Three percent a year for defence: Abbott

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he would aspire to increasing the nation's defence budget by 3% every year if the Coalition won government at the next election.

But Mr Abbott refused to make any clear commitments on what else a Coalition government would do with the defence budget within 18 months of the election.

In a policy pitch to the RSL National Conference in Sydney on Tuesday, the only definite commitment he made was to index defence pensions for ex-service personnel in the first federal budget.

Mr Abbott did commit to publishing a defence white paper, providing fully-costed budget measures.

The proposal comes as the Labor Government has been working on a new white paper for defence, scheduled for release early next year, after the 2009 defence white paper was much maligned by defence insiders and groups, including the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Mr Abbott said the focus of the Coalition white paper would not be on the numbers of ships, planes and military hardware or on the numbers of people in the armed forces, but rather "what our armed forces should be able to do".

He said none of the funding decisions could be made from opposition, potentially delaying any substantive announcements on the defence budget to 18 months into a Coalition government.

The paper, Mr Abbott said, would consider basing more military forces in Northern Australia and making a decision on the delayed Joint Strike Fighter project and investments in a new submarine fleet to replace the ageing Collins class submarines.

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