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Op-Ed: Supporting and enhancing Australia’s defence industry capability

There are numerous online resources that outline the government’s response to COVID-19 and supporting the development of Australias critical defence and defence industry capability, explains Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

There are numerous online resources that outline the government’s response to COVID-19 and supporting the development of Australias critical defence and defence industry capability, explains Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

Australia is facing the most rapidly changing and strategically challenging circumstances since the end of World War II. In the space of a few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has further disrupted Australia’s strategic environment.

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As part of Australia’s whole-of-government COVID-19 response, Defence is pursuing four lines of effort.

  1. Support to public health;
  2. Support to the economy;
  3. Safeguarding national security; and
  4. Supporting the near region.

As Minister for Defence, under the four lines of support to the economy, I tasked the civilian and military arms of Defence to deliver three important priorities, which are well underway.

Firstly, to provide tailored, scalable and agile assistance to states and territories to support Australia’s whole-of-government COVID-19 response. Right now, we are seeing our ADF doing what it does best: using their ingenuity to respond to a complex and rapidly changing environment.

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Defence established in March a COVID-19 Taskforce to provide support to the whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 crisis, and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our people.

Under Operation COVID-19 ASSIST, more than 2,200 ADF personnel have been deployed on the ground providing logistics and personnel support, movements and repatriation support, engineering support, and assistance with contact tracing. Meanwhile, our Defence APS workforce has been supporting Australia’s vital defence industry to minimise the economic impact of this pandemic.

Secondly, to enhance support to defence industry to deliver new and sustain current capability for the ADF. To do this, we have established a dedicated Industry Support Cell within the COVID-19 Taskforce.

Australia’s defence industry plays an important role in our economy, as well as contributing to our sovereignty, security and safety. For our economy to bounce back from this pandemic, we must ensure our defence industry remains strong.

It is the industry that equips our Australian Defence Force to be agile, potent and ready to face the challenges in our region and the world, and right here at home.

That is why Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price and I are actively engaging with the defence industry sector to support them through this period. Already, the Morrison government is fast-tracking payments to suppliers – now in excess of $4 billion – to ensure they receive invoice payments up to two weeks earlier than usual.

This is helping to ease cash flow pressures on around 15,000 Australian businesses in the defence industry sector that employs around 70,000 Australians. Defence also continues to provide advice and support to other departments, and has worked co-operatively with state and territory authorities to facilitate urgent cross-border movements for defence industry personnel.

It is pleasing to see that defence industry businesses are already showing resilience and a unified purpose, too, with companies working together to design, produce and supply medical equipment in the fight against COVID-19.

Defence has worked to support these efforts – from the South Australian company Axiom working with Defence Science and Technology to rapidly produce face shields for frontline healthcare workers, to Med-Con in Shepparton where Defence personnel have helped to produce 2.6 million face masks.

Defence’s extensive supplier arrangements are also supporting urgent procurement needs of other government agencies. These include commercial procurement, and freight and logistics support to rapidly source and transport medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Thirdly, to continue to deliver government and Defence objectives. The current COVID-19 crisis has not altered Australia’s long-term strategic security challenges and the importance of sustaining a credible and capable presence in the region.

The global and regional impacts of COVID-19 are accelerating emerging trends, where our Pacific neighbours may require more support than ever to manage the impact of the pandemic or global economic situation.

The Morrison government’s $200 billion capability investment plan is being closely managed to ensure we continue to deliver government and Defence objectives against shifts in the domestic and international environment.

To meet the government’s objectives, both domestic and foreign, we remain committed to our major Defence projects, including:

  • The Naval Shipbuilding Plan, which will deliver 15,000 new Australian jobs;
  • Continuing investment in Defence establishments across Australia;
  • Equipping our Army with advanced land vehicle combat systems, including the build of Protected Mobile Fires in Geelong;
  • Ongoing investment in the autonomous unmanned aircraft to support existing platforms such as the Joint Strike Fighter; and
  • Building Australia’s sovereign industrial capacity with grant and seed-funding programs.

Rather than slowing down or stopping our major programs, Defence is adapting to the current environment and looking for innovative ways to continue business. That is why we are forging ahead with virtual industry events, ensuring that prospective businesses can still pitch their capabilities to Defence.

This is a challenging period for all Australians, and indeed, the world. Ensuring our defence industry remains strong during these unprecedented circumstances is crucial to Australia’s national and economic security.

Minister Reynolds was sworn in as the Minister for Defence on 29 May 2019. Minister Reynolds served for 29 years in the Australian Army as a Reserve Officer in a wide range of part and full-time appointments.

She was the first woman in the Australian Army Reserves to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier and was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross.  Minister Reynolds was elected to the Australian Senate in 2014 and again in 2019.

Op-Ed: Supporting and enhancing Australia’s defence industry capability
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