Defence exports complement power play

Lisa Martin

Australia's defence industry is "half pregnant" and isn't necessarily the first priority of military leaders.

That's the view of Labor's defence spokesman Richard Marles who told a strategic policy conference it was understandable that while Defence top brass supports a local industry, their main focus is acquiring the best equipment.

Developing a defence industry was a big endeavour and the naval shipbuilding program in Australia was a once in a lifetime opportunity, he noted.

"Without unanimous effort and buy-in from our political leadership, our senior military, our foreign service and our treasury totally committed to this as a national endeavour, I fear it won't be sustainable - particularly under a future conservative government which is not reacting to the loss of the car industry," Mr Marles told an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference in Canberra on Wednesday.

"Right now it feels to me like we are half pregnant on our defence industry."

He argued Australia needed a defence force to defend home, but the nation also wants one that will play a part in projecting into the world.

A defence industry that exported widely could complement the essential mission of the Australian Defence Force.

Mr Marles pointed out American power was as much about it being the home of large military equipment companies Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin as it was about its aircraft carriers and Marines.