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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8483


Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-Monaro) (11:48): It's a great opportunity to speak in relation to this motion on an area where there's a lot of potential for bipartisanship. Of course, on our side we have been more than happy to engage in that open-armed approach to make sure that Australian industry has the maximum opportunity to participate in the defence industry space as it's going forward with the potential that new technology and programs that are coming on stream offer to them.

Unfortunately, the current Minister for Defence, the former Minister for Defence Industry, tends to play shameless politics in this space. He's claimed that they're the ones who have done everything in relation to promoting small and medium enterprise participation, but it simply isn't the case. What we have seen during the five years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has been, firstly, a period when a lot of stuff was derailed through the captain's picks of the Abbott era, but also the rebadging of what were Labor programs. I remember very vividly, as part of the Defence portfolio, the programs that we put in place to assist small and medium enterprise, which included the defence export unit. The defence export unit was very successful in enabling about 240 companies, from 2007 onwards, to get contracts in excess of $760 million. That was under Labor. We established that defence export unit. We established the Australian Military Sales office for facilitating commercial-to-government and government-to-government sales, which also resulted in many millions of dollars worth of deals. We established the Global Supply Chain Program, which enabled 90 per cent of the value of our activities in that space to fall to SMEs—262 contracts for 59 companies, with over $550 million worth of opportunities achieved.

We had many other industry support programs that provided great assistance to industry, like the Skilling Australia's Defence Industry, or SADI, program. Under that scheme, 26,500 training places were made available, including 3,000 apprenticeships. We've seen 140,000 apprenticeships disappear under this government, which is quite a stark contrast to what Labor was able to do in government in supporting those companies. There were 200 companies that participated in that SADI program. We established the Defence Industry Innovation Centre, which assisted hundreds of SMEs. Five hundred and seventy different companies were introduced to formal agreements to enable them to develop their technologies, their innovations and their business space to participate in defence industry.

In addition to all of those measures, I could go on for quite some time to talk about other mechanisms that we established. But there are still a lot of issues out there for Australian SMEs, which I talk to all the time in my role as the shadow defence industry minister. They particularly relate to dealing with Defence and dealing with primes, and the relationship between SMEs and primes. There needs to be a greater investment in facilitating that relationship and making sure our SMEs are dealt with fairly in working with primes. That includes getting paid on time, which otherwise creates severe buffeting for a lot of them. The CDIC process that the government established, which was meant to facilitate and assist industries, is not working anymore. It's broken because it cannot keep pace with the volume. Effectively, we need something with much wider scope and capable of facilitating the participation of SMEs in these processes and their development. The SADI program was axed by this government and replaced by a really ad hoc private operation which has not met needs. I talk all the time to companies that would like to see the SADI program brought back, because they got great value out of it.

What we've also seen with the massive shipbuilding effort, which will arrive over the next couple of decades, and with projects like Land 400 is that the skilling plan is just not there. We have seen a glossy pamphlet but no substance behind it. All the industry participants out there say to me all the time that they can't see how they're going to deliver the skilled workforce of the future. It would be Labor's intention in government to seriously address the issue of defence industry support, providing better identification of capacity and facilitating the further development of that capacity. In addition, we'd make sure there was a national, coordinated effort to build the skilled workforce needed to deliver these projects into the future. It's a great opportunity, but it needs a government that's not divided, inward-looking and focused on its own issues but looking at the future for Australia.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Bird ): There being no further speakers on the motion, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.