Rising global security threats from Russia's invasion of the Ukraine to the possibility of China using force to stake its claim on Taiwan is presenting a unique - and urgent need - for Australian businesses to grow, expand and help build our sovereign capability.
You only need to read or switch on the news today to see it's certainly an unprecedented time geopolitically.
These strategic circumstances have led to a fundamental shift in the Western world's security narrative, including our own security position here in Australia - and it's playing out as we speak. The Commonwealth's 2020 Defence Strategic Update highlighted a clear shift from the long-held assumption we had at least a decade to respond to a threat.
The harsh reality is the threat is here now and we need to determine what we are going to do differently as a nation to respond - and quickly.
But some questions remain, what can we do to ensure Australian-owned businesses have a seat at the table to grow our sovereign defence capability?
Are we up for a different risk appetite to reduce our reliance on foreign suppliers?
How do we define sovereign defence capability given there has been a lot of talk of late with everyone claiming these credentials?
Federal Defence Minister Richard Marles recently said: "We need to be looking at sovereign capability. We need to protect the country, to defend the continent and defend out key interests."
The Commonwealth has said on many occasions it wants significant sovereign industrial capabilities established in Australia. While this already exists in black and white in policy, we must turn these words into action.
As a smaller economy with a smaller defence force than our AUKUS partners, we need to create critical mass, especially if we are going to contribute in a meaningful way.
Most advanced defence economies have either policy or legislative instruments, or a mixture of both, in place to regulate and inevitably restrict to some degree or other foreign company activity in the domestic marketplace. For example, BAE Systems in the UK was formed with government support to create a true national champion, to mid-size, to small businesses.
We should be asking ourselves, why, as a nation, would we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to have more choice when it comes to our defence capability needs to protect and defend our nation?
We have seen other nations, some much smaller than our own, do it; the United Kingdom, France, Israel, South Korea and India transitioned to local capability. These nations have determined they need national independence or sovereign control.
We need a whole raft of measures to help grow the thin layer of small and medium-sized businesses and we can do that by prioritising the areas of defence capability that can be retained and nurtured within our borders.
Some ideas include:
- Becoming less reliant on foreign suppliers and awarding contracts to local companies
- Offering incentives to grow Australian small and medium enterprises
- Accelerating procurement timelines to reduce impact on businesses from the slow letting of contracts
- Partnering across government, the Department of Defence and industry and, looking at the critical defence Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities nominated by the Commonwealth and asking ourselves what capabilities are left that offer the opportunity to create a true sovereign Australian position.
As a nation, we have two options for our future Defence strategy.
Accept the status quo, including the absence of real sovereign Australian defence industry of scale, and rely on other nations for our national security.
Or, be bold and do things differently.
Given our currently global security climate, we must recognise a different risk appetite and collaborate across government, the Department of Defence and industry to deliver a truly sovereign defence capability right here in Australia.
If we are not up for doing things differently, the change will happen around us and as a result, we need to be prepared to live with the consequences.
Let's be bold and up for doing something different - our future and our security as a nation depends on it.
- Bec Humble is Chief Strategy and Corporate Affairs at Nova Systems.