The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Senator Eric Abetz, has urged small to medium enterprises to form strategic alliances to build the 'critical mass' necessary to win Defence business.
"To make the most of Defence business opportunities, you need to get in early," he told delegates at the W3H - The Who, Where, When and How of Defence Representation in Australia conference which began in Canberra today. "Don't wait for a request for tender, especially in major capital equipment projects. Be there early, while the specifications are being defined," Senator Abetz said
In a wide-ranging keynote address to the conference, hosted by the magazine The Australian Defence Business Review, Senator Abetz pointed to industry advisory councils and associations, Defence initiatives and networking as means of improving their relevance to the Department and securing work.
Senator Abetz also pointed towards the outsourcing of much work formerly done either within the Department or by Government owned companies as indicating the future and growing importance of Australian industry to Defence capability. "Non-core activities are now outsourced through the Commercial Support Program which is expanding rapidly, and of the 91 decisions made, roughly 70 per cent have favoured a commercial contractor.
"What this means for all or us - both in Government and industry - is that our interdependence is increasing.," Senator Abetz said. "Our support for operations like those in East Timor will be dependent upon the focussed co-operation of Government and industry."
Senator Abetz said the number of industry associations competing for business were leading towards a 'buyers' market'. It is impractical for Defence to respond directly to thousands of companies and individuals on every issue: the associations, then, are the voice of their members. Senator Abetz also urged Defence business delegates to take advantage of defence facilities and activities including the Defence Acquisition Organisation website, the Australian Industry Involvement course, the Defence Teaming Centre, Defence Regional Shopfronts, Defence Industry Regional Briefings and the Defence Procurement Conference.
Strategic alliances, Senator Abetz added, were necessary for small to medium enterprises in particular. "Defence deals with only a few prime contractors, especially for their major equipment projects. So the smaller companies do well to nurture relationships with the larger companies that prime for those contracts. "More often than not, the only chance of getting through the Defence door is by using the commercial muscle of a prime," Senator Abetz said.