Defence Minister Stephen Smith has dismissed suggestions Australia is under growing pressure from Washington to reverse severe budget cuts to the military, arguing all Western governments have been forced to slash spending.
Ahead of a historic visit to Perth this week by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, Mr Smith has insisted Australia is pulling its weight in contributing to the security of the region, rejecting Opposition arguments the Government is "freeloading" on American taxpayers.
It was claimed over the weekend that Washington's top Asia official, Kurt Campbell, had voiced concern over the recent $5 billion in cuts made to the Australian defence budget and the issue would be raised in top-level meetings in Perth.
In the May Budget, the Gillard Government cut Australia's defence spending as a share of GDP to its smallest level since 1938 as part of its promise to bring the Budget back to surplus.
The reductions come as other countries in the region such as China and India have continued to increase their defence budgets, spending big on new warships, jets and long-range missiles.
A growing number of US officials are said to believe Australia is coming to rely too heavily on the US to counter the rise of China.
But yesterday, Mr Smith said Dr Campbell's comments had been "misconstrued" and he did not believe defence budget cuts would be raised during meetings this week.
"So yes, we're going through a tough time. But the assertion that somehow the United States are coming here to talk about our defence cuts is, frankly, a nonsense," Mr Smith said.
He said the US was going through its own program of managing half a trillion dollars in military cuts over the next 10 years.
Two weeks ago the Chief of the Australian Army, Lt-Gen. David Morrison, took the unusual step of giving a speech warning soldiers lives could be put at risk if further budget cuts were made.
Lt-Gen. Morrison later qualified the speech, saying he was not directly criticising the Government.
Among the top agenda items to be discussed at this week's meeting is the rotation of US Marines through the Northern Territory, with officials to study the social and strategic effects of the deployment.
The US and Australia will also discuss giving American warplanes increased access to Australian air bases.The meeting will likely see the beginning of official talks around the idea that HMAS Stirling naval base at Rockingham could become a semi-permanent "hub" for navy vessels where US carriers and submarines could change crews.
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