6 April 2023

Business Illawarra launches 10-year blueprint for region's growing defence industry

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Matt Thistlethwaite

Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite addresses delegates at the Illawarra Shoalhaven Defence Industry Conference on 4 April. Photo: Facebook.

Business Illawarra has launched a 10-year blueprint for the development of the region’s defence industry at a conference in Wollongong.

Prepared by KPMG and launched at the Illawarra Shoalhaven Defence Industry Conference at the Novotel Wollongong on 4 April, the Illawarra Shoalhaven 10-year Defence Industry Strategy outlines a six-step strategy to expand the region’s role in the rapidly growing defence sector.

Executive Director of Business Illawarra Adam Zarth said the region was well-placed to contribute to the growing national defence supply chain, and stood to benefit greatly from new skilled jobs and accelerated economic development.

“We have the existing skills and capabilities to go even further in the defence industry, and this is about ensuring we have the right planning and collaboration so we can create thousands of new, high-value jobs right here in the region,” he said.

“The strategy we launched today contains key focus areas to leverage our region’s strengths, and is based on extensive consultations with industry under the guidance of a working group comprising the many stakeholders already doing great work in defence.”

READ ALSO New apprentices join Sikorsky Australia helicopter maintenance team at Nowra

The strategy’s six recommendations include: the establishment of a new Illawarra Shoalhaven defence industry alliance, establishing a defence industry innovation ecosystem, playing a greater role in planned and inflight programs, developing the region’s emerging tech contribution to defence, growing the number of major defence prime contractors, and growing the pipeline of skilled workers.

Managing Partner of KPMG Wollongong Adam Cole said he believed the strategy would result in a stronger and more diversified defence industry, with opportunities for locals lasting well into the future.

“The strategy we have developed is about building on the great strengths we have in the region, including our existing defence industry, our world-class university, our steelmaking supply chain and the previous work of many stakeholders,” he said.

“More than that, it is also a living document that will support a formal collaboration that we expect will deliver great opportunities and results for the region in the defence industry.”

Steel hull sections

Unanderra-based Bisalloy Steels is a key supplier to Australian defence programs including the SEA 5000 Hunter class frigate program. Photo: ADF.

The conference was addressed by Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite, who described the region as a custodian of so much of Defence’s industrial heritage, and also host to some of the most exciting innovators.

“Organisations like Business Illawarra play a vital role in the success of the defence industry, by helping to showcase and champion the innovators in the region,” he said.

“And the work you are doing as part of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Defence Industry Development Strategy is part of a vital national conversation about how we can all work together to make Australia safer and more secure.”

READ ALSO Got a question about Australia’s plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines? We might have the answer

Mr Thistlethwaite also said that Government and Defence both understood that industry was a critical partner, and highlighted a few of the region’s key players in the defence industry.

“Companies like Industry Spec Drones based here in Wollongong are doing interesting and innovative work, supported by Defence,” he said. “You only need to spend a moment down at Nowra with the dedicated personnel at HMAS Albatross to realise they are enormously appreciative of the critical role played by the defence industry in providing them with the cutting-edge solutions they need.

“The Illawarra Shoalhaven is also home to many innovators, like Mellori Solutions who are developing an innovative software application to automate radio frequency analysis to improve maritime situational awareness,” he added.

“Or SMETEC Services, operated by Louise and Tim Smeets, both Defence veterans, who’ve received defence industry grant funding to help them develop their specialised metal cutting and processing capabilities for use with ballistic armour in land combat vehicles.”

Conference sponsor Bisalloy Steels, which is based in Unanderra, is another Illawarra success story, having been selected to provide steel and armour to several major defence programs including the Army’s Project LAND 400 Phase 2 Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicle, and has been selected to supply steel for Hanwha Australia’s LAND 400 Phase 3 infantry fighting vehicle contender, a decision on which is imminent.

Bisalloy is also a supplier of steel to BAE Systems Australia for the SEA 5000 Hunter class frigate program underway in Adelaide, and has been certified by German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall to provide steel plate into its global supply chain for use on armoured vehicles manufactured in Europe.

Port Kembla

A decision on whether Port Kembla will be the site of Australia’s east coast submarine base is yet to be made. Photo: Google Earth.

The Assistant Minister also addressed the elephant in the room, namely whether Port Kembla had been selected as the location for the east coast base for the new nuclear-powered submarine Australia will acquire.

“Recently there has been a lot of conjecture on the proposed location for a new east coast naval base. I understand this has been the cause for both discussion – positive and negative – and possibly angst in the Illawarra community,” he said.

“But let me be clear. A decision has not been made. While the former government announced the need for an east coast base, the Albanese Government will take the time required to consider all feasible options.”

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