A lack of pride and belief held by Australian industry had led the Federal Government in the past to favour overseas manufacturers for defence equipment, according to Austal chief executive David Singleton.
The British former BAE Systems executive said historic and cultural reasons were behind defence procurement having been overwhelmingly biased to foreign companies.
“There is pride around engineering in the United Kingdom,” Mr Singleton told an American Chamber of Commerce in Australia function yesterday.
“There’s pride around engineering in Europe. There is a desire to build industrial companies in Europe as indeed there is in the United States.
“That for me is something that has been missing in this country,” he said.
“As a result of that, the (Australian) Defence Department has for a long period of time favoured goods, defence equipment designed and built overseas.
“There’s a cultural thing in this country about industry and a lack of belief in our ability to drive industrial growth.”
Mr Singleton said the Government’s $89 billion naval shipbuilding program was a great opportunity to build the industry while preserving the capabilities it had.
He said shipyards in Australia had dwindled from 16 to three because there had been a lack of innovation and differentiation in the vessels built. As a result, those yards had been unable to export their ships.
Even with the Government’s program, there was not enough demand in Australia alone to keep the shipbuilding industry thriving for the next 20 years.
Austal in alliance with German designer Fassmer is bidding for the $3 billion offshore patrol vessel contract.
Ten of the 12 vessels will be built at WA’s shipbuilding hub in Henderson.
Mr Singleton said the Government’s allocation of the much bigger submarine and frigate building programs to Adelaide and $1.2 billion to upgrade its infrastructure made sense. He said it was logical given South Australia’s submarine workforce and because it was building Air Warfare Destroyers.
“For every dollar that gets spent, $2 is going to be spent in WA on sustainment activity,” Mr Singleton said.
“Far from us being a loser out of this program, we’ve actually done reasonably well out of it.”
This article was written by Peter Williams for The West Australian, and was originally published here.