Victoria and Western Australia: Prospects for Defence Industry Cooperation

December 15, 2019
John O’Callaghan presenting to defence and resources sectors decision makers in Perth. Credit: WA DEFENCE REVIEW.

Key Points:

  • Two of Australia’s economic powerhouse states, Victoria and Western Australia, are integral to the future of Australian defence industry, and share many commonalities.
  • Existing collaboration between the two states’ defence industries is already extensive, particularly in relation to the R&D, naval shipbuilding and sustainment sectors.
  • In the foreseeable future the nature of this cooperation may indeed expand further, as the number of companies in both states to continue to grow, offering potential for collaboration in a range of areas.   

Victoria’s and Western Australia’s defence industries have much in common.  This is especially so in naval shipbuilding and sustainment.  However, it’s not limited to this domain. It also includes wider investment in Australian defence industry content and capability, domestic supply chain growth – including in global supply chain activity – advanced technology R&D, technology transfer, export growth and education and skilling.

Visit to Western Australia

Earlier this year I undertook a recent visit to Perth to discuss and observe the latest advances in naval shipbuilding activity, as well as other defence industry activities. 

Upon appointment in February this year as Victoria’s Defence Industry Advocate, such a visit by me represented an opportunity to share views with my WA counterpart, former RADM Raydon Gates, and other leading defence industry representatives.  Opportunities for additional cooperation between our respective defence industry sectors was high on our agenda.  More about this shortly.

Historical Context

Nearly 40 years ago, the then Hawke-Keating Federal Government transposed Australia’s defence industry.  It sold the nation’s government-owned dockyards – at Garden Island in Sydney and Williamstown in Melbourne – to defence industry firms. BAE, Tenix and Thales became major lead contractors at those locations. 

These companies began to engage Australian companies, principally SMEs, to build and sustain new naval platforms.  This included two FFGs and 10 Anzac-class frigates at Williamstown.  Many of these SMEs are located in Victoria. 

ASC was created at Osborne in Adelaide to build six Collins-class submarines.  All of the submarines were to be home-ported at HMAS Stirling, the nation’s premier naval base.  The expansion of naval activity there led to the development and expansion of Henderson as the sustainment entity for a range of naval platforms.  The next, major phase of naval industry activity is now underway at Henderson. 

Modern Context

The current Australian Government has committed to a new Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise program which represents the largest, single naval investment in more than four decades. It amounts to $89bn expenditure in a range of programs including: 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), nine Future Frigates and 12 Future Submarines.

One of the highlights of my visit was a briefing and tour of Civmec, at Henderson.  It’s a highly experienced and successful company involved in the energy, mining and resources sectors.

It has also turned its engineering expertise to naval shipbuilding. It’s partnering with German shipbuilder Luerssen through its subsidiary, Luerssen Australia, and a joint venture with Australian Maritime Shipbuilding & Export Group (ASMEG).

Construction of the first two OPVs, known as the Arafura Class, has commenced at Osborne ship yard in Adelaide.  Civmec has delivered steel for these vessels.  The remaining 10 vessels will be built at Civmec’s Henderson facility.  Major expansion of the facility to accommodate this build is underway.

A further highlight of my visit was to HMAS Stirling, Australia’s premier naval base.  Current works at the naval base amounts to more than $300m, with longer term investment amounting to $1.5bn foreshadowed.

Defence Science Collaboration

Another of my roles includes chairmanship of the Defence Science Institute (DSI) advisory board in Victoria. DSI connects university research expertise with defence industry companies and the Defence Science and Technology Group. 

The research undertaken via this relationship is delivering advanced technologies of critical importance to the Australian Defence Force.  DSI supports PhD students involved in this research, providing a basis for their potential, long-term future employment in defence industry. 

Earlier this year, DSI provided input during creation of the recently established WA Defence Science Centre.  During my visit to Perth, I met with representatives of Defence West, led by WA Defence Advocate, Raydon Gates, which provides, among other things, support to the Defence Science Centre. 

The research work being fostered by the centre involves partnerships with all WA-based universities.  This work covers a range of domains including automation, cyber, naval capabilities and space.

Future Options

Collaboration between WA and Victorian defence industry companies is extensive, especially in the naval shipbuilding and sustainment sector.  This will continue to grow as new capability programs continue to expand over the coming decades.  This will see the number of companies in both states grow, offering substantial build and sustainment opportunities. 

Importantly, jobs will arise for young people to enter defence industry.  Long term, advanced technology careers can be expected.  This is good for business, good for the national economy and good for developing new skills.