Ross Roberts of Harwood Marine, located in the Clarence Valley region, recently spoke at the NSW Legislative Council standing committee on state development's defence industry inquiry in Tweed Heads, where the managing director lamented the process Australian SMEs are undergoing as they look to contribute to Australia's largest defence spend in recent decades.
"I have been to nearly everything that opens and shuts. I go down to every meeting. I fly everywhere. I go down to Canberra. I go here, I go there and they say, 'Isn't this great?'," said Roberts.
"I will repeat what was said to me in Canberra by a guy when I got invited to a talkfest. He said, 'If you want to get something across in Australia, make it successful in a foreign country first'.
"That was about a technology that we are working on with the Japanese for ships and it is exactly the same story with that."
Roberts said Australian SMEs finding success with their products and services overseas has been a pivotal factor in making their work attractive to Defence in Australia.
"I am working in other places in the world with this technology," explained Roberts. "Every time I put it up to the Australian whoever it is, I get a long list of stuff to fill out and paperwork. We are not that company. We have not got those people in our company. We are shipbuilders and shipyards."
The Harwood Marine managing director said overseas contractors, including China, have approached the company to provide expertise for defence products, but fears without government support Australian SMEs will lose out in contributing to Australian defence projects.
"I have been invited to China to be involved in a joint venture to build a little attack craft for Nigeria. They were building them there and we were asked to build them in the Philippines. We met them because we were buying so much Chinese gear for the ships we were building," explained Roberts.
"We have recently had an inquiry for a French vessel and a United States Navy vessel to be slipped. These are defence vessels. It is starting to happen, but it would be so much better if we were confident that the New South Wales government was behind us and supporting us. It is very hard when you have to do everything yourself."