Labor welcomes the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee’s ‘Capability of Defence’s physical science and engineering workforce report’.
The Defence physical sciences and engineering workforce plays a critical role in supporting secure defence capabilities through cost-effective and productive partnerships between industry and the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
Labor has previously outlined the importance of investing in Defence’s science and engineering capabilities, and welcomes the seven recommendations of the report.
Defence confronts a serious decline in the number of Australians that possess the skills in physical sciences and engineering that are so important to the ADF keeping its technological edge.
The Government’s own Defence White Paper outlines a vision for the ADF where technical and engineering expertise is crucial.
Australia cannot afford to have the ADF’s workforce capabilities eroded by lack of focus or flexibility.
Physical science and engineering is a critical capability for the ADF, the loss of which would significantly undermine our long-term strategic objectives.
Investing in Defence’s technical capabilities means backing Australians to study science, engineering and mathematics from a young age.
Australia is experiencing a broader skills shortage that cannot easily be separated from that of the ADF. The challenge of sourcing more technical scientific and engineering expertise from the population is a challenge that is not unique to Defence.
Australia is about to undertake some of the largest and most complex defence procurement projects, including our Future Submarines and LAND 400, and the capability of our defence physical science and engineering workforce will be critical in the success of these projects.
Labor welcomes the Committee’s recommendation to examine further application of Project Suakin’s flexibility model, as a way to allow skilled personnel to move seamlessly in and out of the private sector.
The former Labor Government initiated Project Suakin in 2011 in recognition that we need a modern, flexible Defence workforce to provide ADF members and reservists with more opportunities to contribute and serve as their circumstances change in their working life.
This report recognises that, in order to attract the best scientists and engineers, Defence needs to be an employer of choice, not a fallback or a stopgap.
Labor can only hope that the chaos and dysfunction of the Abbott-Turnbull Government does not delay action to address this increasing skills gap.