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Australia boosts defence spending in latest COVID-19 stimulus

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will boost defence spending by A$1 billion ($716.80 million) to upgrade military facilities and offer additional paid employment to army reservists, as Canberra seeks to soften the economic blow of COVID-19.

In a fresh round of stimulus, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday promised greater spending on defence in a bid to grow the country’s military and support 4,000 jobs.

“Today is again about the JobMaker plan, doing everything we can as we grow out of the COVID-19 recession to ensure that we keep Australians in jobs, and we keep businesses in business,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

While Australia has reported far fewer cases of COVID-19 compared to other developed countries, restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the virus have had a devastating impact on the country’s economy, which will slip into a recession for the first time in three decades.

Australia has so far promised to spend about A$260 billion in stimulus to support its ailing economy.

The additional defence spending will also assist Australia with its commitmewnt to grow defence spending to more than 2% of its Gross Domestic Product, a key demand of U.S. President Donald Trump who has accused allies of not pulling their weight.

Morrison said many of the military facilities earmarked for upgrades will be in areas impacted by bushfires earlier this year.

Fires razed more than 11 million hectares (37 million acres) of bushland across Australia’s southeast early this year, killing at least 33 people and billions of native animals, a disaster that Morrison called Australia’s “black summer”.

The fresh stimulus will include A$200 million for military vehicle modifications.

Morrison also said A$80 million will be spent to offer additional part-time employment to 27,000 Australian Defence Force Reserve members.

Australia has reported 25,067 cases of COVID-19 and 525 deaths from the virus.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry