The Abbott government is defending its decision to spend
more than $12 billion on new fighter jets while preparing to
make big cuts to other areas of the federal budget.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott will today announce the purchase
of another 58 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, taking the
Australian fleet to 72 by 2020.
Australia will spend $12.4 billion to bolster its air combat
capability with the order, with the price tag to include
weapons, spare parts and maintenance facilities.
Defence Minister David Johnston says the purchase will give
Australia's air combat capability "the sort of technological
edge that it must continue to have".
He defended the billions in spending - less than a month
before Treasurer Joe Hockey delivers a budget with expected
cuts to health and welfare.
The money for the fighters had been put aside since the
government's initial order of 14 aircraft, he said.
"The money is contained within the defence budget in the
outyears of the budget and beyond," Senator Johnston told ABC
"We are committed to defending Australia with the best
available platforms. This clearly is a regionally dominant
and cutting-edge platform that will see Australia right out
As part of the fighter programme, $1.6 billion will be spent
on new facilities at RAAF bases Williamtown in NSW and Tindal
in the Northern Territory.
"The acquisition of F-35 aircraft will bring significant
economic benefits to Australia, including regional areas and
local defence industry," Mr Abbott said in a statement ahead
of the announcement.
The F-35 will replace the ageing F/A-18 Hornet aircraft,
which will be withdrawn from service by 2022.
Mr Abbott said the F-35 was the most advanced fighter in
production in the world.
"The F-35 will provide a major boost to the ADF's
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,"
the prime minister said.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten backed the purchase, saying
the previous Labor government believed the Joint Strike
Fighter was the "right way to go".
He said the fighter program was a long term-investment, when
asked if the order should be scaled back, given the tough
"These defence purchases are necessary for our forward
security plans over a number of decades," Mr Shorten told ABC