Townsville based defence industry experts are mapping out ways to stimulate the local economy as the Federal Government continues to build its capabilities in the region, amid growing military tensions in the Indo-Pacific.
North Queensland’s strategic and geographical importance dates as far back as World War II when the region also proved to be a crucial base for the United States.
As political attention turns to the Indo-Pacific that importance has once again become apparent, but how can it be turned into an economic driver for the local economy when military assets remain largely behind the gates of Lavarack Barracks and RAAF Base Townsville?
It’s the key question a taskforce of former senior defence personnel have been charged to answer while acting as the connectors between all levels of government, Defence, and local business providers.
Now retired in the city he began his military career in more than three decades ago, former army helicopter pilot David Burke now acts as a defence industry advisor to The Townsville City Council (TCC).
Colonel Burke said Townsville held key ground in the “big strategic picture” to defend and maintain Australia’s sovereignty.
“There has been a massive change in the geopolitics in the world,” he said.
“The last great power struggle was on the other side of the world away from us but now, obviously it’s all in the Indo Pacific and that’s where the focus of the world is turning so we are now sitting right in the middle of what’s going on.”
Budget 2021 outlined $44.62 billion in funding for Defence and the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), a 15 per cent jump from last year’s $38.7 billion, placing Defence spending 2.1 per cent of GDP which is the bare minimum needed to achieve projects outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper, 2020 Force Structure Review, and Defence Strategic Update.
In its budget statement, the government said Defence was building its workforce capacity to support “more complex capabilities, new platforms, and emerging capabilities such as cyber, intelligence, electronic warfare and space” via workforce growth, and through the reshaping and reskilling of its existing workforce.
It’s all part of a $270 billion spend on new capability over the next decade.
Col Burke and retired Lieutenant General John Caligari have been promoting the region’s importance to policy makers in a bid to draw mutually beneficial projects to North Queensland.
Col Burke said the focus was now on bolstering defence supply chains, building future programs of work, attracting defence industry companies, and creating pathways for learning to ensure future skillsets can be filled by a local workforce.
“The port has been a fabulous example, Defence has become engaged with the Townsville Port around the upgrade that’s going on now and they’re looking at ways that they can integrate into their master planning,” he said.
“Defence recognised in their strategic update that there’s a requirement for more amphibious support within ports, and the best time to get involved with that is now.”
Col Burke said COVID-19 and the impacts it had on international supply chains and defence operations has seen a monumental shift in the way domestic offerings are considered.
“We’re talking about mutual benefit at the highest level, where building capacity in the north and building defence industry is actually about national security,” he said.
“The great thing about these sorts of industries is that they will build high tech, high skilled jobs.”
By Kate Banville for BDmag.