Kym Bergmann: Before we get to individual projects, what are your views on the sovereign capability and the importance to national security?
Chris Jenkins: The strategic landscape that is often highlighted in speeches by senior analysts is changing – and changing quickly, especially in recent times. The Government is responding to that in the right way, as is Defence – and Australian industry needs to be part of the same shift. The policy settings that have been put forward are adapting to this new environment.
We could keep doing the same things based on the past landscape and fail to adapt, which would be a strategic risk. The new direction set by Government and the changed Defence processes to match – changes by the way that require an effort to make – are good things and essential for national security. These changes are real, not imaginary – and they are essential.
Changes that are taking place are not just in defence but in related fields of critical infrastructure, secure communications and the digital world of information management and exchange – all of these are vitally important. The way that the changes in policy have been designed to enhance sovereign capability and national resilience are really important for our country.
The Government and Defence should be recognised for having made those decisions.
For those of us who have been in the sector for a while, we have seen global crises before where there have been rapid, agile responses to changing circumstances by Government and the Defence sector. I think Australia actually responds very well to emergencies. We are a country that in a time of need takes decisions and responds uniformly to tackle problems quickly.
We saw after 9/11 when Australia deployed to the Middle East. The Government responded to a need, as did Defence and industry with quite short timelines. We saw a period were decisions and actions were based on the need for capabilities and outcomes. Process was adapted to speed up capability delivery.
Last year with Covid-19 we were quickly into a human crisis that significantly impacted global supply chains. The factors that became clear were that supply chains for strategically critical capabilities do not always work as intended – just when you most need them to function effectively.
The strengthening of policy regarding sovereign capability aimed at a higher degree of self-reliance by securing more supply chains is a really, really good response to what has occurred. As a result, we will be more resilient – and that’s the right path. It’s good for the defence of Australia, as well as for defence industry – and the economy more generally.
The work that is done in defence technology has a massive by-product. There is a collateral benefit for the entire country because of the amount of engineering, science and technology involved. The sector sees the development of skills and provides growth paths for very talented people. These are all good for Australia.