Defence Industries Minister Christopher Pyne speaks at the Coast's first Defence Industries forum at the Innovation Centre.
Defence Industries Minister Christopher Pyne speaks at the Coast's first Defence Industries forum at the Innovation Centre. Warren Lynam

The $200 billion budget defence honey pot

IT'S got a budget of $200 billion from which Sunshine Coast companies have already benefited to the tune of more than $1.4million and has caught the attention of another 155 more small and medium size enterprises in the region.

That's how many turned out to the University of the Sunshine Coast Innovation Centre yesterday to hear Defence Industries Minister Christopher Pyne extol the economic virtues of the Turnbull government's commitment to the largest defence capability build-up in Australia's peacetime history.

The two Sunshine Coast companies to benefit to date are HeliMod, based at Caloundra Airport, and Praesidium.

Mr Pyne told the inaugural Sunshine Coast Defence Industries Forum, organised by Fisher MP Andrew Wallace, that while the contracts secured were not huge compared with the total defence budget they offered a great start for the businesses to break into the sector.

He said Australia had been a terrific customer but unfortunately was the sixth-largest importer of defence equipment locally while being ranked 13th in terms of its defence budget.

Mr Pyne said Australia was a significant player who had, for too long, been comfortable as a risk-adverse purchaser of foreign-made military supplies and equipment.

The Turnbull government had determined its policy would be to maximise the spend in Australia while maintaining its number one priority to purchase the best capability.

Mr Pyne pointed to the Joint Strike Fighter Program which had already benefited 33 Australian businesses by $800million with $5billion to be spent here by 2025.

"The scale of defence industries is enormous," he said. "It's gigantic. Nothing happens that doesn't cost millions and billions of dollars. The benefits and value to the economy are enormous. It provides real ballast to small and medium enterprises."

The forum attracted several prime defence contractors including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Airbus, Austal Shipping, TAE and Pacific Turbine.

It's an opportunity Mr Wallace is keen for the Sunshine Coast to tap into.

He said the forum provided an opportunity for small businesses who "had never thought of making a quid out of defence" that it was possible.

"This is the future," Mr Wallace said. "Coast businesses will never make ships, tanks or strike fighters, but they can provide the components. I want to see a fair proportion (of defence funding) spent here.

"My job is as an enabler. If I can help small business tap into a pool of money we can begin to move away from the housing and tourism we've relied on."