PM’s battle damage
THE Turnbull Government’s decision to snub Victoria’s strong bid in the $5.2 billion contract for the Australian Army’s next-generation armoured vehicle fleet is further proof of misplaced priorities.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has argued politics was not a factor in the decision, and the rival Queensland pitch for a German Rheinmetall Boxer design was based on defence needs and a “rigorous testing process”.
But, as we have seen on both federal infrastructure grants and GST distribution, Victoria is a third-tier priority in Canberra, behind backing marginal electorates in NSW and Queensland.
If Mr Turnbull wants to convince Victorians the Land 400 contract — the biggest purchase order in the army’s history — was based only on defence needs and performance, he should release all documents supporting the decision-making process.
Adding to the sniff of politics being a factor in the decision, the federal government was quick to point out that while Queensland would get the primary build contract, Victoria would provide $635 million in components and see 170 supply chain jobs created.
Throwing Victoria a bone will not allay concerns the federal government feels it’s able to continually dud this state. Victoria leads the national economy and leads national population growth. Those strengths should not place us at a disadvantage when it comes to federal support. Victoria must be backed in continual jobs growth if we are to continue to progress.
Like South Australia (which has since secured $50 billion in submarine work and shipbuilding), Victoria was hard hit by the closure of the automotive industry, and the ready pool of skilled labour was earmarked for Land 400.
Victoria has a proven track record on armoured vehicle production, with a $1.3 billion contract for Hawkei light armoured personnel carriers being built by Thales Australia, which also makes the highly successful Bushmaster armoured personnel carrier, in Bendigo.
Added to the heavy engineering aspect, Victoria is the heart of stateof-the-art weaponry development through Defence Science and Technology Group, BAE and others.
Separate to manufacturing expertise, the new armoured vehicles will be tested and trained on at Victorian defence bases, including Puckapunyal and Bandiana, which are part of $235 million in upgrades.
From the outset, the Land 400 process needed to be driven by security, skills and the business case, not politics.
Queensland, which has five seats holding swing margins of 1 per cent or less, and another three under 2 per cent, is a state the Coalition must win to retain power when a federal poll is called on or before November 2 next year.
But Mr Turnbull should remember it was Victoria which allowed him to retain government in 2016, when Bill Shorten, in his home state, obtained the smallest swing to Labor in the nation, and the seat of Chisholm was returned to the Coalition.
Land 400, to replace the existing Australian light armoured vehicles and M113 personnel carriers, was too important to become an exercise in pork-barrelling for the next election.
If Mr Turnbull wants to convince Victorians the contract decision was untainted by politics, we need transparency and to see the supporting defence force recommendations.