SPEECH TO WA DEFENCE INDUSTRY GALA DINNER

By Matt Keogh MP

05 November 2021

Acknowledgement of Country 

 

Playing “Yellow Submarine” to introduce me this evening was very apt –the trailer for which opens with the line “nothing is real” – which is a bit like the Federal Government’s plans for defence industry.

Indeed, sometimes I wonder if they realise that submarines are not in fact yellow.

The Government talks a big game on defence industry.

For instance, did you know that:

the Australian Government is investing a historic $270 billion into Defence spending

[and]

This is an unprecedented program of investment and opportunity for defence industry

The problem is, and you all tell me this time and time again so it must be true – that “unprecedented opportunity” just isn’t materialising as it should be.

Ultimately, we’re here for the same purpose, to make sure our men and women in uniform have the equipment and capability they need, if and when they need it – and that primarily, they – and therefore we – are kept safe.

 

Unfortunately, this Government is more committed to the photo-op than the follow through in obtaining the benefits that a truly national sovereign defence industry endeavour should deliver.

The problems being created for the long-term sustainability of not just our defence industry, but for the integrity of Australia’s capacity to service and sustain its defence are not limited to our ships and submarines but exist across our defence capabilities.

Australia needs a rational Australian Industry Capability building approach to defence industry policy based not merely on employing more Australians – as important as that end is – but on a strategic rationale that recognises that as an island nation located closer to areas of conflict than to our allies, we need to maximise our own capacity to build, sustain, upgrade and indigenise our defence materiel.

Unfortunately, this is all being played out in real-time before our eyes now.

Last week (the terrifying) Senator Penny Wong exposed in Senate Estimates that the decision on whether full-cycle docking was staying in South Australia or moving to WA was a purely political one.

The long delayed full-cycle docking announcement was finally made in September, buried by the AUKUS announcement, when they needed it to fill a fresh political purpose—a poor attempt at masking future job losses in South Australia — years of stringing along WA and South Australia, all for political benefit.

Then we’ve had the French Attack Class submarine deal, which started with a commitment to 90% Australian Industry Content, fell to 80% and then down to 60% - only to find this “industry content” included such amazing sovereign capabilities as:

  • Security guards
  • Real estate agents
  • Hotels; and
  • French language lessons – maybe we should have spent more on those actually.

Now, we get 60% of zero dollars – leaving many small businesses and their workers in the lurch.

With the new nuclear submarines – whatever and whenever they will be – after the war I guess – there was only an “intention” to build in Adelaide, meanwhile we hear AIC won’t actually be a priority.

Unfortunately, the Morrison Government have a solid history of gaslighting Australians and submarines will be but one example for Australian defence industry.

Just ask Scomo’s good friend Emmanuel – he doesn’t think. He knows

But let me be clear, Labor understands and supports the strategic rationale for the transition from a diesel to nuclear propelled fleet -we just want to make sure we actually get there.

Locally, the Government say there is billions of dollars of work coming to WA but what we all want to know is:

  • what is that work specifically?
  • when is it coming here?
  • Will it actually be done in WA or might it actually end up elsewhere?

and,

  • what opportunities will there be for SMEs to get involved?

We discovered only last week that the Pacific Support Vessel slated in 2018 to be built in Australia and most likely in WA, will now be purchased second hand overseas.

The Prime Minister said when announcing AUKUS, that his government would work with the Western Australian government to invest in a large dry dock at Henderson

“work with” – that's not a commitment, although it's a convenient teaser for a federal election campaign, I bet.

We don’t even know what that dock will look like, what it will be capable of, whether it will be a graving dock or a ship lift. Indeed, will it actually be built in WA?

And all of this is without even accounting for the fact that our nation’s only existing graving dock, Captain Cook dock in Sydney, goes into long term maintenance in just a few years time.

Western Australia has also been assured of a number of other future shipbuilding projects.

Yet, at present, there are no tenders, expressions of interest and certainly no contracts.

More concerningly, our existing shipbuilding work will have largely if not entirely concluded before work commences on any of these new projects.

This leaves WA shipbuilders heading towards a cliff without more certainty from the Morrison Government.

And I know these issues are not limited to shipbuilding.

With all of the above plus the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan, there have been many, many changes and additions to proposed defence capability plans since the 2016 Defence White Paper and Integrated Investment Program were launched.

The IIP stated that it would give industry a broader view of opportunities and greater certainty about timing of projects to inform planning. To ensure currency it was to be online and periodically updated.

But this has never happened – leaving industry in the dark about what still remains in the IIP, what has been cut or shifted right to enable expenditure on new capabilities inserted and what was included but may now be redundant.

Yet there has been no public update, no online version and a lack of overall transparency and clarity for industry. A hodge-podge of fact sheets won’t cut it.

If there is one thing you have all understandably made clear to me over and over again, it is the desire for clarity and transparency for planning.

We must ensure Defence Industry businesses receive the investment they need to scale up, so we can be as self-sufficient here in Australia as possible – that we have our own sovereign capability and can develop our own indigenous primes.

It’s incomprehensible to me that many of you have customers overseas jostling for your capabilities, but you struggle to get a look in when it comes to the ADF.

A Labor Government will invest in Australian industry and our workforce.

Labor will create ‘Jobs & Skills Australia’ to advise on the future work opportunities, such a defence industry, and to ensure that Australians can benefit from them.

Should Federal Labor get into Government, this will be supported by our announced National Reconstruction Fund, which will provide up to $15 billion of capital to invest in job creating projects through loans, equity and guarantees to support and grow Australia’s sovereign capability as well as research and development for the future.

It's only Labor that will ensure defence project contracts are transparent and companies are accountable to ensuring that work happens here in Australia, that we develop the IP here in Australia, that we develop our capability and that we're not just sending this work offshore.

Long after Labor committed to this, the Minister for Defence Industry started saying they are actually doing it but all evidence is to the contrary.

We must also be encouraging more young people, from primary school onward, to be getting into the sectors that we need.

That’s why Labor has also announced that 1 in 10 workers on major Federally funded projects will be apprentices.

A Federal Labor Government will also initiate a new Defence Force Posture Review.

Without pre-empting the findings of the review, I would expect that from this review, opportunities in defence industry will flow.

Defence export is also important – not to maximise foreign revenues to Australia but rather assisting Australia in projecting its strategic weight with other nations.

This can occur through providing regional maintenance and sustainment for joint strike fighters and land transportation equipment through businesses and facilities down our East coast, but more importantly here, supporting the maintenance and sustainment of friendly navies operating in and around our region right here in WA – an opportunity that should be more available with our new AUKUS partnership.

And of course, a thriving defence industry will support and ensure a thriving advanced civilian manufacturing sector too.

Labor is committed to building and developing Australia’s sovereign capability, local manufacturing, local jobs and protecting Australia from supply chain disruption, to ensure the best for our ADF, and the health, security and prosperity of our nation.

Despite all of this apparent doom and gloom though, I really want to acknowledge the great success of our Australian defence industry too, and especially here in WA.

Only here in WA would we have to slow down shipbuilding so we don’t embarrass the South Australians.

Only here in WA do we have businesses who’s products are included in nearly every tender put forward locally or internationally for a defence project.

Everyone knows the success of the WA resources industry, and I see the way, time and time again, technology and capability developed there, provides such great capability for our ADF.

Only in WA could we boast two industry players who tell me they could each build submarines themselves if they wanted – Christopher I know you’re out there – please don’t’ tell anyone back in SA.

From businesses who have worked in defence munitions and engines for a century to new start ups pushing high speed computing to the new levels, critical for truly 5th generation forces here and abroad – we are killing it.

We know we can do better and more.

We back ourselves every time at the Olympics and we can and should back ourselves more in defence industry.

The future can and should be bright for Australian defence industry – I look forward to working with you to make that happen.

 

Thank you.