By Matt Keogh MP

02 June 2021

We are a country that punches well above our weight in so many things.

We traditionally finish in the top five in the Olympics, despite being significantly smaller than our competition. In World War II we made the Boomerang fighter aircraft and now Australia is leading the world in autonomous aircraft with the Loyal Wingman.

So why do we doubt the potential of our defence industry and our own capability? We are competitive with other nations on so many things, but we as a nation don’t back ourselves in our defence industry.

The Australian Defence Force is a fantastic customer of the global defence industry supply chain. But why can’t we — Australia — be their primary supplier instead?

We need our Government and Department of Defence to back our Australian defence industry businesses as a necessary and important strategic capability.

Australian defence industry should be a core defence capability domain alongside air, land, sea, space and cyber, because without industry, none of the others work, and certainly not for very long.

It’s not enough to allow large international defence companies get away with “best endeavours” to work with Australian industry, only to later advise that Australian companies don’t have the capacity or capability to undertake specific work, deferring to existing, often international, suppliers.

COVID-19 has highlighted global supply chain vulnerabilities.

Why would we expect this to be any different for defence products in a conflict situation? We must ensure we have access to what we need when we need it. We need to identify the gaps in Australian industry and fill them; it’s in our sovereign interest to do so.

Indeed, given the increasing khaki hue being given to the upcoming Federal Election by some in Government, one really must ask is the Government not aware of how exposed it is leaving Australia in its failure to properly support defence industry here?

While the Government may do some things around the edges, given the rhetoric in all its glossy documents, there is a clear failure to deliver on intent.

Building and developing things here in Australia should be our priority. If we don’t have required capabilities here, we must nurture and build those capabilities strategically. It is incumbent on Government that the gaps in our supply chains are identified and filled. A Federal Labor Government will invest in Australian industry and our workforce.

Labor Leader Anthony Albanese recently announced our National Reconstruction Fund, to transform existing industries and develop the industries of tomorrow; partnering with the private sector, including superannuation funds, to revive our ability to make things here in Australia and be more self-reliant.

The aim of which is simple — providing financial support to projects that will help improve our nation’s sovereign capabilities, whether through low cost loans or even equity investment, because why shouldn’t our nation be invested in the prosperity and security of our nation?

Ultimately, this means continually investing in the development of our industry and our overall capability here at home. It is up to the Federal Government to implement contractual requirements to compel defence companies to do the work here in Australia, to put in place the mechanism to grow our local defence industry.

We’ve heard the much-reported commentary about the "drums of war", we must ensure we have the capability we need, if and when we need it.

This inconsistency and the risks posed for our nation fall at the feet of the Government and must be dealt with properly, that is the approach a Labor Government will take.

Labor is committed to building and developing Australia’s sovereign capability, local manufacturing, local jobs — in the national interest.

This opinion piece was first published on thewest.com.au Wednesday, 2 June 2021.