EYE ON THE PRIZE: Promoting the Hunter’s defence industry capabilities will hopefully land the region jobs and innovation opportunities. Picture: Jonathan CarrollThe NSW Upper House Standing Committee on State Development is undertaking an inquiry into the Defence industry looking at how NSW based companies can maximise opportunities from Defence’s growing exports and investment in defence capability. It is also looking at how we maximise economic benefits of locating defence force bases and defence industries in the regions. The Committee sat in Newcastle last week.
Hunter Defence made a submission to the inquiry. Representatives of Hunter Business Chamber and HunterNet gave evidence before the Committee.
Hunter Defence is a joint initiative of the Hunter Business Chamber and HunterNet to collaborate on initiatives to promote the Hunter’s defence industry capabilities as well as provide strategic leadership on defence issues and to advocate to government and government agencies in relation to the region’s defence capabilities.
Compared to other States, NSW has often been seen as “missing in action” in the defence space. It is said that in other states political leaders from the Premier down are far more engaged in dealing with Defence and defence industries and that in NSW and we have missed opportunities.
While Defence invests about $5.5bn annually in its operational expenditure in NSW with direct employment of about 26,500 people and an additional 29,500 indirectly employed, the Defence sector contributes only about 2 per centof gross state product. This may explain a perceived lack of interest by governments in the past but, fortunately, that is changing in NSW. The contribution in the regions is far more significant. It is more like 10 per centin the Hunter and 12 per cent in Shoalhaven. In its submission to the current inquiry, Defence NSW noted that “Defence investment is one of the key drivers of employment and economic growth in many regional areas”.
The Defence NSW submission noted that for “every $1bn in Commonwealth defence spending we can attract to NSW will boost our State Gross Product by $1.4bn and support up to 10,000 jobs across the economy”. These figures alone must surely incentivise the NSW Government to get behind the Defence industry in NSW and the many opportunities it presents for jobs and investment growth and the development of advanced manufacturing industries.
There has to be a high level of political engagement to achieve this outcome and it has to be a bipartisan whole of government approach.
What is good for the Hunter is good for NSW and vice versa. It was for this reason that the Chamber released its Hunter Defence Strategy in February 2013. The principal recommendation in this strategy was for the “NSW Government to develop a comprehensive NSW Defence Industry Action Plan”.
It took four years for the Government to release a Defence and Industry Strategy in February 2017. The Government is to be congratulated for having now done so and also for establishing Defence NSW as an agency within the Department of Industry to drive the State’s engagement with Defence and industry. The test now will be whether Defence NSW is adequately resourced to do the job it has.
It is pleasing to see the strategy drawing the connection with the Hunter Regional Plan 2036 and the recognition of defence as a growth area for the Hunter in that Regional Plan.
The Hunter Defence submission stressed the need for essential enabling infrastructure to support the opportunities for investment and development at Williamtown. One key piece in this puzzle is the M1 to Pacific Highway upgrade which was included in Infrastructure ’s priority list released last February, together with the upgrade of Tomago and Cabbage Tree Roads.
Support for Newcastle Airport’s plans for new airport infrastructure and the creation of a defence and aerospace hub is also critical to foster innovation and employment opportunities.
Opportunities in the Hunter are not limited to the JSF and AWAC programs at RAAF Williamtown. The Standing Committee also took the opportunity to visit the Carrington marine precinct being developed by Thales, an exciting opportunity to bring ship repair and maintenance back to the Hunter.
Other good news stories emerged last week with Varley announcing a partnership with Israeli company Rafael to establish a manufacturing facility for an anti-tank guided missile as part of the LAND 400 project and BlueZone’s announcement that it is working with the Army to develop robotic boats for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Hopefully these good news stories will only gather momentum the more the State Government and business groups engage with Defence and the defence industry.
Tony Cade is CEO of HunterNet and Richard Anicich is a director of Hunter Business Chamber