House debates

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Private Members' Business

Defence Industry

6:34 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset I want to thank the member for Stirling very much for raising this motion. It speaks to two important commitments of the Morrison government that we on this side of the House are committed to delivering on behalf of Australians: to keep Australia safe and to create more jobs. For anyone who just heard the Labor contribution before me, only the Labor Party provide a downside to the creation of jobs, but that is exactly what they're able to achieve. On this side of the House we are very dedicated to creating jobs for Australians without reservation, because we know that creating jobs means creating opportunity for Australian families and it means that we can achieve the economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession.

The member for Stirling, of course, not only is very keen to deliver these, as all members on this side of the chamber are; he has lived it himself as part of the Defence Force. He served his country and the ADF very admirably, and we thank him very much for his service along with the other members in this place who have served their country.

We are building a stronger defence industry and investing $270 billion in Australia's defence capability. We are in a rapidly-changing global environment, and the Morrison government, in this regard under the leadership of the defence minister, Minister Dutton, is significantly boosting Australia's sovereign defence capabilities and making sure that the men and women of the ADF who are dedicating their lives and professional careers to our national interest, have everything that they need to protect this country and be the best the defending force that they can be.

As the member for the Ryan electorate, I am very privileged to have in my electorate the Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera and to get to speak personally pretty regularly with the many dedicated personnel of the ADF who are based there at Enoggera. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the barracks with both the defence minister and then also with the assistant defence minister to talk to the personnel. I also have to admit that in a moment of weakness I agreed to be put through a personal training session with Assistant Minister Hastie. It didn't end very well for me, I have to say, when I tried to keep up with Assistant Minister Hastie! It was only meant to be a 20-minute training session, so they put together a bit of a circuit, and I thought, 'Jeez, you can survive anything for 20 minutes.' I was wrong—very wrong—but I can attest to the fact that the Assistant Minister for Defence, Assistant Minister Hastie, is in pretty good form, but, more importantly, that the men and women of the ADF, particularly the ones who are based at Enoggera, are in absolute tip-top shape to serve our nation.

While we continue to build our defence capability, we are also backing Australian jobs. This is the point I made at the very beginning. We're doing this wherever possible by making sure our defence contracts go to domestic suppliers. Since 23 March 2020, the Morrison government has paid over 391,000 defence invoices, valued at $26.9 billion, to Australian companies, and they are paid, importantly, earlier than the standard payment terms so that we can help these Australian small businesses to deliver jobs and deliver investments into their local communities.

For electorates like ours in Ryan, with large defence bases, our commitment means that local tradies and contractors get the business to work on our bases, helping local families and stimulating our local economies, so it's not just the serving men and women of the ADF who are located at the base with their families, who, of course, contribute to the surrounding community; it is also those contractors, tradies, local businesses and others who the bases support. We know that our defence industry can only survive and, indeed, thrive with the help of our outstanding Australian businesses, and in turn our Australian businesses are helped by the government guaranteeing capability opportunities for Australian SMEs in defence contracts. It is a win-win. It is a partnership between this government, Australian small businesses and the Defence Forces.

In 2019, the first-ever Boxer vehicle for the Australian Army was unveiled, and you guessed it: it was at the Gallipoli Barracks in Enoggera at the Ryan electorate. The Boxer 8x8 combat reconnaissance vehicle was officially launched under the LAND 400 phase 2 mounted combat recognisance capability project. It's a $200 billion investment for Queensland. It's something that team Queensland have fought hard for, and we look forward to continuing to see that investment and those jobs roll out into our communities going forward.

6:39 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

I must admit that I was impressed when I read this motion on the Notice Paper, not because it's yet another example of the Morrison government using defence as a political tactic—I have come to expect that from this government—it's the sheer hubris of talking about a $270 billion defence capability investment in a self-congratulatory motion when they have delivered very little except for media stunts, like sitting in a fighter jet while Kenny Loggins blares Top Gun. They spent a lot of money it seems, or so they say, but what do we have to show for it? Well, we have a very big capability gap while new kit is delayed, delayed and delayed because of this government's incompetence.

Labor has been calling out this government's multibillion-dollar effective cuts to promised spending on new defence equipment. In Senate estimates this week, the defence department confirmed what Labor has been saying when the department produced figures showing $10.4 billion in cuts to defence's military equipment acquisition budget since the release of the 2016 white paper. That's not what you read in the newspapers or the media releases. There have been $2.1 billion in cuts just this year, according to the budget papers just released. That's what hubris looks like.

Let's look at what we actually got for the money that has been spent. We have a potential nine-year capability gap in our submarine program while we wait and wait and wait for the new ones to be delivered. We have the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, our newest aircraft, which the marketing-man Prime Minister was recently in the jump seat of, posing for photos, with Kenny Loggins blaring. But it is flying only 64 per cent of its planned hours during 2021—more 'goose' than 'top gun'. And the list goes on.

The Morrison government is there for the cringe photo ops with the big jets and the ships to make it look tough on national security in the pickies, but it's not delivering for our men and women in uniform. It's not on their side. The only side the Prime Minister is on is his own.

Mr Sharma interjecting

I invite the member for Wentworth to come to my electorate to see where the Williamstown shipyard used to build ships under the Labor government. It's shuttered under the coalition government. This is a shipyard that had been building ships in Australia since Ned Kelly was in a prison hulk on the port. It closed under the Morrison government. There were 1,400 jobs in defence manufacturing lost because of the incompetence of this government on defence.

There's no national interest that the government won't subvert for they're own short-term domestic political interests. While the government are leaving our armed forces without the equipment that they need when they need it, they're out there beating the drums of war with China so that they'll have something to talk about at the next election. They can't talk about their record and they can't talk about their plans for the future, so they're confecting them. Our defence forces and our defence industry deserve better. The Australia people deserve better.

In my portfolio, in cybersecurity, the government's approach to capability is even worse. The domestic capability of Australia's cybersecurity industry is now a crucial part of Australia's ability to defend itself, and it could be a major source of jobs in Australia's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 Defence strategic update and the 2020 Force structure plan recognise the importance of cybercapabilities for Australia's defence forces. The defence mobilisation review found that, in the cyberfronts of modern unconventional warfare, many of the targets will be civilian businesses and individuals and that, similarly, the resources needed to respond will be mostly privately held. But whilst it's constantly talking about investment in sovereign defence capability, this government has no plans to develop sovereign capabilities in cybersecurity.

Indeed, industry development was a significant plank in the 2016 cybersecurity strategy, developed under the member for Wentworth's predecessor, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Unfortunately, industry development is utterly absent from the 2019 cybersecurity strategy. It doesn't appear at all. Apparently, there used to be no more exciting time to work in cybersecurity in Australia than under the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. But today it is utterly forgotten about in this government.

Technology is moving fast and constantly changing. That's why, to be effective, our cybersecurity capabilities need to be embedded in a diverse, interconnected and rapidly evolving private sector. Cybersecurity is an ecosystem; you can't defend a nation from cyberthreats from within silos within the defence department and the intelligence community. But there is literally no plan for industry development in cybersecurity. The former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, invested in AustCyber, an industry development firm, in the 2016 cybersecurity strategy. Now there are zero dollars from the Commonwealth going to AustCyber and it has been forced to merge with a private sector body in order to save it. No wonder, then, that the 2021-2022 budget had lots of money for our security agencies but little money for our cybersecurity industry.

If the Morrison government were serious on delivering on its national security photo ops, it would stop missing the opportunity and develop a strategic industry technology policy. (Time expired)

6:44 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this motion on defence industry and to commend previous speakers. In particular I say to congratulations to the valiant members of the Labor Party that had to fill up the speaking list on the other side and talk positively about defence industry, which would have been tough for them! The whip is obviously owed a big favour from those opposite that had to speak to this motion given their record when it comes to defence industry in this country, particularly in my home state of South Australia. It's the home of shipbuilding, where under six years of Labor, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era, an era that will live in infamy, not a single capital ship was commissioned for the Navy. In six years of Labor, not a single capital ship was commissioned for the Royal Australian Navy. Thankfully, that was some time ago, but the effect of that indecision is still plaguing us today. Nonetheless, hopefully there's no prospect of a Labor government any time in the near future either and so our government can get on with our commitment to defence industry and defence capabilities through the $270 billion we are spending on capability acquisition and sustainment through the 2020s, through that 10-year period.

As a member from Adelaide, I'm particularly proud of the decisions and the investments we're making in acquiring submarines and frigates for the Royal Australian Navy. The 12 attack class submarines are to be built at Osborne north shipyard and the nine frigates based on the type 26 BAE design, the Hunter class, are to be built at the Osborne south yard. The shipyard alone is an amazing engineering marvel. My good friend the member for Wentworth would agree with me, no doubt, that we have the most advanced shipyard certainly in the Southern Hemisphere and, by some measures, on the planet. It's a great thrill and pleasure any time you're out there with people from BAE who have come over from the Govan shipyards in Glasgow where they're building the type 26 for the Royal Navy and to see the salivation about the unbelievable shipyard that we have constructed through Australian naval innovation out there at Osborne south already and Osborne north for the submarine. It's something that is state of the art and is going to see us have a continuous naval shipbuilding capability and sovereign capability into the future, well beyond the attack or Hunter class programs and well beyond the lifetime of anyone in this chamber, because this is a government that is not only making decisions in the national security interests of our country but also ensuring we are achieving the industry outcome, the jobs outcome and the sovereign capability outcome.

This is critically important because the history of the armed forces in this country, particularly on the naval side, has been of having excellent capability that's been acquired from somewhere else. When it comes to submarines, we're ensuring that we will have a sovereign capability to build submarines into the future. So not only are we building the 12 attack class submarines here with our partners, the French, but at the end of that program we will have a sovereign capability in this country to build our own submarines, from our own design and to our own specifications into the future.

Mr Gosling interjecting

It's a $90 billion shipbuilding program that's been centred in Adelaide—the 12 submarines and the nine frigates. It is going to transform the capability of the Royal Australian Navy at a time when they desperately need an increase in their capability and their capacity to do the fantastic job that they do. The complexity of the Navy's challenge in our region is higher than it's ever been and unfortunately, into the future, that is only going to increase and become more complex. Having 12 regionally superior submarines built in Australia, built in Adelaide, is going to transform the capability of the Royal Australian Navy. We'll be doubling the submarine capability for the Royal Australian Navy as the attack class is delivered. Again, the Hunter class will completely complement that submarine capability. They're called 'Hunter' because they hunt submarines. Nine frigates will, again, be built in my home city of Adelaide to transition into the Royal Australian Navy to ultimately replace the Anzac class and other capabilities joined with the air warfare destroyers that were also built in Adelaide at the Osborne shipyard to give our Navy the capability they need to continue doing the fantastic job they already do in serving our nation and protecting our interests both domestically and abroad. Not only that but we are making sure that we are anticipating and equipping the Royal Australian Navy and our armed forces for the challenges well into the future.

Defence industry is now happening here, sovereignly, in Australia. It's thanks to the decisions of the Morrison government. I'm so proud that my home state of South Australia will be such an enormous part of this $270 billion investment over the next 10 years. (Time expired)

6:49 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My apologies for that interjection earlier, Mr Deputy Speaker. It's just a bit hard to sit here and listen to those opposite, in their eighth year, talking about 12 submarines that they're going to build, but they haven't started one yet. I just wanted to mention that.

I'd like to thank the member for Stirling for bringing forward this motion. It's a good opportunity to discuss such an important issue. He has served. He's a veteran of the Australian Army. I think the member for Stirling is a good person. He's a thoughtful person. I can think of another MP over in Perth who I would love to see out of this place before the member for Stirling. Ideally the member for Stirling would be staying and someone else should be retired and should be investigated. But I digress.

It is true that the government is talking about a big spend in defence industry. As I said, they haven't built a submarine yet. They don't really look that close to doing so. It's fine to talk about a big spend but what are we getting for it? When we're dealing with a pandemic, and the Australian businesses benefitting from this cash splash, I would put it that we've seen very little evidence that $270 billion is going to be spent by those opposite in a way that helps Australian players in the defence industries. There might be some crumbs of that $270 million, but what those opposite are failing to do is realise that SMEs are the backbone of our defence industry, not just back home in Darwin, in my electorate, but around the country. SMEs employ a significant number of people and create jobs through that supply chain.

I think our SMEs work really well with the big players. I think that as those prime contractors get their capability and buy out smaller SMEs they end up doing most of the roles in project delivery. As they do that they involve fewer and fewer Australian SMEs. I guess that's a consequence of the nature of the market. Those opposite are pretty keen to let the market rip, especially if they're getting donations from some of these big primes. But the declared aim of any federal government should be the sovereign capability of the nation and that includes all these SMEs out there who deserve a bigger chunk of the defence industry spend.

I know that our SMEs have a real commitment, because they're local people and local businesses, to sourcing things locally in a way that the prime contractors do not, because of their size and global footprint. Our local SMEs think about local supply chains. During the pandemic, where we have witnessed real disruption in trade, it's really important that we think about those supply chains and support our SMEs as much as possible. It's not only an economic imperative for our nation, but a security imperative as well.

It is true that our SMEs and primes are working together in places like Tindal. There are some good local Territory companies getting work on that project, but I'd like to see it move beyond that. I want to see a situation where Australian owned prime contractors are getting some of these big jobs. There are Australian SMEs that would absolutely be able to step up if they had a federal government that was prepared to invest in them, in Australians, in jobs for Australian companies working on Australian projects. That's what's ideal. That's what's missing under this mob. The question you've got to ask is: out of that $270 billion, how much is going to Australian companies? How much is going to Australian workers working for Australian companies? There's no reason why we can't have more Australian owned primes. That's what we should be aiming for and that is what an Albanese federal Labor government will deliver.

6:54 pm

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to acknowledge the member for Solomon and his contribution. I agree with him that SMEs are the backbone of our defence industry and we need to do a lot more to support them. I look forward to working with him, the member for Stirling, the member for Braddon and all of our former Defence Force members in this place to empower our defence industry.

I'm pretty excited to speak on this motion today, because Townsville is the largest garrison city in the nation and we are well positioned to benefit from the $270 billion investment in our nation's defence capability over the next decade. In Townsville we have upwards of 30,000 ADF personnel, veterans and their families. That is a big number in one community. They're very valued and very important, and they offer so much to our region. That's why it's important not only that we provide our defence personnel with the best equipment and capability they can possibly have but also that we support our local communities with the employment that comes from it.

It's no secret, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I've been outspoken on some occasions about decisions we've made over the years, so I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Defence and the department on the selection of the Apache helicopter to take us into the next phase of our rotary wing capabilities. We speak about the Apache helicopter as a reconnaissance helicopter. I can tell you that it is the most lethal, reliable attack helicopter on the market. That's what we need to be talking about, because this helicopter is the Harley-Davidson of the sky and it will be keeping our Defence Force safe for many years to come.

At one time I made some very public comments that on the battlefield, when it's gone bad and you need air support, no-one has ever closed their eyes and wished for the underperforming Tiger. I know that the Apache had always been the digger's choice because in battle that was the only helicopter that was available, and it has proved itself time and time again. I look forward to seeing the decision paying dividends over the coming years and I will be pleading the case for the Apache to have a presence at the 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville. It would be welcome. It has the shortest flight time from airport to having guns on target at the live fire range, so I know that the helicopter pilots would like it there.

Continuing on the chopper theme, in Townsville we are home to one of the most elite rotary wing units in the nation, the 5th Aviation Regiment, and they also house the CH-47 Chinook. In Townsville we have a strong local workforce who perform critical maintenance on the Chinook under the integrated support services contract. In March this year we announced the extension of the contract by a year, increasing its total value to $89.2 million. This contract provides dozens of local jobs. It will increase the level of services provided to Defence and expand the maintenance and training support provided to the Chinook fleet. These are the workhorses of the sky. They have been used from Vietnam all the way up to Afghanistan. They are one of the cheapest aircraft that we have in the Australian Defence Force. They were invaluable during Operation Bushfire Assist, when Townsville troops were involved in the deployment. It is another example of how the defence industry is delivering for the local community in Townsville.

We have early works underway, including surveying, demolition, contamination, fencing, minor track construction and repair works, and other relocation services for the Australia-Singapore Military Training Initiative. The Australia-Singapore Military Training Initiative will benefit Townsville. We'll have people located here. The Singaporeans have made Townsville their location of choice to house their maintenance facility. This is all good defence industry for Townsville.

7:00 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a very tough act to follow the member for Herbert. My region is home to countless amazing, innovative organisations and industries, but perhaps one that flies under the radar to some of our communities, probably for obvious reasons, is that of the defence industry. I am lucky enough to host numerous defence industry businesses in my region. These businesses are at the cutting edge of new technology and are a great example of how regional organisations can succeed through innovation.

One of those organisations is a Queanbeyan based defence innovation and technology company, Spearpoint. They have been busy creating a new digital combat helmet system for the Defence Force. It will allow our ADF personnel to maintain effortless operational communication, will have new night vision technology and will weigh considerably less than currently used helmets. The project is still in its early development, but they have already identified over 20 Australian organisations that they will be able to work with as they move towards the prototyping phase in 2022, keeping more money in Australia and continuing to support our local economies.

Spearpoint is also at the cutting edge of multispectral signature management systems. The system is designed to help our soldiers stay hidden from detection and safe whilst on the battlefield. Spearpoint is progressing with a plan to bring the advanced manufacturing capabilities required to make these systems onshore, called Plan Echidna, which will further support Australian jobs. Their plan would create 70 permanent jobs in skilled manufacturing and technical specialisation during the initial stages and, subsequently, opportunities for over 350 jobs as additional knowledge is transferred from overseas to Australia. The plan is consistent with the vision for Australia's defence industry to maximise job opportunities, increase advanced manufacturing capability and establish defence exports that could support the broader Australian economy. These projects are just an example of what our regional organisations can do when given the opportunity to innovate and succeed, and I will continue to do everything I can to support jobs and innovation in our region. But we need the government to match their rhetoric here and fund Plan Echidna.

My electorate has a long history of stepping up to serve our nation during times of conflict. The Men from Snowy River march is a source of pride for a high country communities and forms part of our national identity. The march left Delegate for Goulburn on 6 January 1916 with 14 members. Their aim was to go from town to town, picking up new recruits to travel to France and fight in the Great War. A crowd gathered in Delegate as these brave young men began their march, and the women of the village had sewn a large banner to accompany them on their journey. It was this banner that drew me to the Australian War Memorial in the lead-up to Anzac Day this year. These precious threads of red, white and blue are being kept safe and sound by the amazing team working at the War Memorial Annex near Ainslie. The march passed through the towns of Bombala, Nimmitabel, Cooma, Bunyan, Bredbo, Michelago, Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Tarago before reaching Goulburn—a 354-kilometre journey. Their numbers swelled from the original 14 to 144 men and boys. Tragically, of the 144 men, 39 were killed in action on the Western Front and another 75 were seriously wounded. It is only all these decades later that we are beginning to have a sense of the trauma of those who made it home.

Ernest Albert Corey of Numeralla was one of the Men from Snowy River. Corporal Corey is perhaps the most decorated soldier who enlisted as part of the march. He was awarded three bars to his initial Military Medal, all for work as a stretcher bearer on the Western Front. In May 1971, Ernest Corey was interviewed at his nursing home in Queanbeyan, where he voiced pride at being awarded four gallantry awards for saving lives rather than taking them. You would be mistaken for thinking that the service, spirit and commitment evident in the Men from Snowy River was only of that time, but I see the goodness of Mr Corey and those who marched with him every day in communities right across my electorate. In these challenging times, I ask those listening to consider the contribution they can make to build on the legacy of the Men from Snowy River.

7:04 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to commend the member from Eden-Monaro for her recognition of some of those who have served our country in her electorate. I think that right across this country we all have in our electorates many men and women—including Indigenous people—who have served our nation with distinction over the past 100 years. I am very pleased to support this motion by the member for Stirling on our defence industry.

I am happy to note that the government is investing some $575 billion in defence over the next decade, including $270 billion in capability. Defence is a major partner of Australian industry, offering broad opportunities to be involved with the cutting-edge technology and innovative capability which support our national and strategic interests. The government's $270 billion investment in our capability is creating jobs and opportunities for business across Australia. Our continued investment guarantees that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force receive the defence capability they need to keep Australians safe.

One of the businesses in my electorate that is benefiting from this program is Holmwood Highgate, an outstanding business that creates defence capability and employment opportunities. Holmwood Highgate has grown from a simple operation on the outskirts of Brisbane in the 1950s to a globally recognised name in bulk liquid tankers. Homewood Highgate recently received $1 million from the federal government under the 2020 Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority grant program, which enabled them to enhance their ability to manufacture bulk liquid transport equipment serving the commercial, aviation and defence industries.

Recently I had the pleasure of joining the CEO, Wade Mellish, and the team at Holmwood Highgate as they signed a $30 million contract with Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles to deliver fuel and water modules that will be fitted to the defence fleet of logistics trucks. These are a product that was entirely developed and built at Holmwood Highgate. I had the pleasure of visiting Holmwood Highgate several times over the past few months and I am delighted that Wade and his team have succeeded in securing this contract, which will support the already 150 jobs at their manufacturing facility at Loganholme. They are also looking to continue to grow that business, and one of their constraints is actually getting more welders, fitters and turners to build more of the product that they are making so well.

Wade shared with me that over 80 per cent of the materials they use in manufacturing these fuel and water modules for Defence are procured within the south-east corner of Queensland, providing flow-on benefits to our local businesses. I think that is one of the things that is often not appreciated. We see the headline numbers of $30 million here and $50 million there for this, but, whilst the flow-on benefits of those programs might go to a company like Holmwood Highgate, it's the range of people in our local business community in South-East Queensland and in other parts of Australia as well who actually benefit from these programs because they are part of that supply chain to businesses like Holmwood Highgate.

This is not the first time that Holmwood Highgate has secured a Defence contract. They previously secured more than $108 million worth of work supporting phase 3B of the Defence's LAND 121 program. The LAND 121 program is a multiphase project providing the ADF with current-generation and high-capability field vehicles, modules and trailers. Approximately 7½ thousand protected and unprotected vehicles, providing better field mobility, logistics support and tactical training will be procured. Holmwood Highgate's new contract will support new modules for additional trucks being delivered under the LAND 121 phase 5B part of the project. Their rugged military standard bulk water tank modules are built according to— (Time expired)

7:10 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Anyone who has visited Wodonga knows that it's shaped by the Australian Defence Force communities in Bandiana and Bonegilla, which have been around for more than 80 years. What visitors to the region often don't know is that Indi is also home to a thriving defence capability industry that spans much further south, from Wodonga to Wangaratta and Benalla. According to a recent assessment by Regional Development Australia, the industry pumps over $185 million into the local economy each year and supports more than 5,600 jobs. Pentarch Industrial in Wangaratta, for example, provides essential defence materiel services like ammunition box refurbishment. Another great example is Scientific Management Associates in Wodonga, who deliver highly complex logistics solutions for the ADF. The success of important ADF training bases like Bandiana is heavily reliant on businesses just like these.

Defence spouses are also critical to the economic success of our local defence industries and the region. Much like in many other ADF towns across the nation, there are new defence personnel and families arriving every week. According to a recent study undertaken by Defence Families of Australia, 50 per cent of defence spouses experience challenges looking for work in Wodonga; that's double the percentage seen in larger metropolitan areas. What a massive missed opportunity for local employers who are crying out for skilled workers! As the Deputy Prime Minister is wont to remind us, there are 66,000 jobs available right now in regional Australia, which is more than there were during the mining boom. Defence spouses are often highly skilled and educated, from teachers to contract administrators, accountants and health professionals. There are also excellent community builders and participators. You only have to attend an Australian Military Wives Choir recital in Wodonga or turn up to a social arts and crafts session run by the Bandiana Neighbourhood House to see the community spirit on full display.

According to Business Wodonga, defence spouses often bring excellent defence industry knowledge, having lived in ADF towns right across Australia for many years. This is a tremendous asset that the government should be doing all it can to capitalise on. If the government can spend $270 billion upgrading our defence capabilities and supply chains, then surely it has the resources to invest heavily in the spouses of those who work in the sector. The new one-off $1,500 payment through the Partner Employment Assistance Program is a good first step, but we could be doing so much more. Uprooting family life every few years can be incredibly daunting and draining for young defence families. Feelings of dislocation, isolation and being an outsider are common. Networking or employer speed dating programs are often intimidating. Defence spouses are often juggling other stresses, like finding housing and enrolling children in new schools. Sadly, many recruiters put these spouses in the too-hard basket, knowing that they may have to leave a job at short notice if their partner is redeployed again.

It has been great to see the local business community in Wodonga step up to the plate where the government has dropped the ball. Recently, Business Wodonga and Impressability, a career service just down the road from my Wodonga electorate office, partnered with Wodonga TAFE and defence community support groups like Soldier On to launch a unique defence spouse careers program. Running over six weeks, the program covers a whole range of important skills from cover letter writing and digital branding to strategic interviewing and networking. Business Wodonga and Impressability have gone above and beyond to make the program free, even covering any childcare costs associated with taking the course through the Bandiana Neighbourhood House.

I applaud their initiative, and I invite the government to take a really good look at what communities like Wodonga are doing. The government could be pitching in so much more. It's truly time to value and invest in the economic potential our defence spouses bring to the regions.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.