Australia will become a top 10 global arms exporter within the next decade, according to the Turnbull government, which has unveiled a new strategy to boost the country’s defence manufacturing industry.
The centrepiece of the plan, which has been welcomed by Labor but strongly opposed by the Greens, is a $3.8 billion defence export facility within the government’s export credit agency Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC).
The agency will help companies find overseas markets, with the backing of a new export office within the Defence Department described as the linchpin and driver of the strategy.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney on Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull argued the plan would unlock jobs and investment.
“We are underdone in terms of our defence industry historically,” he said.
“What this is all about is ensuring that we maximise the opportunities for Australian jobs, Australian technology, Australian innovation.”
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said the plan gave Australia “the chance to be a serious global player”.
While Australian defence industry exports are currently worth between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion a year, the government hopes the new strategy will see Australia leapfrog from 20th into the top 10 in global defence industry exports.
Labor has welcomed the plan, though opposition frontbencher Anthony Albanese questioned why similar investment strategies were not extended into other industries.
“This is a government that seems to say manufacturing of cars, advanced manufacturing, use of smart technology, renewable technology, it’s all bad,” he told ABC Radio.
“But when it’s defence, it’s OK.”
Priority markets for Australian arms include the US, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand as well as expanding sales into the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific.
Mr Pyne has said the government hoped to use exports to cement defence relationships with countries in the Middle East, which has sparked concerns among critics.
It has previously been reported that Australian firms had sold arms to Saudi Arabia.
The Australian Council for International Development said on Monday attempts to boost Australia’s weapons exports would undermine the country’s claim to be a champion of international peace and stability.
Australian Greens senator Nick McKim lashed the announcement as disgusting.
“They want Australia to become a mass exporter of violence, a mass exporter of death, a mass exporter of human misery,” Senator McKim said.
Defence Minister Marise Payne said there were safeguards in place to ensure Australian defence exports do not fall into the wrong hands.
Mr Turnbull pointed to the success story of Thales Australia’s Bushmaster armoured vehicles, which are made in the Victorian town of Bendigo and exported to countries including Japan and the Netherlands.
Thales Australia chief executive Chris Jenkins backed the plan, saying it would generate industry confidence.
Mr Jenkins praised “world-leading technologies” manufactured in Australia, describing the local defence industry as having “some of the smartest, most capable and skilled workforces in the world”.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said Australia would also look at export opportunities in Japan.
“What we are looking for are countries where we have got a strong human rights track record and, of course, have safeguards in place,” he told the Nine Network.
As well as the new loan facility, the government will establish a new defence export advocate role and spend $80 million over four years on a grants program to support small and medium businesses who want to export, another program to help local companies build export capacity, and a focus on trade shows and long-term campaigns.