PM’s bat­tle dam­age

Herald Sun - - OPINION -

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.

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