As far as Australia’s exports go, minerals top the class. But rumbling in the background is a reminder that not everything we sell overseas needs to be dug out of the ground.
In plain economic figures, it’s hard to ignore the importance of saleable natural resources to Australia’s economy.
Iron ore tops the export sales chart, earning us more than $150 billion during 2020-21. Completing the podium were coal and gas.
But one product in Australia’s export catalogue recently made news for reasons other than money: military vehicles.
The Bushmaster is a 15-tonne protected vehicle, a military-specific 4×4 that looks like a fortress. When a small fleet of them began heading to the Ukraine earlier this year, it became the eighth country to use these purpose-built military machines, which are developed and built by the Australian arm of defence manufacturer Thales, which also produces a ‘smaller’ 10-tonne protected 4×4 called the Hawkei.
Both vehicles are developed and manufactured in Victoria’s regional city of Bendigo, located two hours’ drive north-west of Melbourne.
The export potential of these incredible machines is a big economic opportunity, but there’s a more immediate priority the Australian government has been working to address, and it’s this: making sure Australia retains the ability to keep creating these types of vehicles.
The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), an industry growth initiative driven by the Australian government, expressed this more eloquently when it outlined the need to develop sovereign engineering and manufacturing capabilities to support land based military vehicle development and production in Australia. And it’s on these grounds they appointed Premcar to install the latest powertrain technology into land-based military vehicles, along with grant support.
As vehicle projects go, this is a great one, mainly because it further broadens the engineering skills of our team and directly addresses a long-standing real-world need.
Developing Australia’s ability to make these specialised vehicles strengthens our local base of unique engineering and manufacturing skills, assets that can attract the buying attention of other countries. It’s a point the AMGC raised when it said “This project will allow Premcar to solve the problem of not having export-ready versions of land-based military vehicles.”
The Lowy Institute made the same point more than eight years ago in an article about Australian defence exports:
“If Australia is to modernise its Defence force at a cost of several hundred million dollars over the next 15 years, it needs to also be thinking about how to modernise its Defence industry. A critical part of that will be working out where Australia’s comparative advantage lies – what we can build that both the ADF (Australian Defence Force) and the rest of the world wants.”
For me, identifying that comparative advantage is simple: it’s Australia’s specialised car-making and manufacturing knowledge, something the AMGC is working to take advantage of.
They, and a growing number of others, understand that nothing beats having the ability to create what the world needs, especially difficult-to-make items like specialised vehicles. The benefits go far beyond money; it means we enrich current and future generations with specialised and advanced technical know-how, the kind that takes generations to establish, develop and refine. Just look to Germany if you need an example.
The need for Australian skill development through education and experience in the automotive industry is a point I’ve made many times before, and I’ll keep making it. It’s because this unique industrial knowledge is difficult and time-consuming to develop.
It’s also valuable to world markets.
It’s also quickly and easily lost.
And without global automakers and defence firms commissioning Australian companies to use and develop these bodies of unique local knowledge, it will likely disappear forever.
For close to a hundred years Australia rode to economic prosperity “on the sheep’s back”. Today, we achieve it driving an excavator.
But there’s a longer, better lane we can merge into on the Economic Growth Highway, and that’s the path we’ve yet to fully exploit: using our advanced manufacturing knowledge and experience to create more of what the world needs.
It’s worth pursuing. After all, we can dig up all the minerals we like, but we can only sell them once.
But if we invest in our long-standing engineering and manufacturing skills we can sell our creations many times over.
And isn’t this the best use of our best true natural resources?
Jim Jovanovski – Director – Business Commercial & Finance, Premcar Pty Ltd
About Premcar – Premcar Pty Ltd is a leading Australian vehicle engineering business that specialises in the automotive, defence and aerospace industries. For more than 25 years, global car-makers have made Premcar their go-to partner for the complete design, engineering and manufacture of niche-model new cars, full-scale new-vehicle development programs, and electric vehicle (EV) conversions and manufacturing. As the name behind more than 200,000 new cars and 55,000 new-vehicle engines, Premcar’s body of work is extensive and has delivered technical and sales success for major car brands from Europe, the USA, Japan, China and Australia. Visit premcar.com.
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