Australia cancels plans to get farmers off land for S'pore troops to train, but training will go on

SYDNEY - Australia has abandoned plans to force farmers off their land to make way for training areas for Singaporean troops but says the training will go ahead as planned.

Following an outcry from farmers who were due to be forced to sell hundreds of thousands of hectares of prime farmland in north Queensland, the Federal Government announced on Tuesday (Feb 7) that it had agreed to adjust the proposed boundaries of the training facilities.

"It is clear that the community has significant concerns and it is important forced sales are ruled out to alleviate these concerns," the Defence Minister, Ms Marise Payne, said in a statement.

The move follows the signing of a AUS$2.25 billion deal in 2016 which will see Singaporean troops increase their presence in Australia from 2017. By 2021, up to 14,000 troops will train for 18 weeks a year, compared with about 6,600 troops who currently train for six weeks.

Despite previously insisting the proposed location of the base was the most "suitable" for training, the Federal Government said it will now change the boundaries and release a masterplan in about two weeks.  

Ms Payne said she was working with Singapore on the revised site. Farmers who want to sell their land will still be able to do so.

A spokesman for Ms Payne told The Straits Times the changes to the training sites will not affect the deal or the timetable for boosting the number of Singaporean troops training in Australia.

The training area involves the expansion of existing facilities near the cities of Rockhampton and Townsville.

The Government has been under heavy pressure over the forced land sales, which prompted a community backlash that gained the support of prominent Queensland-based politicians, including One Nation party leader Pauline Hanson.