Shark investor guns for our ‘bits and pieces’ war machine

A ‘woke’ investment environment is deterring vital funds for the development of hi-tech war-fighting equipment and leaving Australia at the mercy of disrupted global supply chains, InQueensland has been told.

Mar 24, 2023, updated Mar 24, 2023
Investor Steve Baxter has turned his attention to defence. Image: supplied.

Investor Steve Baxter has turned his attention to defence. Image: supplied.

Millionaire start-up investor Steve Baxter unloaded his frustrations with private defence investment at an American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) event in Brisbane recently, blasting the cold shoulder given to lethal technology as “offensive”.

Known to some television audiences as a ‘shark investor’ on Channel 10’s Shark Tank Australia program, the Cloncurry-born Baxter said investment groups applying an ESG lens to projects had moved sharply away from supporting military technology.

Concerned with ethical imperatives, along with environmental and sustainability agendas, ESG thinking was leaving Australia with an “underweight” defence capability, Baxter said.

“ESG is the guide but it’s now being taken as the rule and they tend to preclude things that might deliberately hurt people,” the state’s former chief entrepreneur told InQueensland after the AmCham event.

“I’m estimating hundreds of millions of dollars a year is being diverted away from defence technology.

“When you calculate the value of the throughput during the life of that technology, if it proves successful, then you can multiply that by ten.”

Baxter’s comments come as the Queensland Government has followed a khaki trail over the last fortnight, opening and inspecting new developments in the State’s growing defence and aerospace manufacturing sector that have unfolded in concert with the historic AUKUS deal that will require billions of Commonwealth funds spent on nuclear submarines.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick has travelled to India on a trade mission to witness the signing of an MOU between Brisbane-based Ferra Engineering and India’s Dynamatic Technologies who will deploy complementary skills and expertise to scale-up their capabilities in strategic aerospace manufacturing.

Earlier this month, Dick had visited Ferra’s headquarters in Brisbane to inspect the company’s operations for manufacturing components for Boeing’s autonomous MQ-28A Ghost Bat aircraft.

Full-scale production has also begun on the first locally made Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles (CRVs) that will now be wholly built at Rheinmetall Defence Australia’s manufacturing plant at Redbank.

And on Tuesday (March 21), Deputy Premier Steven Miles opened Northrop Grumman Australia’s newly modernised facility at Brisbane Airport, regarded as a key supplier for the “sustainment” of the RAAF’s aviation capability.

Baxter, who started as a technician in the Australian Defence Force before moving into investment specialising in defence technology, said building components for military equipment was no substitute for having control over the whole article, from design through to deployment.

“We have component manufacturers, which isn’t bad, as we have pretty good specialty engineering,” Baxter said.

“But if we’re going to have a serious defence industry in this country we need to be making whole things – we need to be making the whole aircraft, the whole tank, or a missile – we don’t do anywhere near enough of that, instead we make the sling on the gun or the hubcap that goes on the truck or the nose cone on a plane.

“Now that situation isn’t the fault of our engineering companies, the fault lies with government.

“Unless we can produce whole articles for war-fighting, which the world wants, and which can be used here, we’re always going to have the begging bowl out for component contracts and we won’t have the equipment available for when it’s needed.”










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