Australia’s Defence Industry As A Key Indian Ocean Rim Player

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Matt Keogh MP, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry speaking at the 2019 Western Australian Indo-Pacific Defence Conference. Image via author.

Key Points:

  • Australia should look to leverage its advantageous strategic position as the only Five Eyes destination in the Indian Ocean region that could provide complete sustainment, maintenance and repair capabilities as well as forward crew/personnel swaps with allied navies.
  • The facilities at HMAS Stirling, the largest Royal Australian Navy base in Australia; the Australian Marine Complex, which is located nearby with sustainment and support facilities in Henderson; and Darwin’s defence and industry facilities, are the principal locations from which Australia can offer to its allies and partners.
  • Capitalising on such opportunities will enable Australia to diversify its export economy and employment prospects and provide work between defence projects and further consolidate the international reputation of Australian defence industry.

Much of the focus in the Australia defence industry space of late has been on which companies will get the benefits of what Australian Defence Force capability acquisition and sustainment contracts and where this work will be undertaken. Concerningly, how Australian involvement in such projects maximises the opportunity to grow a sovereign defence industry capability beyond construction to also grow and leverage our intellectual property development has not received the focus from the Australian Government that it should.

Untapped Potential

This is not about projecting Australia into a global top 10 of defence industry exporters for the sake of the accolade, but looking at the opportunity to diversify Australia’s export economy and job creation opportunities, as well as providing some ballast of work opportunities between Australian defence projects and build our defence industry’s reputation internationally.

There is an opportunity ripening on our doorstep if we only have the strategic and government willingness to make it happen. I have no doubt Australian industry will be willing to step up to the plate to make it a reality.

Rightly, Australia and its friends have begun to appreciate that our position in the world is being located on the doorstep of Southeast Asia, or on the Pacific Rim. Australia is indeed right at the fulcrum of the Indo-Pacific and it is appropriate that we spend more time on the opportunities that our position as an Indian Ocean rim nation present us.

An Ocean of Opportunity

Right now, there are limited western defence naval and air bases around the Indian Ocean and those that do exist either provide limited sustainment support or are located proximate to areas of conflict. Australia should be positioning itself as the destination of choice on the Indian Ocean Rim for maintenance and sustainment operations of our close partner forces.

In particular, Australia should be leveraging its position as the only Five Eyes destination in the Indian Ocean that could provide complete sustainment, maintenance and repair capabilities as well as forward crew/personnel swaps. Not only does Australia present this advantage, it also has Indian Ocean sustainment locations that provide safe harbour, far from current points of global tension.

One example of this is HMAS Stirling, the largest Royal Australian Navy base in Australia, conveniently located nearby sustainment and support facilities at the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson. And of course, given its proximity to our near Asian nation neighbours, defence facilities and sustainment support based in Darwin should not be forgotten either.

The facilities and businesses are available in Perth to provide sustainment tasks to support not only the Royal Australian Navy but also the US, UK (and French) navies, as well as any others. They are not only located on the increasingly important Indian Ocean Rim but proximately to Southeast Asia.

Further, with Australia the only Five Eyes nation facing both the Pacific and Indian (not to the mention the Southern) oceans, it makes sense that our Five Eyes partners take comfort from the additional security and existing interoperability that they can avail themselves of by utilising Perth (and even Darwin) as a new repair location in the ‘Indo’ part of the ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Australian Defence Industry

Of course, this won’t just happen without serious engagement by the Australian Government with our global allies and partners. That is not to say they will need to be cajoled, but rather that they need the information placed in their hands, as well as guarantees that necessary infrastructure such as additional ship lifts, or even a graving dock, be commissioned to support these activities.

The best thing is that this isn’t about taking jobs away from any other area in Australia, rather it is about growing the Australian defence industry ‘pie’. Supporting and enabling such expansion of work for local industry will provide the additional resilience that a diversity of customers offer, more numerous and secure jobs, as well as greater defence and economic ties between us and our closest strategic partners.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s only, and do not necessarily represent the views of WA DEFENCE REVIEW.

About Matt Keogh MP

The Hon. Matt Keogh MP is the Federal Member for Burt and the Australian Labor Party’s Shadow Minister for Defence Industry, WA Resources, Assisting on Small and Family Business.

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