December 4, 2023


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Peter Dutton says Labor cut $1.5 billion from defence in the latest budget. Is that correct?#Peter #Dutton #Labor #cut #billion #defence #latest #budget #correct

The claim

With the war in Ukraine grinding on, the federal government has been facing pressure to increase its supply of military hardware to the eastern European nation.

In an interview with the Seven Network’s Sunrise program, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the Department of Defence was “reluctant to send more equipment” because “they just can’t afford to absorb” the expense.

“In the latest budget the government cut $1.5 billion from defence, so they’re already scratching around trying to find savings,” he said.

Did the government cut $1.5 billion from defence in the May 2023 budget? RMIT ABC Fact Check runs the numbers.

The verdict

Mr Dutton’s claim is misleading.

Defence budget statements show that Labor plans to spend $1,463.7 million less on the Department of Defence than what the former Coalition government planned to spend over the same three-year period, excluding automatic funding top-ups to maintain defence’s buying power when the Australian dollar falls.

But Labor’s defence budget cannot be said to contain a “cut” because funding would still rise year on year in both nominal and real terms over the forward estimates.

The same holds if defence spending includes the Australian Signals Directorate, a statutory body inside the defence portfolio which is budgeted separately but commonly accounted for in calculations of defence spending.

And, importantly, Mr Dutton was referring to future spending figures, which experts noted may never come to pass.

Furthermore, approximately half of the nominal difference between Labor’s and the Coalition’s budgeted spending over the three financial years to 2025-26 is the result of funding transfers to the ASD for cyber capability.

military vehicles are queued in a row with palm trees behind them

Defence spending includes the purchase of military hardware, but can also include money spent on cyber capabilities.(Supplied: Australian Defence Force)

Though this $726.9 million will not be available to the Department of Defence, it’s not clear it ever would have been. As one expert noted, the ASD procurement budget is handled as part of the department’s budget, with funds transferred to the directorate upon approval of projects.

Moreover, by Mr Dutton’s logic, the Coalition would have also been responsible for a “cut” in its final budget, due to large transfers from the department to ASD.

All this being said, experts told Fact Check the spending set out for these three years reflects the funding trajectory set by the Defence White Paper in 2016, and that much in the strategic and budget environment has changed since then.

For example, despite the real increase in defence spending, neither Labor’s latest budget nor the Coalition’s pre-election budget gave the department extra funding to cover the recent spike in inflation.

Source of the claim

Fact Check asked Mr Dutton’s office for the source of his claim. A spokeswoman pointed to the May 2023 defence budget brief from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a non-partisan think tank which is partly funded by the Department of Defence.

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