Hundreds of Defence bureaucracy jobs are set to go in Tuesday's federal budget in a bid to correct the military's "teeth to tail" ratio – the number of uniformed personnel to civilian staff.
While Defence will be largely shielded from the cuts being made elsewhere, some paring back is expected, including cuts to military superannuation and the sale of Defence Housing Australia, which provides off-base housing to military personnel. Both of these moves are likely to prove controversial with Defence personnel.
Defence Minister David Johnston has long talked of wanting to correct the ratio of uniformed personnel to Defence civilians. While the Abbott government has vowed to increase defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product within a decade, it has also insisted the funding should be more efficient.
The Defence Department currently has just over 20,000 civilian staff, though these include people critical to operations, such as electronic spies and analysts from the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation. This compares with just over 58,000 full-time uniformed personnel and about 20,500 reservists.
It is believed the cuts will be made across a range of civilian Defence jobs.
The National Commission of Audit recommended the government sell Defence Housing Australia as well as other assets including defence shipbuilder ASC Pty Ltd, formerly the Australian Submarine Corporation.
Shadow parliamentary secretary for defence Gai Brodtmann said the government was disregarding the needs of military personnel in selling off DHA.
"[Australian Defence Force] families have to relocate on a regular basis," she said. "This is one of the most stressful aspects of service life. They deserve an efficient and responsive organisation to ensure that this [stress] is minimised."
Ms Brodtmann added that the sale made little fiscal sense because DHA yielded the government an annual dividend of tens of millions of dollars. The Commision of Audit in its recent report said DHA received funding of $1.2 billion a year.
Selling off the ASC is regarded as a more complex proposition because the government would need to ensure that a privatised firm would continue to meet Australia's national security interests with the construction of key military hardware such as submarines and naval frigates.