10 August 2023

I want to take a moment today to talk about something that is becoming increasingly important to Australia—that is, our sovereign capability to support our own defence needs and strategic priorities. As was noted in the Defence strategic review earlier this year, Australia is in an unprecedented and complex strategic environment. Our sovereign capability to produce defence assets is important not only for Australia’s own defence but also for the broader defence activities of our allies. This was highlighted at the recent Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, known as AUSMIN, in Brisbane last month. These talks advance the Australia-US alliance in a number of areas. A joint statement was issued by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong, with their US counterparts the US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. This statement covered increased bilateral activity in a number of policy spaces, including shaping an open and stable Indo-Pacific and taking action on climate change as well as defence and security co-operation. A key outcome of these discussions was a commitment to establish a local guided weapons industry which will produce missiles for the United States, and I guess the long-term vision would be developing for Australia as well.

Working with the United States, it has become very clear that Australia has a more significant role to play in preserving the balance of power in our region both through defence activities and the manufacturing of defence assets. Developing our understanding of how much the Australian Defence Force can fulfil its needs and support our allies through domestic industry is essential if we are going to make smart choices about our defence policy and adequately fulfil our role in the Indo-Pacific. This is why I’ll be chairing an inquiry into the capability and capacity of Australia’s defence industry through the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. This inquiry will consider how Australia’s defence industry is placed to meet current and future needs of the Australian Defence Force.

Procurement assets from our own defence industry has obvious benefits for Australian jobs. As our industry grows, so too does the number of opportunities for Australian workers to get good jobs, contributing to our national security. We can see this through the AUKUS agreement, which will support 20,000 jobs over the next 30 years. This inquiry is about more than just jobs; it is about a close examination of how we will be well positioned to have more investment in our domestic defence industry and how that industry is meeting our nation’s security needs. We all know there is some inherent risk in acquiring assets, components or services from overseas; we saw that recently with the global COVID pandemic. Australians are all too aware that we cannot guarantee the free transit of goods between nations, being an island nation, whether this is because of the pandemic, natural disasters, conflict or some other event we cannot predict in the future. It is imperative we take a serious look around our supply chains in this country.

Of course, sometimes this inherent risk must be accepted. After all, it would be far riskier for Australia to lack the defence assets it needs when it needs them instead of purchasing them from overseas suppliers. But this does not mean that we can ignore the cost, economic and strategic, of reliance on international supply chains of Australia’s defence. This is why I look forward to chairing this inquiry and getting a clear picture of what defence needs can be effectively met by our own domestic industry and what needs could be met with the right policies and investments. It is so important that industry leaders and policymakers have all the information they need to make a positive decision in the national interest. Our increasingly complex strategic environment demands deliberate, evidence based procurement. This is why the Albanese government commissioned the Defence Strategic Review, and that is why we are undertaking this inquiry.