SPEECH – Small and local defence industry businesses must get a slice of the $270b pie
CANBERRA – 2 June, 2021
I’d like to thank the Member for Stirling for bringing forward this motion. It’s a good opportunity to discuss this important issue.
Like me, the Member is a veteran of the Australian Army. I respect the Member and recognise his service to this country.
But I cannot agree with the substance of this motion.
It is true that the Government is talking about a big spend on defence industry. $270 billion is a very significant sum.
It’s fine to talk up a big spend, but the real question is, what are we getting for it?
At this time, as we’re dealing with the pandemic, are Australian businesses benefiting from this cash splash?
We have yet to see any real evidence that this $270 billion will be spent in a way that will help Australian players in defence industry.
Deputy Speaker, I spend a lot of time talking to small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, in the defence industry.
They are the backbone of industry in general, but particularly back home in Darwin.
They employ a significant number of people and create even more jobs through the local supply chains they use and rely upon.
Our SMEs work well with the big players, the defence industry Prime Contractors.
The large international corporations work collaboratively with our local companies to deliver projects, and also to generate economic activity.
That leads to jobs and revenue. Those are two key things, and never more so than in our current economic climate.
Of course, the Prime Contractors are the big players in the defence industry space.
We’re increasingly seeing the Prime Contractors take up more and more space, gaining the capability to perform all roles in project delivery.
And as they do that, they’re not involving or engaging Australian SMEs.
This is a consequence of the nature of the market. But the defence industry space depends upon public spending.
The declared aim of the Government in its spending is to foster and support a local defence industry capability.
If this is a real commitment of this Government, then our Australian SMEs need to be fully supported.
I know that our SMEs have a real commitment to sourcing things locally, in a way the big Prime Contractors – because of their size and global footprint – may not.
Think about local supply chains. Local components in defence industry projects means local jobs.
In a time where we have witnessed trade disruption due to politics and a pandemic, think about the importance of supply chain security.
Support for our SMEs brings all of this, and more. It’s not only an economic imperative, but a security imperative to support SMEs.
But of course, this doesn’t mean the major Prime Contractors have no role to play here. The opposite is true.
And when our SMEs and Prime Contractors are working together, Australia gets the best outcomes.
But, Deputy Speaker, I’d love to see things move beyond that. Let’s see more Australian Prime Contractors.
In fact, I’d like to know, does this $270 billion price tag come with a commitment by this Coalition Government to support the creation and growth of more Australian Prime Contractors?
Amid all the hype of this big spend on defence industry, this Government needs to be doing much more to share information and specifics for planned projects in the defence industry space, particularly back home in the Northern Territory.
Across Australia, local industries are ready to play a role in the delivery of projects. But they need ongoing certainty.
An announcement is not enough – our local industries need specifics so they can make plans for workforce requirements, and so on.
Until this Government actually commits to an ongoing, substantive engagement with local industry and SMEs, all announcements they make, no matter the size of the price tag, will fall short.