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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5667


Mr BALDWIN (5:33 PM) —The first area that I wish to raise with the minister relates to Australia’s program LAND 121, phase 4: the $1.5 billion acquisition of around 1,300 vehicles. I note with great interest that in a press release, on 26 May, the Minister for Defence Materiel and Science announced:

“Three Australian based companies will be awarded up to $9 million each for the development of protected mobility vehicle prototypes, putting them in the running to land a manufacturing contract for up to 1300 vehicles …

I am happy to announce that Thales Australia, Force Protection Europe and General Dynamics Land Systems are the three companies that will be given a shot.

Minister, if I can take your mind back to Wednesday, 29 October 2008: at the 10th Land Warfare Conference in Brisbane, then defence minister Fitzgibbon put out a press release and in that press release was the initial announcement of becoming engaged with the JLTV program. In fact, in that press release—which shocked many in Australian defence industry—it was announced that Australia was becoming involved with the technology demonstration phase of the US joint light tactical vehicle program, and that we were spending around $40 million investing in that program. The part that the Australian defence industry was most shocked at was the penultimate paragraph in this press release, which quoted Mr Fitzgibbon as saying:

“Should the JLTV be selected, it is anticipated that there will be opportunities for Australian industry in the manufacturing of associated vehicle trailers and ongoing maintenance support for our fleet …

So the question that I have to you in relation to this, Minister, is: why did it take your government so long—it had to be dragged, kicking and screaming—to provide equality of opportunity for the Australian defence industry?

In fact, during one of the annual report inquiries by the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Vice Admiral Tripovich was asked, ‘Would Australian industry be disadvantaged by the fact that they had not been provided investment nor been approached initially to be engaged in the program?’ and he said words to the effect that it would be very difficult for Australian industry to catch up and to be involved. So we are glad that you have made this investment. But the question that you need to answer to me, please, and to the Australian defence industry and people at large, is: given the success of the Thales Bushmaster as a high-quality product, a product in theatres of operation in which—touch wood—no-one to date has been killed and one which many can thank for the continuation of their lives because of the success of this vehicle, why is it that Australian defence industry was excluded from the initial inquiry and investigation?

It is fine to come to the table and say, ‘We have now given this money,’ but the bigger question is this: your government was prepared to sacrifice Australian jobs and home-grown technology—which is now being exported globally—for the sake of giving money to US contracts. And, Minister, could you also answer the following question. Not one of these prototypes being developed in the US has been able to meet the specifications put forward by the Australian Defence Force, and the fact that these vehicles weigh more than the specified seven tonnes means that they are not meeting the criteria for being slung underneath a Chinook. Where does this now place Australian industry? Could you also answer the following questions. When do you expect a decision to be made as to when the prototypes in Australia will be finished? When do you expect final complying prototypes from the USA? And where will this money sit in the forward budget estimates for the acquisition program? Minister, it is Australian defence industry and the people that work there that hang in the balance, on your decision.