West Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, chair of key defence committees, says state governments need to step away from unhealthy competition for defence projects.
Senator Reynolds said none could do it alone and there was enough work there for everyone.
“We won't get a truly sovereign capability if the state and territory governments are not working seamlessly with the federal government,” she told Defence Connect.
“It's important that the state governments now mature their thinking away from ‘we need to get everything for our own state’ to really having a more sophisticated look at working arrangements.”
Senator Reynolds, chair of the Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade legislation committee and of the defence sub-committee of the joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade, said there were plenty of opportunities for West Australia and South Australia to work together.
“I love a bit of healthy competition, but I think that's where we need to go from unhealthy competition between the states to a long-term working bipartisan arrangement between states,” she said.
Senator Reynolds said where once WA was once viewed as the resources state, it’s now emerging as a major hub for defence and space activities, with a large and growing army, navy and air force presence.
“There's billions of dollars’ worth of capital investment going into facilities there. We've got nearly 6,000 personnel based there, and their families. We've got pretty much half the Navy based over there,” she said.
“We've got new space capabilities going in. We've got everything, but we don't promote it very well.”
Senator Reynolds said it had taken 50 years of the WA state government and industry working together to create the resources boom, but people back east saw this as an overnight success.
“Not only do we fabricate equipment and large-scale fabrication projects for our oil and gas sector and mining sector, we also export over $20 billion a year of high-end fabrication goods,” she said.
“And we've got nearly 8,000 manufacturing SMEs, small five to 10-person companies who do some of the most high-tech instrumentation, development, and manufacturing.”
Yet the 2016 Defence White Paper didn’t even mention WA as a shipbuilding hub, despite longstanding shipbuilding work at Henderson, she said.
Senator Reynolds said when she first started promoting WA as a shipbuilding hub, people said she was mad and it was the same with the space industry.
“That's been part of my job, is to raise awareness within Western Australia but also having a look at adjacent industries,” she said.
“Outside shipbuilding … pretty much all of the major Australian defence companies or subsidiaries of overseas companies have had a presence in Western Australia in maintaining and sustaining vessels and developing other technologies.”
Senator Reynolds said the Henderson precinct was actually quite constrained, with the number of shipbuilders and fabricators and heavy Navy use.
“The state government's going to go ahead with the federal government's assistance in doing a master plan for the next 50 years for Henderson,” she said.
“There are signs that the oil and gas construction sector is increasing again, which will place constraints on our workforce. We need more infrastructure at Henderson.”
Senator Reynolds said new frigates and submarines would be constructed in SA with new patrol vessels made in WA.
“But Western Australia also has a great capability, if we get the infrastructure right and some of the other conditions, we can be a sustainment and maintenance hub for the next 50 years because we are already doing it,” she said.