Defence trio armed with experience

Several new ministers have been sworn in as part of the new Labor government, among them Pat Conroy, who will assume the position of defence industry minister.

Mr Conroy will be responsible for defence industry, international development and the Pacific, hinting at the role industry can play in solidifying diplomatic relationship building.

Richard Marles, in addition to his responsibilities as deputy prime minister, will be responsible for the defence portfolio. Former shadow defence industry minister, Western Australia’s Matt Keogh, will take on the portfolios for veterans affairs and defence personnel.

This trio of ministers will be critically important to Australia’s security interests. Given the experience of all three ministers in relation to defence matters, they are well positioned to assess the context and address the challenges, building upon the work of their predecessors.

As discussed in a recent Business News column with Mr Keogh, Labor is aware of the challenges across the sector and has plans for each. This includes the National Reconciliation Fund to create jobs, a force posture review to assess security vulnerabilities, the establishment of the Australian Strategic Research Agency to foster future technologies, as well as important veterans affairs issues affecting veteran pensions and employment.

Of interest to the business community is the challenge of increasing Australian industry participation. This objective needs to be met within a context of heightened geopolitical tensions that demands more depth of capability and the latest technologies.

Experienced defence industry professionals will be tempted to think this desire for more capability at greater speed will lead to the prioritising of off-the-shelf solutions and turnkey solutions from major multinationals, bypassing much of the local defence industry in the process.

I am inclined to believe this is no longer the case, that our desire and urgent need for more capability can be enhanced by, and achieved with, industry.

The pathways and support for innovations to be recognised by the defence sector or major contractors is better than it ever has been, albeit with some frustrations.

Most major primes all have offices in Australia and are genuinely engaged. While the turnkey tendency is still prevalent, primes by nature of their industry immersion are more likely to engage with local partners to help deliver results or to introduce innovation.

Skill shortages across all industries support deeper supply chain engagements from prime contractors with local industry, as do warranted concerns over supply chain sovereignty and security.

Advocacy bodies, as well as state and federal agencies are robust, well-resourced, and eager to assist.

And yet, there are still issues for Mr Conroy to tackle, given the context mentioned above.

Defence procurement needs continual review. From the perspective of equipping and supporting the Australian Defence Force, the time between need identification and delivery must improve.

Outgoing minister Melissa Price made inroads to shortening the Australian Defence Contracting (ASDEFCON) templates and processes, projecting a saving of 12 months on what was a 48-month average. Thirty-six months is still too long in a high-technology, critical demand sector and ASDEFCON itself may need rethinking.

Large packages of work can often leave smaller businesses on the sidelines, so further efforts to encourage prime contractor engagement, or to break those work packages into smaller, more contestable elements may reap benefits.

In a highly competitive market for skills, continuing to position the defence sector and defence industry as a superior career choice is important. This links closely with further work on defence and political culture, female mentorship in defence and industry, and indigenous engagement policies.

While not directly connected to the defence industry, international diplomacy also presents opportunities to improve, and industry can play its role in knowledge sharing and skills initiatives with neighbouring allies.

I would like to take the opportunity to offer sincere thanks to outgoing minister Ms Price. Her sincere passion for the role and desire to see industry have a fair go was appreciated by the entire sector.

Additionally, a significant thanks is owed to the outgoing ministerial staff members for their support of industry. While ministers either retain a role in parliament or transition to roles in the private sector on boards or as highly regarded advisers, politically aligned staffers may find themselves temporarily without employment.

While industry has consistently asked for their assistance in recent times, I trust they will feel comfortable approaching industry for help in their next career phase should the need arise.

• Kristian Constantinides is the general manager of Airflite, and chairperson of AIDN-WA; the opinions expressed are purely his own

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Defence trio armed with experience Source link Defence trio armed with experience

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