THE federal government's Hunter-based 'Defence Ready' program will receive another $300,000 to double the number of corporate participants from 40 to 80, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price has announced.
Ms Price said a $430,000 pilot program with the industry association HunterNet began in April, providing information and education, free of charge, to help companies become "defence ready".
In a speech to be delivered last night, Ms Price said the extra $300,000 followed "remarkable interest" from Hunter companies. The program ends next June.
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The minister was speaking at the launch of a new Office of Defence Industry Support in Canberra.
She said ODIS would replace the Centre for Defence Industry Capability or CDIC, which she said "did not treat industry as a true partner" in equipping the defence force.
Liberal candidate for Paterson Brooke Vitnell said Hunter companies should seek out Defence Ready and help strengthen the region's defence industry.
"This is a further vote of confidence in the Hunter's ability to host major defence work and . . . to play a part in the construction of our nuclear submarines and defence industry projects," Ms Vitnell said.
"More defence contracts means more defence industry jobs for Hunter workers.
"Anything we can do to further our ability to win this work is something I strongly support."
Ms Price, who has been Defence Industry Minister since May 2019 and Minister for Science and Technology since October this year, said regional companies had roles to play in defence contracting.
"There is a busy hive of defence activity in the Hunter, with more defence work to flow through into the region both in the immediate future and in the long term," Ms Price said.
"Expanding this pilot program with HunterNet builds on our solid commitment to build a stronger sovereign defence industry."
At the launch of the Office of Defence Industry Support, Ms Price said her first priority after becoming Defence Industry Minister had been to improve the "commercial acumen" of the defence department's Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, which handles the supply of military equipment and materiel.
She also wanted to "expand small business access" to the defence department.
"I was then and still are determined that Australia must be able to build at home in order to defend our home," Ms Price said.
She said ODIS would be "a one-stop shop" for SMEs (small to medium enterprises) and was "not some superficial name change for the CDIC".
She said the CDIC had not dealt with businesses of more than 200 employees, but with ODIS there were "no constraints on which businesses can be engaged".
She said ODIS would employ experienced and specialist staff with defence and commercial backgrounds, with an extra 16 jobs as a minimum, and seven people in a regional SME support team for at least the next 12 months.
Ms Price said ODIS would develop Mobile Defence Industry Hubs within a defence industry precinct in each state and territory, although final locations were yet to be locked in.
The minister included a section on the Hunter in her speech, outlining the launch of Defence Ready in April, and the decision to double the number of funded places from 40 to 80.
"Through targeted partnerships like the one with HunterNet, Defence is able to engage with a broader group of businesses that are able to support the defence industry supply chain," Ms Price said.
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