Parliament: Australian government 'fully committed' to expanded SAF training in Queensland

Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung speaking in parliament earlier last month.
Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung speaking in parliament earlier last month.PHOTO: GOV.SG/YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - The Australian government has given assurance that it remains "fully committed" to an agreement signed in  October 2016 to provide the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with more training access, said Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Tuesday (April 4).

And while land acquisition plans to expand training areas in Queensland have been scaled back, the Australian Department of Defence has also publicly stated this February that training requirements for both countries' armed forces can still be achieved, Mr Ong added.

This will be through enhancing existing training areas and a more optimal scheduling of training activities, said Mr Ong, citing Australia's defence department.

Mr Ong was responding to Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan, who asked whether SAF training would be affected by the reduction in the size of expanded training grounds both countries had agreed to jointly develop.

Mr Tan also asked about the A$2.25 billion (S$2.38 billion) committed by Singapore in the 25-year deal.

In reply, Mr Ong said the costs of developments for SAF's training requirements are "still within the Budget laid out in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP)".

In October last year, Singapore and Australia inked the CSP to expand training areas at Shoalwater Bay base, near the city of Rockhampton, and in Townsville, a city further north.

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

On Feb 23, revised masterplans for the proposed training areas were published on the Australian Department of Defence's website, in which the government said that it could achieve the same training outcomes with smaller bases. A final layout of the training grounds will be decided later this year.

Singapore troops have been training in Australia since 1990.

Under the new agreement, the SAF can more than double the number of troops it sends there for training, from 6,600 a year to 14,000. Soldiers can also stay for up to 18 weeks a year, longer than the current 60 days.