Turnbull boosts defence spending in message to China

THE Turnbull government will spend $195 billion on Defence by 2020-21, in a message to China not to become more aggressive in the Asia-Pacific region.

The government's long-awaited Defence White Paper, which was released today, promised the Coalition would spend 2% of the nation's gross domestic product on defence by 2020.

While there is bipartisan support for defence spending to reach 2% of GDP, the government has pledged to spend $195 billion on the portfolio irrespective of economic growth.

In the 2015 budget the government spent $26 billion on defence, compared to $154 billion on social security and welfare, $69 billion on health and $31 billion on education, out of total budget spending of $434 billion.

The new money will go to boosting Defence staff ranks by 2500 - to 62,400 personnel - and 12 new submarines, which are estimated to cost $50 billion, plus $50 billion in maintenance costs.

It will also fund nine new anti-submarine frigates, 12 offshore patrol vessels, a new fleet of drones and an 18% boost to the Army for armed drones, protected vehicles, helicopters and a long-range rocket system.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the rising defence spending was due to climate change and terrorism threats, and to maintain regional peace given concerns about instability in the South China Sea and Korean peninsula.

Labor frontbenchers including Senator Stephen Conroy backed the spending target and a focus on maintaining defence ties with the US, rather than efforts with China.

Sen Conroy also said that after the coming federal budget, the Opposition would carefully examine the promises the government had made during Senate Estimates last May.

He also criticised the lack of a commitment to build the 12 new submarines in Australia, warning it could cost hundreds of shipbuilding industry jobs.

Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale questioned why the government needed to spend nearly $200 billion on defence by 2020 given the apparent "budget crisis" in health and education spending.

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