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MINDI Melissa Price talks up industry in ADM interview

The Minister for Defence Industry, The Hon Melissa Price MP, confirmed in her interview in ADM’s December-January edition that a review is under way into the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC). Relating her experience as Federal MP for a remote area of WA, she pointed out that many small Australian companies simply don’t realize they have the smarts and skills to make a useful contribution (and a bit of money) in the defence market.

She said to ADM’s Editor, Katherine Ziesing, “How do we actually get more of them through the supply chain and not wait for them to come and knock on the door?”

Confirming that CDIC is currently the subject of a review, she added, “I’m critical [of CDIC] because I think we’re waiting for people to walk through the door. I want us to drag them them through the door because there are numerous opportunities for small to medium Australian businesses [Price hates the expression ‘SME’ – she prefers ‘small business’; she also hates the term ‘STEM’] that have got transferable skillsets; they don’t even know they’re capable.”

That said, Minister Price said she was ‘overwhelmed’ by the number of Australian companies who are already involved in the defence industry supply chain and have an innovation or supply contract from Defence. So there are opportunities out there, she believes, but Australian companies need to realize that they are capable of pursuing them successfully. “What people say to me is it’s not easy doing business with defence. I accept that, but we are the client.” It’s not easy, she acknowledges, but the purpose of the review of CDIC is to make sure that Defence is helping those companies which are capable over the hurdles to become Defence ready.

Importantly, Minister Price flagged up a new mechanism for scrutinizing the Australian Industry Capability (AIC) performance of the prime contractors. “We haven’t finalized it yet, but there will be an assurance/audit process, which is something that I’m driving t make sure that if you said you’re going to have a certain amount of AIC, I’m going to hold you to account.”

This is important for Australian SMEs looking to embrace innovation to enhance their competitiveness in AIC and global supply chains. Where a path to market is more visible, where business relationships make these paths more navigable, there’s a stronger motivation to innovate and invest in defence-related R&D.

Minister Price also explain her antipathy towards the term ‘STEM’, though she admitted, “I don’t have a substitute for it. We’re looking for people with an aptitude for maths and science.” However, she added, it’s not just about funnelling STEM students into university – Australia’s naval shipbuilding programs needs skilled tradespeople as well. Most people hear the word ‘STEM’ without really understanding what it means for them or their school-age children – it’s a bi if jargon used by too small a cadre of people.

“I think we need to be very careful we’re not talking to ourselves,” said Minister Price. “We need to be talking to people who would like to be involved in this fabulous defence industry and I believe that we haven’t been spreading the message for and wide.”

Read the full interview at ADM Online

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