The launch of the Defence White Paper saw Malcolm Turnbull presenting a plan to spend about $195 billion on military capability, with the Prime Minister keen to highlight the expected spillover benefits for the wider economy of investing in Australian industry.
The federal government ‘hit the reset button’ on the relationship between industry and Defence with the release of the Defence Industry Policy Statement and, as telegraphed, is formally recognising Australian industry as a fundamental input to capability, with the implementation of a continuous build of surface warships being held up as an example.
While there is unsurprisingly a feeling within industry circles that the true test of the industry policy lies in the implementation, something rather intriguing has already happened in terms of Australian industry involvement in delivering projects.
Defence announced that the government had agreed to extend the Request for Tender evaluation period for LAND 400 Phase 2 to allow a review of the Risk Management Activities (RMA) to ensure that it aligns with the new industry policy.
You might say that deciding to delay the announcement of a down-selection that might exclude a tenderer with strong links to a particular region of the country, for example, could be politically expedient.
But, taken at face value, this development does seem to be a positive one, holding out the promise of striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for Australian industry.
And interested parties have long sought to play up the opportunities for Australian industry that their bids would unlock, so the focus on the Australian Industry Capability Plan should not come as too much of a shock.
From the perspective of the Australian Army, the RMA review will apparently not change the in-service date for the Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle.
Nevertheless, it is worth considering the Chief of Army’s clearly argued plea for media commentary to focus not on what is good enough but on which land system would be best for Australia, to match discussion about the F-35 and the Future Submarine program, before getting too carried away with analysis of the anticipated industry benefits alone.
There is still a vitally important capability to be delivered, one way or another.
While the LAND 400 extension might be interpreted as an early victory for industry following the release of the Defence Industry Policy Statement, news of the selection of the preferred tenderer for the Maritime Operational Support Capability project was used as a launchpad to attack the government over its decision (announced in June 2014) to go offshore for replacement replenishment ships.
Talk of 3,000 jobs being sent to Spain, disputed by the Defence Minister, obviously does not sit well with the White Paper’s message on creating employment opportunities.
But to be fair to the government, looking back at the announcement of the restricted competition for the replenishment vessels does reveal the extent to which the tone of the discussion around industry’s role has changed, and very much changed for the better, since then.
Industry will be hoping that the new, less confrontational language being used by the government to describe the future relationship between industry and Defence translates into positive action.
And what clearer sign could there be of commitment to Australian industry than announcing a domestic submarine build, if not the actual international partner, with the country poised for a possible election in July?