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Op-Ed: Defence West in the COVID-19 world

Matt Moran

COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, and one of them has been that effective communication has never been more important, explains Matt Moran, executive director – Defence West.

COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, and one of them has been that effective communication has never been more important, explains Matt Moran, executive director – Defence West.

With borders shut, travel restricted and the normal networking events cancelled, I initially thought industry engagement would decline – but for Defence West, the opposite has occurred.

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The era of online meetings has well and truly arrived – and in many ways has improved productivity and brought people closer together. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of sovereign capability and the need to have robust supply chains.

There is also a greater appreciation of how lucky we are to live in Australia and I feel there’s excitement in the air about getting out and about again, when restrictions are lifted further.

Part of the Western Australian Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation, Defence West champions the interests of Western Australia’s defence industry, providing a united voice to the Commonwealth. 

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Defence West and WA’s defence advocate Rear Admiral (Ret'd) Raydon Gates, AO, CSM, have been involved in the regular phone conferences with Defence and the Minister for Defence Industry and the Minister for Defence.

These have been very helpful and have improved the communication between the states and territories, industry, Defence and the federal government. There is hope this level of communication and willingness to work effectively together towards a common goal will continue.

Keeping our defence industry safe, secure and well-positioned to recover from this pandemic involves collaboration across all levels of government, industry and academia – it’s good to see this happening.

Gates has been reporting this vital information to industry through the Defence West newsletter. These updates have proven to be a hit and have ensured people have the latest details as the impacts of COVID-19 evolve and what Defence and the Australian government is doing to help companies.

Minister for Defence Issues Paul Papalia has also had two video conferences with WA defence industry and associations to hear directly from them about how COVID-19 is affecting them, and what we can do to help.

COVID-19 caused, and continues to cause, unprecedented challenges for individuals and the local community, and while the defence industry isn’t immune it has shown itself to be resilient and reliable. We are lucky compared to many others.

It is increasingly acknowledged the defence industry is one of the key sectors that will help Western Australia’s economy recover from COVID-19. Defence West is working very closely with the Commonwealth to fast track infrastructure investment.

The draft Strategic Infrastructure and Land Use Plan for the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson has been completed and we are seeking feedback on it. The plan highlights the short, medium and long-term development required at the AMC to meet the needs of Defence and other sectors.

It’s critical we get this right because we have a once in a generation opportunity to build the infrastructure required to help the defence industry boom in WA and create thousands of new jobs.

This work is important as we implement the Western Australian Defence and Defence Industries Strategic Plan. The plan has a vision to make WA the home of a “robust defence industry with a broader and deeper defence industrial base that is respected, innovative and competitive”.

The plan is the first time the WA government has committed to an overarching vision and direction to ensure the state can fully contribute to the national and international defence industry.

A skilled workforce is a critical part of ensuring WA can deliver Defence’s requirements.

COVID-19 has exposed many sectors to job losses and there is an opportunity now for people to reskill or upskill to join the defence industry and secure a more stable career. We need to promote this and attract more people to this exciting sector.

WA has a highly skilled workforce concentrated at Henderson. Defence industry employees work alongside people with complementary skills from industries such as oil and gas, mining, manufacturing and construction. This means WA can provide a resilient workforce with transferable skills, which will serve the nation and its strategic interests well as we try and grow the defence industry.

The state is working on a Maritime Defence Industry Workforce Development Plan, which will outline how WA will increase the number of workers in the sector further. This will help the state diversify its economy and provide people with more job opportunities, something very important as we deal with the fallout of COVID-19.

The WA government continues to advocate for Collins Class full cycle docking to move west and we are working hard to ensure we have the required workforce and infrastructure at the AMC.

It is in the national interest to move FCD to WA and also international best practice to co-locate sustainment with operations. WA has put forward a compelling case, committing to invest significant money in infrastructure upgrades and workforce development.

West Australian training institutions and universities are world class and are co-operating with Defence and defence industry to deliver the workforce required.

Defence West has been working closely with the Naval Shipbuilding College to encourage people to tune in to their webinars and sign up to their workforce register.

South Metro TAFE has worked in partnership with the defence industry for more than two decades to deliver a range of qualifications and courses throughout Western Australia.

As a leading provider of skills training for the defence industry, SM TAFE is collaborating with employers to ensure skills gaps are identified and suitable training programs are developed and implemented.

The $2.4 million SM TAFE Naval Base Campus is helping achieve this. It is strategically located near the AMC, and is well positioned to meet the needs of Australia’s Defence programs. Since opening in June 2019, the campus has taught students valuable skills in key defence trades, including welding.

WA’s ‘lower fees, local skills’ initiative has halved the price of key trade qualifications required by the sector. The cut price courses include the Certificate III in Electrotechnology, Certificate III in Engineering – Fabrication Trade and Certificate III in Engineering – Mechanical Trade.

WA has been designated as one of two naval shipbuilding hubs in the country – with a focus on constructing minor naval vessels and sustaining a variety of Navy ships and the Collins Class submarines – but WA is capable of so much more.

Defence West is working hard to capitalise on the state’s other key skills developed through the resources sector and help companies win more work.

2020 has been a year of challenges but it is also full of opportunities. COVID-19 created an extraordinary shift in the way we live and work – and it highlighted effective communication can be achieved in person or online.

Defence West is always looking to create productive relationships, foster innovation, collaboration and wider engagement.

We are lucky in Western Australia to have a passionate local defence industry working in the national interest. Local companies are keeping people employed and doing critical work for Defence in very difficult circumstances.

Defence West will continue to advocate for local companies to help build sovereign capability and equip our men and women in uniform with the best possible kit.

Matt Moran is the executive director of Defence West.

Op-Ed: Defence West in the COVID-19 world
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