North Queensland is a little player in the big game of Australia’s defence industry, but the opportunities are growing according to some industry stakeholders.
There’s been a push in recent years to move more support elements to the north as Australia’s spear tip in its line of defence.
The argument is centred largely around cost saving for the public purse and firming up the support structures of force elements based in Northern Australia.
Among the companies spear heading the movement is RGM Maintenance. The heavy vehicle overhaul and servicing company began its operations two decades ago at the back fence of Enoggera Barracks in Brisbane before expanding nationally and basing its headquarters in Townsville 15 years ago.
Defence contracts make up about 30 percent of its work at present but it’s confident this will increase with plans to build a new facility in Townsville worth $22 million.
The company is hoping about a quarter of that will be funded by the state government as part of its ‘Industry Partnership Program’.
“A lot of the work to service military vehicles goes south which doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of supporting force posture in the north,” says Michael Ferguson, RGM Business Development Manager.
“You have units losing platforms for a long time that they can’t train with because of long transit times to get maintenance work done.
“Part of our pitch is to be able to do it in the region and we’re even seeing it with Army now where they’re looking at contracts and asking ‘why are we doing it this way?’”
His comments are backed up in part by Australia’s 2020 Force Posture Plan which highlights a ‘more durable supply chain and strengthened sovereign industrial capabilities to enhance the ADF’s self-reliance’.
This is not to be confused with the new Labor Government’s ‘Defence Force Posture Review’ which will ‘prioritise spending’ based on its findings surrounding the force’s structure and preparedness to handle emerging national security challenges.
The interim report landed in the hands of Defence Minister Richard Marles in early November but will not be made public until the full report is due in 2023.
Mr Ferguson stresses it’s not just stakeholder companies which would benefit from growing an industry to support Defence in the north.
“This isn’t about one company,” he says.
“All the supporting data is saying if we open this and we bring in the business that’s 100 new full time jobs in Townsville.
“We’ve also got a heap of local businesses in our supply chain that we send work to, and support us with work.”
The former Army logistics officer says repair times would be a lot quicker and put vehicles back in the hands of soldiers sooner if it was to be done in North Queensland.
There’s no doubt this is a company in motion. RGM recently penned a major deal with Rheinmetall Defence Australia to work on its Medium Heavy Capability services for logistic vehicles as part of the Land 121 program.
And it came just months after another milestone moment for the family owned and operated business.
You’d be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t seen Australia’s Bushmaster vehicles used in battle against Russia right now – but few would know it was RGM Maintenance which helped get them to Ukraine thanks to a longstanding relationship with the vehicle’s creators, Thales.
Staff had just 48 hours to strip and repaint them before they were on a C-17 from Amberley to Ukraine.
“We do a variety of work for Thales and when they got the tap on the shoulder from the Government to send those as a gift to the Ukrainian Government we were asked to prepare those vehicles,” says Mr Ferguson.
“RGM has really made its name by doing reactive maintenance for the ADF.”
Image credit: Phil Copp Photos
Read our recent Defence Article – Manufacturing for Our Aussie Troops.