Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said a Coalition government would take a more hands-on approach to defence to ensure projects were not gripped by overspending and delays.

Defence priorities have been debated, at a forum attended by industry leaders in Adelaide, between Senator Johnston and Defence Materiel Minister, Mike Kelly.

Senator Johnston said if he were defence minister he would allow bipartisan briefings to ensure the best outcome for projects.

He promised a Coalition government would not cut the funding of the defence forces.

"Defence for us in the Coalition is really, really important and Tony [Abbott] and I have agreed, firstly, no further cuts and we will aim to have that 3 per cent growth that we agreed to back in 2009 as soon as we can steady the ship and the ship needs a lot of steadying," he said.

Dr Kelly said Labor was involved in a "balancing act" across the forces and rejected Senator Johnston's claim that a planned fourth Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) had been shelved after winning approval.

The minister said a fourth AWD was not sought by the Chief of Navy nor the Chief of the Defence Force.

Asked how the Federal Government planned to ensure there was not a dip in defence work in Adelaide between 2016-2020, with the risk of skilled workers leaving, Mr Kelly said the defence white paper had made clear projects to be brought forward.

He said there would not be any long period of shortfall to cover and it would be vital to work with industry on how to manage any short-term concerns.

Dr Kelly said the Government would work to help the Australian defence industry hook into global supply chains to achieve a strong defence manufacturing industry.

He said Australian companies had the technical expertise to sell their products to the world, in areas such as ship-building.

"I see more broadly the potential to leverage that into the ability to grow our ship-building industry to even market vessels into our region, in this dynamic Asia-Pacific economy that we all would like to become a part of and to exploit," he said.

Defence Teaming Centre CEO Chris Burns said the promises from both sides of politics needed to be translated into delivery of long-term projects the local manufacturing industry can depend on.

"The industry needs commitment. Contracts flow from commitment. That commitment is expressed in plans," he said.

"What we need as soon as possible from whichever government is in power is a commitment to a plan that allows industry to get on and sign contracts and start delivering military capability."

 

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