Australia Faces Elections This Year: What Impact on Defense?

By Max Blenkin

With the federal election expected as early as May, the Coalition and Labor have both pitched to defence industry representatives, saying why they would be better for the nation’s defence and defence industry.

Labor is tipped to win but Labor Defence spokesman Richard Marles isn’t foreshadowing immediate steps to produce a new defence white paper.

At a Defence congress in Canberra on February 13, Mr Marles said he had examined white papers since 1987 and apart from some differences such as the end of the Soviet Union, there were some consistent themes.

He said he did not want to reinvent the wheel.

“Sometimes white papers can be something of a crutch for giving a government something to do. I reckon we know what we want to do. I am not really excited about providing a lot of resources and a lot of time to the next generation of a west of themes which are pretty well understood.”

Mr Marles said Labor was completely committed to the development, sustainment and fostering of an Australian defence industry actively engaged in exporting.

But he said the coalition’s defence industry policy wasn’t underpinned by any strategic rationale, as were export policies of nations such as Sweden and Israel.

“There is a reaction to the loss of the car industry on this government’s watch and maybe just maybe what this government is trying to do is have a defence industry policy as an expression of its industry policy,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the coalition when it comes to defence industry I fear are policy tourists. They are here right now but a future conservative government not facing the loss of the car industry…will it be so committed to a defence industry.”

Mr Marles said the government was already backsliding with the Future Submarines Strategic Partnering Agreement signed this week by not mandating any level of Australian industry content.

Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo said looking at the coalition’s record over the last five years, industry would be hard pressed to criticise the government’s initiatives. He said despite Labor’s assurances of support for defence and defence industry, its track record was very different.

“If elected at the next election, Labor will come under significant fiscal pressure because the simple credits and debits of promises made versus revenue that will be coming in don’t line up,” he said.

Mr Ciobo said historically Labor had turned to the defence budget for funds to pay for their spending promises.

He said the coalition had commissioned 54 new vessels for the navy since it was elected, versus none for Labor during its six years in government. “I am happy to stand by that track record every single day,” he said.

Mr Ciobo said the government planned to reduce the current $20 million threshold for defence projects to spell out Australian industry involvement.

“We will release inside the next four to eight weeks the defence policy for industry participation.

“This will require Australian and local industry requirements to all acquisitions above $4 million,” he said.

This article was first published by Australian Defence Business Review on February 13, 2019.