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Defence decisions 'will drive jobs and the economy'

Opinion

The Government must develop an environment where the defence industry can invest in itself to become globally competitive, argues Defence Teaming Centre boss Chris Burns ahead of a pre-election forum in Adelaide today.

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>> Watch the Defence Leaders Forum today in Adelaide – click here.

It’s become clear to Australians that as the international economy shifts, our local industries will need to adapt to survive.

We can no longer ride the highs and lows of commodities, and as the global oversupply of raw materials has dragged down our prices and brought the resources boom to a close, we need real commitment to the alternatives.

It’s no secret Australians like to make stuff. But as it became clear our auto-manufacturing industry was doomed, the community – particularly in South Australia – was left wondering: What next?

It wasn’t simply that South Australians stared down the barrel of high rates of unemployment, lack of job security and simply no insight on how we were going to undo the decades of poor planning and complacency that let us to advanced manufacturing. It was that advanced manufacturing catered to our notion of identity.

Australians know that in a time of conflict, it is the nation’s ability to deliver on our defence requirements that will make the difference. A new poll has also shown that a whopping 83 per cent of Australians believe governments should apply rules of local jobs and content in national infrastructure projects, stimulating the economy, creating jobs and promoting future prosperity.

The Defence Teaming Centre is holding a Defence Leaders Forum today in Adelaide, where both major parties will make their cases on their future plans for the Australian defence industry. Watch it live from 12.45pm here.

Building our ships, submarines and other defence equipment naturally fits within our values of independence and self-reliance as an isolated island nation. This is what drove businesses, workers and the broader community to call for a supported national defence industry.

For numerous political terms, politicians threw around the football that is defence acquisition. No party wanted to commit the vast resources required to deliver facilities, innovations and jobs to deliver future capabilities.

This period of indecision cost Australians thousands of jobs and taxpayers millions of dollars, and it will take industry years to recover the skills and efficiencies lost.

But it’s encouraging to see in recent months an increase in political appetite to work with industry to deliver policies aiming at investing in the innovation and technologies to take Australia from a commodity exporter to a leader in its fields.

We need to invest in industries that sustain our knowledge economy in the long-term

We’ve come a long way from where we were two years ago. Then there was almost a certainty Australia’s future submarines would be built in Japan. They will now be built by Australians in Australia.

Our future frigates and offshore patrol vessels will be built in South Australia and Western Australia, and billions of dollars will be shared across the country towards supply chain contracts for both the build and sustainment of those vessels. It’s a new era.

It seems parties have come to understand what industry has been trying to say for years: only with true commitment from government can the defence industry invest in itself to promote the innovations in technology that will not only deliver the best product for our troops, but will also transfer successfully in a variety of sectors – making our country globally competitive.

We can no longer rely on the unstable markets of commodities – we need to invest in industries that sustain our knowledge economy in the long-term. Defence acquisition decisions are not short-term decisions connected to the three or four-year considerations of the political cycle. These decisions will drive jobs, skills and the economy well into the future.

Defence projects deliver a mixture of blue-collar and highly skilled white-collar jobs that are at the centre of Australia’s future prosperity. These projects, along with skill and technology advancements driven by ongoing certainty and commitment, will give our economy the edge it needs in the 21st century.

Ultimately, industry needs government to develop the environment where industry can invest in itself to become globally competitive, delivering added benefits for industry, workers and the Australian economy.

The defence industry will affect local jobs, local content and the local economy, and with ongoing unemployment, we believe South Australians will consider it first when heading to the polls next Saturday.

Chris Burns is the chief executive of the Defence Teaming Centre and national spokesperson for the Australian Made Defence campaign.

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