Defence Industry

Private Members Business

Federation Chamber

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (17:49): Australia is full of amazing minds and innovative workforces. At the moment, we have a fantastic opportunity ahead of us to create a sustainable, world-leading defence industry to provide jobs for future generations of Australian workers. Small- and medium-sized businesses make an exceptionally significant contribution to the Australian defence industry. They are in a unique position whereby they not only service our growing defence industry but fulfil wider, international contracts with our allies as well. Small businesses in Australia have the scope and capacity to innovatively fix the problems our Defence Force faces on a daily basis. These small businesses are the experts in what they do—whether that be in cybertechnology, engineering or manufacturing. This is not a rigid industry. The nature of these businesses means they have the capacity to evolve to best service our Defence Force and keep them and our nation safe.

These small businesses are developing capability and intellectual property that is uniquely Australian and world leading. While there is great potential for the defence industry to continue to grow and thrive across our nation, it is up to the federal government to ensure the Australian defence industry gets access to the growing defence capability, acquisition and sustainment spend. This means making sure that Australian industry content requirements are not just headlines but are mandated, transparent and, critically, enforced.

I'm very happy to declare that, in my home state of Western Australia, small businesses are certainly making their mark in that space. I recently attended the Indo-Pacific Defence Conference in Perth, where we heard from a mix of defence, business and government figures all working towards the common goal of enhancing and strengthening the Western Australian defence industry. Currently, there are hundreds of Western Australia small and medium businesses engaged in the defence supply chain, with approximately 150 businesses based in the Australian Marine Complex at Henderson. The beachside town of Dunsborough in south-western WA, whilst widely known as the gateway to our wine region, is gaining notoriety for its innovation in marine suspension systems. Nauti-Craft, based in the beachside town, has developed unique patented technology with the capacity to separate a marine vessel from a larger one simply and smoothly—something that has been embraced by Defence as a great step in improving our defence capability, particularly in amphibious and search-and-rescue vehicles.

We are developing some fantastic technology and our world-class businesses are crying out for the next challenge, with many forced to look abroad to sell their products due to difficulty in getting into the defence procurement space locally. VEEM, which is in my electorate, is a specialist engineering company manufacturing propellers, valves and other special purpose castings. They have made their mark in manufacturing and maintaining valves for the Collins class submarine, as well as maintenance and casting for Austal in their warship program and maintenance support for Special Air Service vehicles—and, critically, supplying the US Navy.

WA is not unique. PMB Defence in South Australia provides a continuous supply of the main storage batteries for the Collins class submarine. The Northern Territory's RGM Maintenance provides supply, repair, maintenance and overhaul services. Queensland's TAE is a leading provider of military and commercial turbine engine maintenance. Right here in the ACT, CEA Technologies design, develop and manufacture radar technologies. Milspec Manufacturing in New South Wales is a privately owned company that provides the Nulka decoy system, among other assets, to Defence. In Victoria, Sentient Vision Systems specialises in video analysis and surveillance. Tasmania has some fantastic marine-based offerings through Taylor Brothers and Delta Hydraulics. And we have just heard from the member for Solomon about some of the excellent defence industry offerings in the Northern Territory.

This government says it is focused on building sovereign capability. But the talk doesn't match the action. The talent and technology we have in this country are world class, yet our government continues to purchase many platforms off-the-shelf overseas rather than developing our own sovereign intellectual capability in Australia and using Australian workers. The government should be doing more to maximise the participation of Australian companies in all facets of defence procurement—not just ensuring that manufacturing labour has jobs, but also that our design, architecture, IT and IP development skills are developed and skilled and employed here too.

Finally, the individuals with perhaps the most intricate know-how of the need for and use of defence industry technologies are those who have relied on it in the field—our veterans. It is estimated that 20 per cent of the defence industry workforce are veterans. But there is capacity to do a lot more. We must always do more to assist our transitioning veterans into post-service employment, and much of this can be done through the defence industry sector.