Interview with Gary Hardgrave for Chris Smith Tonight, Sky News

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The Hon Melissa Price MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for Science and Technology

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28 December 2021

GARY HARDGRAVE: First up tonight, and I think it's an important point of business; The Morrison government has now laid very plain the need to build up our defence industries again. I think a lot of people will breathe A great sigh of belief that we're talking about making stuff for Australia. And we're also talking about defence. The Minister for Defence, Industry and Science and also Technology, Melissa Price is joining us from her home in Geraldton. Good to talk to you, Minister. I hope you’ve had a great Christmas and look forward to the New Year.

MELISSA PRICE: Thank you, Gary. Yes, I have had a terrific Christmas. Geraldton was the hottest place in Western Australia on Christmas Day, so it got to about 46. So we've had it pretty hot. But I was just reflecting. Gary, are you and I the only ones working today?

GARY HARDGRAVE: There's a whole bunch of people behind us who are.

MELISSA PRICE: Very good. Well, it's good to be with you. And just reflecting on your comments before I joined you about covid and the issues relating to lockdowns, et cetera. Of course, I'm from Western Australia, so we often feel like we're locked in or locked out. And in the last three months, I've either been in Canberra or in isolation, apart from two weeks. So it makes it pretty tough to do your job.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Yeah, well Minister, Canberra is the most vaccinated city in the world. You'd think you'd be the safest person walking around the streets of Western Australia, but let's talk about defence industry. Your portfolio - Peter Dutton, I think, has put a real strength into the defence force with his advocacy, the way he's dealing with the personnel of our defence forces and good on him. But your job now is to make our defence industries work. Defence industries are good for all industries in Australia, aren't they?

MELISSA PRICE: They are, and often people don't understand what we mean by defence industry. So I think it's worth actually looking at that. We're talking about who actually builds our ships, who maintains our planes, who's the one that's got the great idea for the next drone, et cetera. And, you know, it's a growing industry. If you just look at shipbuilding, for example, our very ambitious shipbuilding plan. We're going to need 15,000 people working in shipbuilding, which, of course, will be long term, very highly paid, sustainable jobs. At the moment Gary, we've only got 4000 people, and we see that across all of the domains that there is this great need for really highly skilled people. And not just tradies, other people, project managers, naval architects, people - a bit unkindly, people who work behind computers, wearing tracksuits, but they've got some really great ideas coming up with fabulous combat systems - software, for example. But it's a growing need for our country. We're going to spend over $200 billion in the next ten years on our defence capability, and we need more and more people to be involved in helping us to build that capability.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Minister it’s such long lead times with everything involving defence. We've seen a lot of stuff. Argy-Bargy comes and goes about submarines, for instance, long before all the French stuff and then the post – AUKUS decision. But everything just takes so long in defence. How do we speed this up? How do we get people geared up in the industries itself geared up for Australia's defence needs?

MELISSA PRICE: So I think the main thing, Gary, is to ask to make sure that defence industry involved in that decision making. So back in just over twelve months ago, we surveyed industry and also stakeholders, et cetera, to sort of ask them, how can we improve the system? And when I say the system, I don't just mean the contract - and I'm an ex construction lawyer, Gary, so I can tell you there are many defence contracts you can't jump over. And you know, that's a real warning sign for me when I see something so large. And that makes it very difficult for people to be able to tender the cost of tendering. But it's not just the size of the contract. It's the people that are involved in procurement. And we've got a number of people that have been involved for a very, very long time in defence procurement, and we need to make sure that they understand that we need to be much quicker and more efficient when we're making decisions. But then once you've actually decided who's going to get the contract, there is the government decision-making process as well. You know, it gets through defence, and then it gets to government. And from my perspective, and I know Peter Dutton joins with me in this opinion as well - we need to be much more agile when it comes to decision making, because we have to be and industry expects us to be like that. They expect us to be much more commercial in the way we go about decision making. And there's this review that we've done over the last twelve months is really showing us that things like reducing tender times, making sure we've got the right people making sure our contracts are not too big, that you can't jump over them, that we're not ensuring that there's a huge impulse on industry to be able to tender for Defence work. So we've learnt a lot. But you know, I've been in the role for around two and a half years, and this is what we call the ASDEFCON review. But in addition to that, we've made all sorts of other changes to make sure that really Australian industry gets a red hot go when it comes to over $200 billion worth of investments in defence capabilities.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, I think all of this is music to our ears because it's a bit like the NASA space program, the technology that rolled out of that space program in the defence sector, the technology that's involved and the processes that are involved and indeed, the workforce that's involved does have a rub off effect across, well the civilian sector as well.

MELISSA PRICE: Yeah, absolutely. And I, you know, just highlighted that the skill set that we need when it comes to shipbuilding. But you know, the jobs in defence industry are incredibly highly technical. And as I said, if you're looking at a job in shipbuilding, that's a job for life. And people sort of imagine it's the old, I don't know, English war movies where you go into an old shipyard and it's all dark and gloomy and it's filthy. You can eat off the floor in a modern shipyard now. So, you know, but it's a challenge for us to make sure our young people who are thinking about what their next career is, that they realise that shipbuilding is high tech and is a job for life.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Yeah. Well, Minister, the thing that I found most disturbing about our discussion just now is the fact that there have been those roadblocks, the bureaucratic roadblocks. It's almost like some people within the system have said, well you know, "this is a great place to work in a Defence procurement as long as nobody actually expects us to procure anything." They just keep the process going more than the outcome coming.

MELISSA PRICE: That's right. And I think to be fair, if you think you go back 10 or 15 years of people working in Defence procurement, it was about speed, what can we do? You know, they'd lean over off the shelf and they'd say "Right I've bought this foreign piece of gear that will do." And you will have seen over the last 15 years we're moving closer and closer, you know, to making sure that we've got a sovereign industry here, Gary. You know when, as I say to anyone who cares about these things, we need to be able to build at home so that we can defend our home. Now this has been a drum that I've been beating for some time, but I think what's happened, COVID has helped people to realise just what I've actually been talking about. Because when it has come to various defence projects, they've been impacted by COVID. Whether it comes to sort of foreign equipment or even just getting people that have got the right skill set who come from overseas, who would come in just for a short period of time and go back home again. Well, we haven't been able to do that. All life has been so much harder. So COVID has really helped, especially from a defence industry perspective, the government to really focus on. Okay, that's actually what we need to do. So this review that we've just finished and all the new templates and the new processes that will roll out in 2022 are going to make just us getting our capability just so much quicker.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, I think that people need to talk to their kids and their grandkids about the idea that there are careers in this sector. It's interesting. It's high tech. It's everything you've ever seen in any of those sort of great adventure movies. But it's really down to getting big stuff done. Australia spends too much time buying stuff from overseas and not building it here. We need to get back to building stuff, Minister.

MELISSA PRICE: Absolutely. And people talk about, "Oh, we've got no manufacturing." Honestly, that is absolute rubbish. Talk to people who are involved in defence industry. We just look at the Joint Strike Fighter program. We've got over 50 different companies that have been involved in that Joint Strike Fighter program. Which are companies building bits of gear, bits of equipment that go on every single Joint Strike Fighter across the globe. We should be incredibly proud of it, but we've got a bit of a branding problem, Gary. So anything you can do to overcome that, you know that would be appreciated.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Good on you, Melissa Price. Great to talk to you and look forward to catching up through the course of the new year. That's Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price from Geraldton.


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