Opinion Piece - Defence jobs more than work on subs

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The Hon Melissa Price MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for Science and Technology

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3 December 2019

Rarely does a week go by without a story in the West Australian or Adelaide Advertiser about the competition for the Collins-class submarine full cycle docking work.

But seldom do we hear about defence industries in both states that are unrelated to submarine maintenance.

The fact is, both states are in the box seat to benefit greatly from our Government’s unprecedented investment in defence industry.

Right now in Henderson, Austal has the contract to build 21 Pacific Patrol Boats, BAE is conducting a major upgrade of our eight Anzac-class frigates, and Luerssen is preparing to build ten Offshore Patrol Vessels in Civmec’s new shed.

The shipbuilders, engineers, project managers and welders working at Henderson are part our 4,000-strong national shipbuilding workforce. But to deliver our Naval Shipbuilding Plan we’ll need 15,000 workers – so we have a way to go yet. 

Almost every day, more small businesses in the West or in South Australia, are taking up opportunities in our diverse, vibrant defence industry.

Companies like BRE Engineering in Perth, which will provide engineering services and material supplies for the Offshore Patrol Vessels. Or Regal Cabinets, another Perth business that will design and fabricate the kitchens for the Offshore Patrol Vessels. Or Sea to Summit which provide a range of outdoor equipment and sleeping solutions for our soldiers.

As Minister for Defence Industry, I hear more and more of these stories each week. Small businesses right across Australia who are responding to our calls to diversify and thinking about how they can play a part in the Government’s record build-up of defence capability.

Keep in mind our Government is investing $200 billion in a record build-up of defence capability - and our Naval Shipbuilding Plan makes up $90 billion of that.

One of the projects I want Western Australia to be more involved in is Rheinmetall’s LAND 400 Phase Two project. The Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles might be being assembled in Queensland, but it is companies right around Australia which are providing the parts.

There are numerous opportunities for WA businesses to take part in this project and many more like it. We need to think outside the box – and that means thinking about more than shipbuilding.

We’re lucky to have state and territory governments around Australia that are bullish in their approach to developing their defence industries, because that helps our nation to build a strong, internationally-competitive Australian defence industry. But I think more can be done when it comes to regional Australia.

In Western Australia there is a wealth of untapped potential in the regions. More can be done to educate small businesses in areas where there is no defence presence about the opportunities that exist.

I am confident there are regional businesses with potential to support our defence projects. The many companies that service the mining sector could transfer their skills and technologies to the defence industry.

There should be a push to bring the regions into our defence industry – and the State has an important role to play in promoting all defence industry opportunities.

We need a level-headed discussion about how Western Australia capitalises on the work already underway in our State. Civmec hasn’t invested in the largest shed in the Southern Hemisphere at Henderson just for the building of ten Offshore Patrol Vessels. They obviously see a long-term future for shipbuilding and the defence industry in Western Australia, as do I. It’s our job to make sure those economic benefits are felt right across our great state.

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