De­fence record proof we de­serve box seat

The Courier-Mail - - OPINION -

AS mod­ern war­fare and peace­keep­ing be­comes more com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted, the machin­ery and weaponry needed also needs to be state of the art. This means very large sums of money are re­quired to en­sure Aus­tralia’s de­fence can stand be­side the best on of­fer.

Three ma­jor pro­cure­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing projects – the new $50 bil­lion fu­ture sub­ma­rine project, the $17 bil­lion joint strike fighter air fleet and the $20 bil­lion re­place­ment light ar­moured ve­hi­cles – are vi­tal to this na­tion’s de­fence this cen­tury.

One of these, the Land 400 plan to re­place our age­ing ar­moured fight­ing ve­hi­cles, is of spe­cial in­ter­est to Queens­land. The Ger­man man­u­fac­turer Rhein­metall is com­mit­ted to bas­ing oper­a­tions in this state if it is awarded the con­tract ahead of the Bri­tish/Aus­tralian com­pany BAE Sys­tems Aus­tralia/Pa­tria.

The Rhein­metall ve­hi­cle, the Boxer, can be used in con­junc­tion with a va­ri­ety of mil­i­tary op­tions, in­clud­ing sea-go­ing ves­sels, air trans­porters and large land ve­hi­cles. The Ger­mans have close ties with Aus­tralian in­dus­try in­clud­ing the mil­i­tary-linked com­pa­nies Su­pacat, Northrop Grum­man and Tec­ton­ica.

Rhein­metall says it is well placed to de­velop “a world class com­bat ve­hi­cle de­sign, man­u­fac­tur­ing and sus­tain­ment ca­pa­bil­ity for the Aus­tralian De­fence Force and the re­gion”. These lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tions and the in­ter­na­tional ba­sis of the com­pany’s oper­a­tions in Aus­tralia and Ger­many un­der­pin the suit­abil­ity of the com­pany to be the pre­ferred ten­derer.

Hav­ing a man­u­fac­tur­ing base for the Land 400 project here – and the abil­ity to move on with the next phase of the project quickly and ef­fi­ciently – is a per­fect fit for Queens­land’s ex­pand­ing role as the de­fence state. We have a ma­jor base in Gal­lipoli Bar­racks at Enog­gera in Brisbane, which is home to the 7th and 11th Brigades and houses the head­quar­ters for the 1st Di­vi­sion and the 16th Avi­a­tion Bri­gade. All up, that’s about 5600 men and women.

Townsville, with Lavarack Bar­racks, is also a grow­ing de­fence hub with about 5000 per­son­nel and Am­ber­ley RAAF base near Ip­swich has our strike force as well as heavy-lift air­craft and re­fu­elling ca­pa­bil­ity.

Joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon, af­firmed this year by Op­er­a­tion Tal­is­man Sabre which com­bined troops from the United States, New Zealand, Ja­pan and Canada at Stan­age Bay, north of Rock­hamp­ton. With 10,000 troops in­volved, it fea­tured the big­gest beach land­ing by Aus­tralian troops since World War II. Staged every two years for more than a decade, it is the show­piece of Aus­tralia’s mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. Queens­land is also the site of train­ing by re­gional mil­i­tary forces from coun­tries in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore and China.

This broad range of ac­tiv­ity and the sig­nif­i­cant base fa­cil­i­ties and hard­ware in Queens­land shows why this state is the log­i­cal place to build and pro­vide head­quar­ters for a long-term, high­value project such as Land 400. We also have the work­force needed for such an un­der­tak­ing – highly skilled en­gi­neers, ma­chin­ists and ve­hi­cle builders and the ex­per­tise to run a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar con­tract on the ground.

Queens­land also has a rel­a­tive green­field at­ti­tude to big man­u­fac­tur­ing projects, un­like some of the south­ern states where out­dated and some­times counter-pro­duc­tive work prac­tices can add cost and de­lay de­liv­ery times. When it is all con­sid­ered and the clear, un­de­ni­able ad­van­tages of work­ing in Queens­land are ex­am­ined, there is no real al­ter­na­tive.

A his­tor­i­cal note that shouldn’t be ig­nored is that this state propped up the pro­tected man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries in south­ern states be­fore tar­iffs were listed, through our ef­fi­cient, free mar­ket re­sources and agri­cul­ture sec­tors. It would be more than fit­ting for Queens­land to re­ceive some favourable – but still gen­uinely de­served – treat­ment in award­ing a ma­jor Com­mon­wealth con­tract.

We have a very good story to tell and all our politi­cians, re­gard­less of any party af­fil­i­a­tion, should be mak­ing the case. Com­ing sec­ond is not an op­tion.

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