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Top SA executive to lead national Defence shipbuilding


A former top defence executive, university Chancellor and South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet CEO has been tapped to lead Australia’s Defence shipbuilding program.

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Jim McDowell was appointed SA’s most senior public servant by former Premier Steven Marshall in 2018, after previously leading BAE Systems Australia and serving as UniSA Chancellor.

For the past two years, McDowell has been chief executive officer of homegrown global defence company Nova Systems.

Now he takes on the mantle of Deputy Secretary Naval Building and Sustainment at the Department of Defence, a crucial role in implementing the federal government’s plan to review its surface ship program and ensure the fleet is operating at its best.

McDowell said few jobs could have “tempted me to leave Nova but this is a once in a generation opportunity to implement the Defence Strategic Review and support the future direction of the national security of the nation”.

The strategic defence review released last month was commissioned by the Albanese Government to assess whether Australia has the best defence capability in place to deal with changing global tensions.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the government agreed with the review’s finding that the Australian Defence Force needs to be better equipped to combat threats.

Another short strategic review was commissioned to report third quarter that will assess whether the Navy surface combatant fleet is the right size, structure and composition to complement capabilities provided by the new nuclear-powered submarines.

South Australia remains central to the government’s largest capability project announced this year to acquire nuclear-powered and conventionally armed submarines that will be built at Osborne under a $368 billion AUKUS agreement.

However, McDowell said that would be a separate program to his responsibilities that include the sustainment contracts for the existing Collins Class submarines, overseeing building of nine anti-submarine warfare frigates at Osborne and the Offshore Patrol Vessels being built in Western Australia.

Reporting to national Secretary of Defence Greg Moriarty, the job involves running the process to award contracts for naval projects, negotiating and awarding contracts, overseeing contract performance and running the program to sustain naval vessels throughout their life.

McDowell said there were strategic challenges ahead in assessing the size and operation of the navy along with workforce development to ensure there are enough people to build and crew ships.

“This was an opportunity I simply could not turn down. It provides the ability for me to shape the future of Australia’s shipbuilding and sustainment and also to ensure I contribute to the effective implementation of the Defence Strategic Review,” he said.

Starting in the new job on July 31, McDowell will move between offices in Adelaide and Canberra along with travelling nationally and overseas.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Nova. It is a fabulous business, which has grown substantially over the years and has a solid growth path ahead of it,” he said.

“Nova has a very bright future ahead of it and that is testament to its exceptionally talented workforce.”

Steven Robinson has been appointed to a newly created role of Chief Operating Officer at Nova Systems to oversee a number of strategic initiatives implemented by McDowell and recruitment for a new CEO will start soon.

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