Defence Strategic Review Welcome But Questions Remain

1 July 2020

Senator Rex Patrick has responded to the Coalition’s Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan, pointing out that the announcements generate as many questions as they answer. He also notes that the Government has once again failed to provide necessary certainty to South Australia’s maritime and naval industry.

"The plans announced today represent further investment in Defence, which is good given our current strategic circumstances," said Senator Patrick. "However, I note that the commitment comes against a backdrop of underspend on acquisition over recent years and an overspend on sustainment. This is a worrying trend that has not been addressed in the Government’s plans and could serve to undermine effective implementation of them."

"Regrettably the plan also does little to address the general and real concerns amongst Australian industry that local participation is not a priority. Australian industry means real onshore capability, not hotels or office furniture and definitely not offshore work contracted through an Australian shopfront. There has been a lot of past rhetoric on the importance of local industry participation, but the Government has scored a big ‘F’ in policy implementation. This is a nationally significant issue and an area where immediate change is needed."

“I welcome the announcement of two new sea lift and replenishment ships, the re-commitment to the building of a Pacific Support Vessel and the Ocean Protector replacement but note that the Government has not committed to build them in SA in accordance with the Naval Shipbuilding Plan. That Plan has all large and complex vessels being built in SA and minor vessels such as patrol boats, mine warfare vessels and hydrographic ships being built in WA. I’m calling on the Government to commit to an SA build for these vessels."

”Embarrassingly the Government also failed to resolve the long running and unnecessary saga over Collins Class Submarine Full Cycle Dockings. The Government would have been well advised to announce without further delay that Collins Class deep maintenance will stay where it is in Adelaide, and not be shifted as a political gesture to WA. We know that moving this work from SA to WA would cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars, harm national security and rip $400 million of annual economic activity from SA."

Senator Patrick also noted announcements in the information warfare and space sector domains.

"The Government’s announcement in relation to expanding information warfare capabilities for the ADF reflects the rapidly changing nature of conflict. This is an important capability area for any modern Defence Force toolkit and I note that this presents an opportunity for Australian companies in and around RAAF Edinburgh in SA."

"Another area of growing capability which is welcomed is space," said Senator Patrick. "Unfortunately, there has been lack of emphasis on Australian industry in this area and, indeed, the Government should be designating this very clearly as a sovereign industry capability. There is a lot of local capability in this sector, and not just in the cities. We need to tap into this and fully exploit Australian ingenuity."

"Today’s commitment to Defence is a step forward, but some major budget control and underlying sovereign capability issues need to be addressed if the steps announced today are to live up to the rhetoric from the Prime Minister that accompanied them."

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