Army ve­hi­cles war heats up

Herald Sun - - NEWS - ROB HAR­RIS rob.har­ EDITORIAL, PAGE 20

A STATE-of-Ori­gin-style war of words is threat­en­ing to in­flu­ence the de­ci­sion on a $5 bil­lion de­fence con­tract, which could create thou­sands of jobs in Vic­to­ria.

The lu­cra­tive Land 400 con­tract — which would turn Mel­bourne’s for­mer Holden fac­tory into a plant for hi-tech war ma­chines — is at the cen­tre of a fierce lob­by­ing cam­paign be­tween Vic­to­rian and Queens­land fed­eral MPs.

The Turn­bull Gov­ern­ment is ex­pected to de­cide early next year whether the ten­der goes to de­fence con­trac­tor BAE Sys­tems, which will base its bid at the Fish­er­mans Bend site, or Ger­man-based Rhein­metall De­fence, which plans to as­sem­ble its ar­moured ve­hi­cles in Queens­land’s south­east.

In­dus­try sources now fear the con­tract could be turned into a mas­sive pork-bar­relling of Queens­land be­cause of the Turn­bull Gov­ern­ment’s pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion in the polls and the num­ber of mar­ginal seats.

Vic­to­rian fed­eral gov­ern­ment MPs have stepped up a cam­paign to en­sure the con­tract goes south, amid con­cerns it could be poached by the in­flu­en­tial “white shoe bri­gade”.

Fol­low­ing in­tense public cam­paign­ing from “Team Queens­land” MPs on Rhein­metall’s be­half, Vic­to­rian Lib­eral and Na­tion­als MPs met in Can­berra last week with BAE non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Dr Ian Watt and Vic­to­ria’s de­fence am­bas­sador Greg Com­bet.

BAE flags at least 500 di­rect man­u­fac­tur­ing and sup­ply chain jobs in the pro­posal, but gov­ern­ment mod­el­ling shows the in­dus­try could gain up to 2000 jobs, and con­tracts for down­stream man­u­fac­tur­ers.

BAE, through its part­ner Marand Pre­ci­sion En­gi­neer­ing, would man­u­fac­ture the ve­hi­cle’s hull in Vic­to­ria while Rhein­metall would man­u­fac­ture its hull in Ger­many.

Vic­to­rian Lib­eral MP Sarah Hen­der­son, who has led the cam­paign among her col­leagues, said the state of­fered the best ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­per­tise in the na­tion.

“In terms of sup­port­ing lo­cal jobs and Aus­tralian work­ers, BAE is leaps ahead of its com­pe­ti­tion” she said. “It will de­liver a ve­hi­cle that com­prises 90 per cent Aus­tralian in­dus­try con­tent.”

Both de­signs have un­der­gone in­tense tri­als ahead of a de­ci­sion on the maker of 225 com­bat re­con­nais­sance ve­hi­cles, which will re­place the Aus­tralian Light Ar­moured Ve­hi­cles now in ser­vice.

While the qual­ity of the ve­hi­cle will ul­ti­mately de­cide the con­tract win­ner, the de­ter­mi­na­tion process will also eval­u­ate value-for-money, Aus­tralian­made con­tent and risk man­age­ment. But one in­dus­try source said, “Don’t dis­count pol­i­tics in­flu­enc­ing the process. It shouldn’t, and hope­fully won’t, but any­thing is pos­si­ble”.

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