Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne wants Australia to become major arms exporterDavid Wroe
Published: July 15 2017 - 11:45PM
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne says he wants Australia to become a major arms exporter on par with Britain, France and Germany and use exports to cement relationships with countries in volatile regions such as the Middle East.
The ambitious goal, outlined in an interview with Fairfax Media, would mean Australia not only builds but also designs major military hardware such as naval warships and possiblyeven submarines.
And he says such exports can be used to bolster military ties with key countries in the Middle East such as the United Arab Emirates, with whom Australia shares interests such as the fight against Islamic State and balancing Iran's growing power in the region.
Mr Pyne said that in an increasingly uncertain world, Australia should have greater self-sufficiency in building its defence capability. But this would also require creating an industry of a size and sophistication that can export.
The United States is by far the largest defence exporter, accounting for about one third of the world's sales, followed by Russia with about a quarter. But Mr Pyne said Australia could within 10 to 20 years "absolutely" sit within the next cluster of countries – Britain, France and Germany – which each share about 5 per cent of the world market.
Australia is now only the 20th largest exporter but the sixth biggest importer of defence equipment.
"My ambition and the government's ambition is to reverse the current situation … There's absolutely no reason why we can't be as capable as Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain," Mr Pyne said.
He wants to use the $200 billion in additional money the government has committed to defence acquisitions over the next nine years to build up a local industry that will "eventually design, build and export ships, vehicles, missiles, whatever it might be that we have an expertise in".
Those export relationships could in turn increase Australia's strategic heft and make it a more influential player in a changing world.
"Countries like Italy, France, Germany and of course the United States and China and Russia have been active on the world stage in exporting their products and services and platforms, and building a mature relationship beyond simply the placing of bases in a particular country," Mr Pyne said.
Australia has its air bases for the Middle East in the UAE. Mr Pyne said the UAE – which he has been courting as an export destination – "wants to have a closer engagement with Australia in a military sense", and this would serve Australia's strategic interests.
The UAE was "thawing" in its relationship with Israel amid concerns – shared by Saudi Arabia, Oman and Egypt – about Iran's steady rise,including its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen's bloody civil war, he said.
"So why wouldn't we want to cement our relationship with a country like the UAE, which shares many of our values in terms of the geopolitical issues that we face through things like defence exports?" Mr Pyne said.
However the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, supporting the Yemeni government, has also been accused of killing civilians and violating international law. Defence officials recently told a Senate hearing that Defence had approved four sales by Australian companies to the Saudi military and had been satisfied about how the equipment would ultimately be used.
Regarding south-east Asia, Mr Pyne said Australia could easily sell to Singapore and had done some trade with Indonesia but it was not as clear-cut with other countries because of the "engagement of some of our other friends in the region beyond their own borders", indicating there could be concerns about where arms might end up.
"We have to be very careful in dealing with all these countries to make sure we have Australia's national interests first and foremost, not just our industrial interests but also our security interests," he said.
Mr Pyne said Australia should be able to design its own fleet of future naval warships beyond the soon-to-begin $35 billion naval frigate program.
Asked whether this could also apply to submarines, regarded as the most complex military hardware, Mr Pyne said: "I would hope so but I must admit it's so far down the track that I don't think I'm in a position to commit to that."
This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/defence-industry-minister-christopher-pyne-wants-australia-to-become-major-arms-exporter-20170715-gxbv4m.html