Budget cuts will affect RAAF plans

FEDERAL plans to save $2 billion on the defence budget will have dramatic impacts on Williamtown RAAF and Newcastle shipbuilding, the opposition says.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith unveiled a raft of measures yesterday designed to shore up Tuesday's budget, including a two-year delay in delivery of 12 Joint Strike Fighter planes for Williamtown.

The government is also commissioning a new defence white paper a year earlier than expected, leading Liberal MP Bob Baldwin to declare the existing 2009 policy as "not worth the paper it was printed on".

This was one of a string of sneers exchanged online yesterday between Mr Baldwin and Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who unveiled the current white paper as defence minister in 2009.

The government announced another $214 million in submarine design funding yesterday but Mr Baldwin said it was a bid to hide the time it was taking to build a fleet of subs.

"This is another blow because companies like Forgacs would probably be involved in building hull modules, creating work for the region," Mr Baldwin said.

But his biggest concern was the delay to the Joint Strike Fighters, designed to save the government $1.6 billion.

Mr Baldwin said delaying the new aircraft meant delaying the multimillion-dollar upgrade of the RAAF base.

"You've also got industry planning to set up here at Williamtown to support the strike fighters and so they have to shift their plans back by a couple of years," he said.

"And then there's the impact on residents and property owners nearby who have to live with the existing aircraft noise maps for longer."

Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson disputed Mr Baldwin's account, saying Williamtown had enjoyed "considerable investment from federal Labor and any suggestion it won't be ready for the strike fighters is plain wrong".

"The new jets will still be arriving and that will still be good for Newcastle and RAAF Williamtown," Ms Grierson said.

"There is no impact on operations."

Mr Fitzgibbon defended his 2009 white paper, saying a $225 million gun project was the only thing cancelled.

"All [other] savings are a result of the deferral of the Joint Strike Fighter in line with the decision of the US and other projects the Defence Department is unable to deliver on time," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Ms Gillard justified the new white paper, saying a lot had changed since 2009, the height of the global financial crisis.

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