Visiting Perth in July, for the first time since his appointment in February, was Victoria’s Defence Industry Advocate, John O’Callaghan, who made himself available for a lunchtime event held at Riff, a co-working, meeting rooms and event spaces facility in St. Georges Terrace, organised in collaboration with the CORE Innovation Hub and WA DEFENCE REVIEW.
O’Callaghan replaces Victoria’s inaugural Defence Advocate, Greg Combet AM and is charged with promoting Victoria’s defence industry interests with key stakeholders, nationally and internationally, as well as providing the Victorian Government with strategic and defence industry related advice. He has a background at senior levels in both industry and government.
He said that Victoria currently accounts for about one-third of all defence work in Australia, with about 1000 entities employing around 20,000 people. He sees these statistics growing and Australian industry, in general, further maturing in the foreseeable future.
O’Callaghan reminded attendees that some 30-40 years ago much of the nation’s defence industrial capacity was Commonwealth owned and run, dominated by multiple unions, and operating at a low rate of productivity. In the years since, we have seen major platforms constructed in Australia by the private sector with much improved efficiency. The Anzac-class frigate fleet build is one example. He said it was unfortunate that government failed to provide a rolling program of defence construction to maintain industry momentum, and this has necessarily caused some problems.
But looking to the future we have some $200bn of work coming, giving industry the opportunity to plan, invest, engage, and prosper. O’Callaghan’s advice to all is “get in early”. He understands that “the primes are tough” and that “getting in is not easy”, but primes are the avenue to participation. “You need”, he said, “to get into supply chains and become a trusted partner”. But he also warned: “don’t put all your eggs in the defence basket”.
Once in the supply chain, there is the possibility of continuing to supply even if a contract moves to another state – as has occurred in O’Callaghan’s experience in Victoria.
He said that the Federal Government’s push for Australian industry to take on F-35 aircraft sustainment work would open even more opportunity for job creation and exports. O’Callaghan is also encouraged by Lockheed Martin having committed to establishing a research facility in Australia, a sure sign of confidence in the Country’s industrial future.
Western Australia, he says, is well placed to participate in coming programs. HMAS Stirling is a very major facility and is “fundamental to WA’s involvement.” The base has already spawned a local defence industry and will continue to be a major source of work. Not to be overlooked are the newer areas of defence relevance – space and cyber security – and Western Australia is active in both.
O’Callaghan wants to see more transparency from the primes, enabling comparison of their performance against government’s policies, and other indicators. He suggests a data base is needed to “bring it all together”.
He believes that both Victoria and South Australia have kept their unemployment rates at reasonable levels, despite major losses of manufacturing industries, and that its an indication the defence industry has taken up some of the slack. If so, this further underscores the importance of the defence sector to the nation.
On the subject of WA’s lithium industry, O’Callaghan said that, at this time, lithium is not under consideration for use on defence platforms, owing to its propensity to start fires. As technologies progress, this position could change.
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) is present in both Victoria and Western Australia, and O’Callaghan believes it has been a “closed enclave”. One way to give stimulus to the defence sector is to better connect the DSTO with industry, giving the former a more commercial outlook and the latter a research arm. Such synergies could produce results well in excess of the sum of their parts.
As many readers will be aware, WA has in recent years attracted many high-level speakers such as John O’Callaghan, an indication that WA’s defence industry is maturing, in keeping with the trend in the rest of the country. It is WA DEFENCE REVIEW’s intention to continue to bring senior figures, with real knowledge, authority and connections, into contact with WA industry leaders through its events programs, website, Video Channel and Annual Publication.