On 12 September 2018 WA DEFENCE REVIEW hosted its third Strategy, Defence & Industry Dialogue for the year, this time in partnership with the City of Perth. A large gathering of senior officials and decision makers from across government, industry, defence and academia, Dialogues deliberate on policy and strategy affecting Defence and defence industry in the West. Chairing the meeting was past Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, who is now the Chair of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Western Australia.
The meeting affirmed the view that Western Australia has never been in a stronger position to influence the debate on Australian Defence policy and strategy. The State now has a Minister for Defence Issues, a government agency, Defence West, and multiple bodies representing WA’s defence industry. Additionally, WA’s advocacy in the defence space can no longer be dismissed as mere parochialism. The concept of Australia’s geo-political zone of influence being the Indo-Pacific region is enshrined in both the 2013 and 2016 Defence White Papers, as well as the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. Advocates for WA should be encouraged to raise their voices and to expect to be heard.
However, in advocating for a larger share of the Defence budget, the meeting believed it advisable to focus on fewer goals and thus increase the prospect of success. While marine construction projects are impressively large, the sustainment of those platforms through their lifetimes amounts to the greater sum, and the work is evenly distributed and reliable. WA has an established defence sustainment industry supported by nation-leading infrastructure.
This is largely to be found at Henderson’s Australian Marine Complex (AMC), which has brought large contracts to Perth from offshore oil and gas, defence, and marine sectors. Major sustainment works have been occurring here for years, including Collins submarine mid-cycle dockings and upgrades to the Anzac frigates. The AMC, with its Common User Facility, was an Australian first when established in 2003, and from the outset was planned with future expansion in mind. When in 2010 it unveiled its state-of-the-art floating dock and transfer system, it came with the provision to double the dock’s length to accommodate the Royal Australian Navy’s largest ship class, the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD).
In reference to WA’s well known and cyclical ‘boom and bust’ mining economy, the meeting agreed that there are many synergies between defence and resources industries. To survive and thrive, businesses should gear themselves to supply both sectors, which involves mainly cultural and procedural adjustments in order to meet the unique characteristics of each. But greater diversification of markets should be pursued if possible: for example, a successful local engineering company has diversified its clientele into resources, defence, civil works, construction, and transportation.
There was concern among the attendees that WA’s, and indeed the nation’s, vital economic assets in the North West may potentially be inadequately defended against modern asymmetric threats. Military intervention can only occur when invited by civil authorities and takes time to assemble, when what is needed is prevention and quick response. The meeting was keen to ensure that all relevant authorities and resources companies meet regularly to review their risk management and contingency plans for such exigencies.
Discussions also touched on subjects such as industry clusters, the extraction and refining of rare earths, battery manufacturing, promoting innovation, educational institutions meeting industry skills needs, and reviving coastal shipping services.
It was an intense half day, well spent in canvassing for solutions to national security issues, while increasing the participation of WA industry in defence.
“There are many technology and capability crossovers between the subsea energy industry and the defence industry, in areas such as autonomous vehicles, monitoring, remote operations and logistics to mention a few. It is therefore very useful to facilitate communication between these industries, both to find ways for Australian subsea companies to enter the defence market and to provide a strategically important local capability”
Marius Martens, Chairman, Subsea Energy Australia
“The WA DEFENCE REVIEW Strategy, Defence & Industry Dialogue, themed: “Defence and Resources: Future Trends and Prospects” has provided the opportunity for stakeholders in the public, private and academic sectors to collaborate more effectively on issues of common interest. The considerable overlap in trades skills and capabilities between the resources and defence sectors suggests that there are opportunities for those in one sector to move across into the other, especially in response to the boom and bust cycles that commonly characterise the resources sector. Furthermore, as the Australian defence focus moves from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific, and Western Australia enhances its defence-industry sustainment capabilities to support a growing defence involvement in the Indian Ocean region, the overlap between the defence and resources sectors should become increasingly more significant. The Dialogue provided an important forum for stakeholders to collaborate and explore future opportunities more effectively”
Bill Turner, Director, Australia Africa Mining Energy Group
“The Petroleum Club of WA were very kindly provided an opportunity to attend the recent WA DEFENCE REVIEW roundtable dialogue focussed on synergies between the resources and defence industries across WA. The event was attended by dignitaries and industry leaders from both sides who provided valuable insights on the importance of collaboration and innovation driving the two industries closer together. WA DEFENCE REVIEW provided the audience with a masterful display of facilitation, teasing out thought provoking ideas for everyone to take away. We look forward to supporting this important industry initiative again in future”
Andrew Hornby, Governor, Petroleum Club of WA