canberra last Wednesday. The Australian Defence Association executive Neil James said even though there is a list of possible closures, it was politically difficult to close bases because they are important to local economies, particularly in regional areas. 

“The Richmond RAAF base contributes close to $400 million to the regional economy annually. Any decision by the Labor Government to consolidate or close the base would have a very negative impact on our community,” Mrs Markus said. 

A spokesperson for the Defence Minister, Mr Stephen Smith told Fairfax newspapers that the paper was still a draft and would be subject for revision. 

The official white paper is set to be released by the Defence Minister in June.