Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy has told industry that the way is open for Australian manufacturers to enter the supply chains of the United States’ submarine construction programme.
Addressing the Australian Industry and Defence Network, he said the submarine project would deliver 20,000 jobs in the Australian economy, with the government investing $3 billion over the forward estimates into lifting the skills of the Australian workforce and uplifting the capability of Australian SMEs and companies.
However, Conroy said the AUKUS decision to equip the navy with nuclear powered submarines was not just about building Australian submarines.
Conroy said: “it’s about being part of the supply chain for the UK programme and even the US programme.
“I’ve just returned from the United States and I visited Electric Boat in Connecticut, and they are very keen to get Australian companies into their supply chain.
“They have significant capacity constraints and they see real opportunities for Australian industry to be part of their solution for their submarines as well.”
The minister called the decision to go nuclear as an epoch-shaping decision.
“This was an actual choice, let’s be frank about that.
“This Government made a conscious decision to invest in the Australian industrial base to produce submarines, nuclear-propelled submarines, in this country.”
Conroy said the government had also taken the decision to extend the previous government’s commitment to a continuous naval shipbuilding in Adelaide to continuous shipbuilding in the Henderson Maritime Precinct in Western Australia as well.
He also highlighted industry’s role in the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance (GWEO) enterprise which had received an additional $1.5 billion forward in the forward estimates in the recent budget.
“You can’t do anything without real money driving this project.
“Industry can’t make investment unless they know that there is money going in right now to drive that project, and that’s why we’ve brought forward $1.5 billion to make a commitment to long-range strike in GWEO, and $4.1 billion over the forward estimates.
Conroy said: “And we plan on making missiles in two years’ time. That’s an incredibly ambitious goal, but we are confident we can get there.”
In a wide ranging speech Conroy discussed the need for speed in defence acquisition, the government’s proposed contracting reforms, the defence industry review now underway and the need for government to take increased risk – including in using Australian developed capabilities.
However he stopped short of embracing calls from defence prime contractor Rob Nioa of Nioa Group made at the same conference for the government to mobilise defence industry to meet the strategic challenges facing the nation.
Nioa said: “I urge the government and Defence to engage more urgently with the Australian industrial base and industrialists.
“I suspect I speak for the room when I say there is a sense that Australian industry is currently sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be brought into the fight.”
Conroy did pat industry on the back, calling it a ‘fundamental input to defence capability’.
Conroy told his audience: “You are essential in the defence of the nation, and that criticality is even more apparent if we consider the environment we’re in.
“…We need you, and I’ll end where I began – which is you are a fundamental input to capability. You are critical in Australia responding to the strategic circumstances we face. Your innovation, your commitment, your agility is critical to giving the ADF the weapons that they need to defend this nation.”
Australia must enlist industry to deter conflict – Rob Nioa
Picture: Pat Conroy