PARLIAMENT

Australia 'fully committed' to SAF training agreement

The Australian government has assured Singapore that it remains "fully committed" to an agreement signed last October to provide the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with more training access, said Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung.

He told Parliament yesterday that, while Australia has scaled back land acquisition plans to expand training areas in Queensland, its Department of Defence publicly stated in February that training requirements for both countries' armed forces can still be met.

This will be done through improving existing training areas and better scheduling of training activities, said Mr Ong, citing Australia's Defence Department.

Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan asked whether SAF training would be affected by the reduction in size of expanded training grounds that both countries had agreed to develop. He also asked about the A$2.25 billion (S$2.4 billion) that Singapore committed to the 25-year deal.

Mr Ong replied that the cost of developments for SAF's training requirements are "still within the budget laid out in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership", under which an agreement with Australia was inked last October.

Under the deal, SAF troops would increase their presence in Australia, and train at Townsville and another site farther south in Shoalwater Bay.

But the initial acquisition plans, involving as much as 300,000ha of land, had to be revised as farmers refused to sell their land.

On Feb 23, the Australian Department of Defence published revised masterplans for the proposed training areas on its website. A final layout of the training grounds will be decided on later this year.

The SAF has been training in Australia since 1990. With the new deal, the number of troops sent for training can be more than doubled, from 6,600 a year to 14,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Australia 'fully committed' to SAF training agreement'. Print Edition | Subscribe