Opposition leader Mark McGowan has committed a future state Labor government to aggressively seek more defence related work for Western Australia to help compensate for the loss of construction jobs in the resources sector.
His move follows the release of the recent defence white paper that identified the need to Australia to invest $198 billion in defence related contracts over the next 10 years.
WA Labor's defence commitment was part of a wide ranging 'plan for jobs' policy unveiled by the Labor leader, which he claimed would deliver an extra 50,000 new jobs as the resources sector moves increasingly into the production phase, with fewer workers required.
Mr McGowan also committed a total of more than $400 million over five years to create new jobs in areas such as tourism and science, and secure existing jobs.
Labor's move means that both the government and opposition are actively working towards new job opportunities in a bid to head off rising unemployment. Last week, Premier Colin Barnett identified tourism, science and agriculture as key growth sectors to help broaden WA's economic base.
If Mr McGowan leads Labor to victory in the state election next March he will appoint a ‘minister for defence issues’ to champion the state's defence industry, drawing on the expertise of a special advisory board.
A new government agency, to be called 'Defence West', would work with the Commonwealth Centre for Defence Industry Capability to promote the local industry's ability to meet the necessary contractual obligations set down by the CDIC. Other potential clients, such as the US Navy, would also be targeted.
'A strong local defence industry can provide long term, reliable employment opportunities to offset the 'boom and bust' cycle of the resources sector,' the policy says.
'If WA succeeds in winning a fair share of the Australian defence dollar, local industry can then compete internationally for contracts to supply and support foreign navies, creating new highly skilled jobs.'
Labor's promise to appoint a designated minister to help win more defence work was welcomed by Mike Deeks, the general manager of construction and engineering company Civmec, based at Henderson south of Fremantle, which has flagged strong interest in the new submarine contracts.
‘‘There are a lot of opportunities in the defence sector with the changes in the state's economy,’’ Mr Deeks said.
‘‘It is a well aligned sector - many skilled workers could move seamlessly from the resources to the defence sector.
‘‘Industry and government need to work together as a team to win the work that is available. These initiatives by the opposition will go a long way to allowing that team approach. That is the approach in South Australia.
‘‘But will have to work hard to win that work. It won't fall into our laps.’’
Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia chief executive Deidre Willmott said business supported the local content and job creation initiatives contained in Labor’s Western Australian Industry Participation Plan (WAIPP).
“The CCI welcomes WA Labor’s WAIPP proposal and its significant potential for boosting the State’s economy through helping SME’s capitalise on government contracts,” she said.
“Initiatives that give local businesses full, fair and reasonable access to government procurement are critical to the retain the skills and talent that has been attracted to Western Australia by private sector investment in large mining and oil and gas projects over the last 15 years.
“It is essential that the private sector is engaged if WAIPP is implemented in future – CCI’s Industry Capability Network plays a key role in connecting local service providers with major projects and ensuring WA businesses can access all available opportunities.
“Business is also pleased that the WAIPP identifies WA’s world-class defence industry as a priority area to be supported by government – this echoes CCI’s long-held position and recognises the immense economic potential this sector holds for the state.
“The only way to build long-term jobs is to encourage private sector investment.
“CCI welcomes Mark McGowan’s focus on creating an environment for prosperity and our members will look forward to working with him to ensure a focus on investment and private sector growth.”