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More Defence reservists to combat coronavirus and natural disasters

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will on Wednesday announce the $1 billion package, which they say will support about 4000 jobs across the country.

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“Like much of the economy, our local defence industry is doing it tough because of COVID-19. This is especially so for small and medium sized businesses, that are critical to jobs,” Mr Morrison said.

“We want to build our sovereign industrial capabilities and Australian workforce to keep our people safe.”

Under the changes, the government will be able to deploy the existing 27,000 ADF reservists for an extra 210,000 days during the 2020-21 financial year. This amounts to seven extra days per reserve member, but there will be a particular focus on supporting those members who have lost work during the global pandemic.

ADF personnel who were due to be transitioned out of the ADF will also be able to stay for longer, while there will be more support for the partners of ADF members to find employment.

The new workforce initiatives will cost a total of $80 million.

The package will also include $490 million in upgrading defence bases, including in areas affected by bushfires. There will be $200 million to accelerate delivery and capability in at least four key military acquisitions.

This will include extra investment in the “artificial intelligence and aircraft behaviours” of Boeing’s new “loyal wingman” drones for the ADF. The drones will fly alongside RAAF aircraft, acting as a wingman to take enemy fire or increase attack firepower.

The delivery of a new large hull vessel in Western Australia, which will support humanitarian and disaster relief efforts in the south west Pacific, will be brought forward.

The Morrison government and national security experts have been increasingly concerned about growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific, including its humanitarian efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

There will also be more support for the Naval Shipbuilding College and the Australian Cyber Collaboration Centre as part of $110 million in training and grants for the defence industry.

The $1 billion package is part of the $270 billion the Morrison government has committed to spend over the next decade in a major shift in the nation’s defence strategy.

Senator Reynolds said supporting the Australian defence industry would be crucial to the Australian economy’s recovery.

“We’re getting on with the job of delivering critical capability outcomes to Army, Air Force and Navy, as well as continuing to support our personnel, including ADF Reserve members,” she said.

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