Good evening everyone and thank you very much for the welcome.
Can I just first acknowledge all of you for the work that you are doing and the presentations that you’ve given tonight. It is your energy, your commitment, your professionalism, that is actually allowing us to do more as a nation with our own defence forces. And a lot more can be done.
I particularly want to acknowledge Stephen Harvey, the newly elected President of the Australian Industry and Defence Network – Victoria, as well as Ian Honnery, CEO of the Aerospace Maritime and Defence Foundation of Australia and Ric Smith, Chair of the Defence Council Victoria, AIDN.
For those who don’t know, I had a small role in this area not too long ago, so some things are new and some things stay the same. Today, I want to talk about what is new, because there are some significant challenges and some significant opportunities in our area.
So I’m going to talk to you a little about where we are going – not where we are hoping to go, but where we are going to go.
But I’ll start with a quick story, because on the way down here I spoke to Kim Gillis, I presume you all know Kim. He told me about being in Brisbane only a couple of weeks ago and he was about to talk to a bunch of Defence personnel and he got in the lift with this young Major there and the Major said, “geez I get sick of these things, some CO is going to come in here and tell us how it works, they just sit there and waste our time”, and Kim says, “well I hope he’s not that bad, hopefully he will be useful” and of course, Kim then got up and spoke. He said to the bloke, there is one lesson in all of this; he said always be careful who you are speaking to in Defence, you can never be too sure who they are. But I think the point is well made. I think it’s a good point for us to start.
For you who work to Defence, rather than the Defence personnel here tonight, reform seems to be an ongoing battle and it seems like someone is always coming up with a new name tag. That’s the way it is described - shuffling the decks, changing this around. Because there is an acknowledgement that we can do this better. As Stephen Gumley remembers well from when he was appointed head of DMO, all things can be new, and he understands the challenges as many of you do.
I want to tell you that with Kim, a lot of the stars have aligned, because we now have the First Principles Review. It is a solid document. But can I tell you that if it weren’t for the interaction between you, the industry, and Defence, we certainly wouldn’t cut through. We need to get much deeper, and Kim has a program, there is 90 weeks, three days and some hours on his clock. I’m quite serious. That is the timeline he has set himself to do what is required. So let’s just quickly talk a little bit about what is required.
For a start, you need a cultural shift. We have to understand that time is money and that the longer we take to create tender documents in the thousands of pages when they are not necessary costs you money, and ultimately costs Defence money.
A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not going to be enough in the future. Recognising those differences and being able to make provision for those differences is something that some people are going to resist. But can I say not to do it means that in a world that is changing so rapidly, we are going to put ourselves behind the eight-ball.
So in working with you, in taking on board your commentary, and in all of the meetings that I have been having with defence industry I am putting the question back to them – tell us about what you need to see change. You might be surprised to learn that they are pretty much universal, so what we need to do is implement them.
We need the right people, and that means bringing people in from the outside as well. You also then need to apply culture and it needs to permeate right down through the organisation with clear lines of communication, so that when things go wrong, people are prepared to stand up and say so, rather than just say this is the way things have always happened.
The task is enormous, but the rewards are also enormous. To get it right is going to be very, very challenging, but to get it wrong means that we put at risk our sovereignty and our security as a nation. So they are big decisions, they need good minds, they need good processes, and they need good Australian industry to delivery them as well.
Today, the Prime Minister’s Innovation Statement outlined something incredibly significant to you. Because, whilst it is about innovation in the general, it applies equally in this field. I can say openly in this room that the terminology of the White Paper will reflect this need for innovation. The approach of this Government will be embodied in the White Paper.
It is the way in which you must collaborate. The Defence Science and Technology Group, now has 26 Memorandum of Understandings with universities around Australia. How do we take that and commercialise with you, and build that relationship? How do we best leverage from our universities and Defence Science and Technology to help build our nation?
You have a very strong industry base here in Victoria and I congratulate you all on what you are doing. We need to be the champions, not just to each other within this room, but outside this room. The general public needs to have defence industry patented to the centre of this discussion about where we go, because your innovation is second to none.
We talk about cyber and people seem to get that, but it is across every sector, right across Defence, that you operate in. Even down to ration packs and what can be done in Tasmania, we can actually revolutionise the way the food industry works, in both operations and procedures. And we can take this technology not only into Defence, but into the general community too. There are many opportunities from providing for our Defence personnel, through to of course our communications, our cyber and our weapon systems. And of course, what we are doing with our soldiers is absolutely revolutionary, and so much of it is to do with technology that is built here in Australia as our own sovereign capability.
We then need to put to you, how do you want us to help you deliver that to the rest of the world? Not just supplying Australia, but the world so we become global manufacturers. The other day, I think Andrew Robb said it was something in the vicinity – although don’t quote me – of 80 or 90% of our imports exports today are components of another line item. So no one is actually manufacturing a whole item.
So to all of you, and the AIDN, we need to work with you as a Government to actually promote and work with you to build it. We need to be out there promoting people, so the best and the brightest out there go, “we actually want to go and work with these companies”.
Today, I was talking to a young fella who has actually won a scholarship to do a PhD, and I asked if he had ever considered Defence and he said, “Yes but I don’t know where to start”. Now, we have to change that because you need the best and brightest minds in this room. But how do we excite them, back at school and at university to think of these as rich opportunities, as your award recipients have done so tonight.
We are in a very exciting time. We have the White Paper coming out, we have good people leading a change to Defence which we all know is needed, What we are doing it going to be challenging, but with the right attitude, the right collaboration between Governments, the right collaboration between universities, and business and Defence, we can actually grow this sector. We can grow our manufacturing rather than seeing it deteriorate, because we have some of the best in the world.
So thank you again. I look forward to working with you in the future we work towards a better, brighter Defence sector.