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Op-Ed: Supporting defence capability through Australian SMEs

Defence Connect | Melissa Price

Australian small businesses are critical to our defence capability and we need to keep them strong on the road to the post COVID-19 environment, explains Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price.

To help keep the wheels of defence industry turning, we promised to fast-track invoice payments to Department of Defence suppliers. We’re delivering on that.

We have made great progress to limit the effects of COVID-19 on small business in our defence industry. But we need to continue our support in backing small business so that they can continue to supply essential capability for our Defence Force.

The Morrison government’s investment of over $200 billion in our defence capabilities is creating and supporting thousands of local Aussie jobs and has opened new and exciting opportunities for small business.

Helping small businesses through this period and beyond is my top priority. That is why our government is continuing to inject much-needed cash in local Aussie businesses in our defence industry.

We need small businesses to succeed in Australia so that they can continue to deliver the capability our men and women in uniform rely on each and every day.

Businesses like Brisbane-based EPE. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of announcing that EPE had secured a $10 million contract with Leidos. They’re a small business that specialises in technologies to protect our soldiers from emerging threats, such as the risk of chemical and biological attacks. EPE will help Leidos deliver critical Defence capabilities in the area of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence.

In July last year, I visited EPE with my colleague, the federal member for Brisbane, Trevor Evans, to announce their $300,000 Defence Innovation Hub contract. To see their continued success since, including their partnership with Leidos, speaks to the quality of small Australian businesses that are contributing to essential Defence capability to keep Australians safe.

Maximising opportunities for small businesses to compete as part of the Australian Industry Capability (AIC) Program will mean more Australian businesses, like EPE, can contribute to the delivery of defence capability and drive economic growth.

The AIC Program requires tenderers to demonstrate that they have considered Australian industry as part of their tender response.

Last year, the Morrison government released the Defence Policy for Industry Participation. This policy extended the AIC Program to all Defence materiel and non-materiel procurements above $4 million, as well as construction projects above $7.5 million. Previously, AIC requirements only applied to material procurements valued above $20 million.

This significant change is an example of how the government is backing Australian industry, especially small businesses.

In times like these, we can be tempted to focus solely on business continuity, rather than pursuing innovation. But now more than ever, I want to commend innovative small businesses that are delivering and supporting enhanced ADF capability.

For example, Darwin-based SPEE3D are piloting cutting-edge 3D printing technology in the Northern Territory. This local business is working with the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Navy to allow high-quality metal parts to be printed on demand in the field or at sea. This will significantly increase the ADF’s ability to access what it needs and when it needs it.

Many Australian small businesses have smart solutions and innovative ideas that could contribute to our Defence capabilities. Opportunities exist for a broad range of small businesses – not just those who have traditionally thought of themselves as a defence industry business.

Sea-to-Summit is a local WA business with one of the largest diversified suppliers of technical field equipment in the world. They have signed a standing offer deed to provide $30 million worth of field equipment to the Australian Army. This will include shelters, sleeping bags, hand tools, and personal protective equipment to support ADF personnel both in Australia and overseas.

Under this deed, Sea-to-Summit is ensuring the ADF maintains a leading-edge in field equipment, making our personnel safer and more effective.

This is another example of how a small business, which would have typically sat outside the definition of ‘defence industry’, can and is having a marked impact on Defence capability.

I also recently announced 11 Australian businesses had received a total of nearly $5 million as part of our Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities grants program to help them grow our nation’s defence capability.

Some of these included Queensland-based Frontline Manufacturing, which received $710,000 to continue its work on armoured fighting vehicles.

Victoria-based Infinite Engineering received $1 million to increase the scale of manufacturing capacity and capability.

And South Australia-based Simbiant received $278,475 to design and commission a software defined radar advanced signal processing facility.

Our government has pressed ahead with this much-needed injection of funds in small business because we recognise their fundamental importance to developing essential capability for the ADF.

Our record $200 billion spend in Defence Force capability is not just buying us widgets, vehicles, ships and planes, it’s building up a sovereign capability in our small business community.

Agility and capacity for innovation – hallmark qualities of Australian small businesses – are the attributes empowering business to successfully withstand the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19.

I know, through my regular engagement with industry, that the vast majority of defence industry businesses are feeling supported by our government at this time.

This was reflected in the recent Defence Connect COVID-19 Business Survey, which reported 79 per cent of business owners and 83 per cent of employees in the defence supply chain were satisfied with the government’s response to the crisis.

We’re working harder than ever to ensure businesses have what they need to succeed. But I can have confidence in our defence industry because I’ve seen what they can do.

Small businesses always have – and always will – play a vital role in building defence capability here in Australia. There are great opportunities on the road ahead. And I’m looking forward to helping them to get there.

Melissa Price is the federal member for Durack and Minister for Defence Industry.  

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