PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Defence Industry

By Matt Keogh MP

24 May 2021

Watch Matt's speech here. 

Thank you for the support from the other side of the chamber. Our Australian defence industry has so much potential. Our nation is full of innovators and wonderful minds. So why don't we back our Aussie businesses? The member for Stirling's motion acknowledges that thousands of jobs and opportunities are being created for small businesses across Australia, particularly in the home state of both of us, Western Australia. I wouldn't go to the extent of saying this is untrue, but we must look at what these jobs actually are.

You see, this Liberal government has previously identified job opportunities from defence spending as including language classes, security guards, hotels and travel agents. These are all worthwhile occupations in their own right, but they're hardly shipbuilding. They're hardly developing capability when it comes to planes or submarines. We have shipbuilders bashing metal at home in WA and in the shipyards of South Australia. This is an important role in shipbuilding, but it's not something that's going to result in building our sovereign capability or owning our own IP. Bending and bashing metal is very important, but we need Aussie businesses and workers involved from the get-go, in the design phase.

There are companies in Australia who integrate well with local small businesses: businesses like NSM, Naval Ship Management, who are based in WA and New South Wales and are responsible for the maintenance on our LHDs and Anzac frigates. They coordinate a huge variety of local SMEs to be involved in their work sustaining those ships. I was fortunate enough to visit them recently and see the work they were doing on HMAS Adelaide. There were local scaffolders, diesel engine repairers and painters all working alongside Defence personnel on the ship and all undertaking important roles in every facet of the ship. Indeed, due to the COVID restrictions, they're even trying to do work that we previously had to import experts from Europe to do. We must encourage more primes like NSM here in Australia to undertake similar identification work, finding local businesses to do important roles rather than just going offshore.

Luerssen are building the OPVs in Adelaide and Perth and have a specific focus on enabling local businesses to work with them on these platforms. If SMEs don't have a niche skill or capability but are interesting in getting there, Luerssen take it upon themselves to identify and foster their talents, picking up the bill to make sure that it happens. This is excellent work by Luerssen, and it's exactly what primes should be doing while undertaking defence work in Australia and for our ADF. In fact, it's written into most of the contracts. However, these are rarely enforced by the Department of Defence, who settle for 'best intentions' to use Australian businesses rather than actually making sure that it happens in practice. Companies like Luerssen prove that you can identify gaps in the workforce and build these capabilities here in Australia. This is precisely what the Department of Defence's specialist team, CASG, and the AIC team within it should be doing, but they're not.

We must look at the gaps in our Australian industry, the things that international primes say they can't identify to be at the required level here in Australia, and we must foster those businesses. It doesn't appear that the Liberal government has a solid plan to do this, but Labor does. Through the National Reconstruction Fund and through Jobs and Skills Australia, we will be able to identify the gaps in our Aussie workforce, the industries we need to be fostering here at home. Through the Reconstruction Fund, we will have the opportunity to financially support the development of these businesses in our sovereign interest. This could be through loans or even joint investment—indeed, leveraging superannuation and other private investment—to support and build these businesses for our sovereign capability. Particularly in Western Australia, our thriving resources industry, the best in the world, requires very similar skills and technology to that of defence industry. They are complementary. We must be supporting these sectors on how they can work better together. Labor has a plan to support Australian businesses. Labor has a plan to identify capability gaps and fix them in our sovereign interest. Meanwhile, the Liberal government has glossy brochures and announcements.

So I agree with the member for Stirling: we need to be getting more Australian businesses in our defence industry to deliver the essential capability that our defence forces rely on. As the Liberal government continues to bang the drums of war, we must ensure that our platforms are actually ready. We must make sure there are no capability gaps. We can't afford for our personnel to be working with anything less than the best, because they deserve the best, and it's time for the government to catch up.