Internal documents reveal doubts about defence export target

Christopher Pyne in the turret of a military vehicle during a live firing at Puckapunyal army base in 2017.

Christopher Pyne in the turret of a military vehicle during a live firing at Puckapunyal army base in 2017. Photo: Facebook

Department of Defence officials are sceptical about the feasibility of the government’s ambitious bid to turn Australia into a top 10 defence exporter within the next decade, internal documents have revealed.

In January, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled a $3.8 billion financing strategy to support jobs and innovation within the homegrown defence industry.

Under the Defence Export Strategy, the government is vowing to lift Australia into the ranks of top arms exporters such as the United States, China, the UK and France by 2028. Australia is currently ranked 20th on the list of arms suppliers, behind South Africa, with a 0.3 per cent share of the global market.

“We expect that in the next nine years, because of the investments of this government, we’ll move to being in the top 10 defence exporters in the world and so we should be,” Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne told reporters in a January press conference heavily focused on local jobs.

Documents obtained by The New Daily under freedom of information laws, however, reveal a far more cautious mood within the Department of Defence about the likelihood of meeting the ambitious target.

“Obviously, the international defence export market is very competitive and external factors may prevent us from reaching this stretch target,” the department said in a talking points document.

“We are controlling what we can control and putting in place the support industry needs to succeed.”

Later, the document conceded that the much-vaunted plan to become a top 10 exporter was ultimately “not about achieving a certain ranking”.

“Exports are a means to help build the defence industry we need to deliver the government’s defence strategy,” it said.

christopher pyne

Mr Pyne has said Australia can expect to “move to being in the top 10 defence exporters in the world” within the decade. Photo: Facebook

An email sent by Assistant Secretary of Defence Industry Matt Ramage also contained a candid assessment of the challenges of meeting the goal.

“We can see that the number 10 is closer to Australia rather than being completely out of reach by being a Spain or a UK but we would likely need to at least triple or quadruple current defence export achievement to be in the ballpark,” Mr Ramage wrote in a message to Mr Pyne’s senior adviser John Bathgate, while pointing to Israel, the 10th-biggest exporter, as an example for Australia.

“We would need to catch up on countries with a decade more of experience in competing in the international market.”

Shadow assistant minister for defence industry Mike Kelly said the government’s plans lacked substance.

“Christopher Pyne seems to be the minister for empty rhetoric, shamelessly using his portfolio to wage a political campaign rather than effectively address the substantive measures needed to achieve Australia’s defence industry goals,” Mr Kelly told The New Daily.

“Labor has ambitions for our defence industry but the difference is we will employ policies that will achieve real results and get us where we can and need to be.”

The New Daily has contacted the Department of Defence and Mr Pyne’s office for comment.

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