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Adjournment: Labor must reverse its reckless opposition to Geelong’s Howitzer project, Senate, 25 February 2020

Senator HENDERSON (Victoria) (19:35): I rise in this adjournment debate to celebrate the very significant defence industry investment the Morrison government is making in the Geelong region—the investment to build and sustain 30 self-propelled mobile howitzers—and to condemn the member for Corio, Mr Marles, for his continuing campaign against the most substantial defence manufacturing project to be based in our region.

Just before the federal election last year I was very proud to join the defence minister and my good friend, Senator Reynolds, to announce that a re-elected Morrison government would commit to this massive investment—around $1 billion-plus—to be located in the Geelong region. As we announced, these 30 self-propelled howitzers in Geelong will deliver up to 350 jobs and provide vital capability for the Australian Army. For those who aren’t familiar with the howitzer, it is best described as a large tank on tracked wheels equipped with a very significant long-range firing capability. It is vital capability for our nation.

Just last Saturday, 22 February, the Geelong Advertiser published a front-page story entitled ‘Massive misfire’, with the subheading ‘Geelong jobs pledge a patent lie that mugs voters, says opposition.’ This is the latest attempt by Mr Marles to condemn the project in his attempt to undermine this massive manufacturing jobs investment for the region. 

Mr Marles was such a poor advocate for the people of Geelong that when we announced this project last year he determined that this was not worthy of Labor’s support. Of course we should not be surprised. In 2012, when Labor was battling to contain its out-of-control spiral of debt and deficit, it was the Labor government which cancelled this project. This is contrary to Army’s requirements and contrary to our national security interests. On 3 May 2012 the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced dramatic Defence cuts, you including the cancellation of this project. This put our defence industry at risk. The then Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, was questioned at Senate estimates. He admitted that the decision to instead acquire further towed guns, which have a limited range and place soldiers at much greater risk of being harmed, could expose Australian troops to danger on operations, as well, of course, as being less mobile and less capable than the self-propelled alternative. Sadly, once again we see Labor continuing to refuse to back this crucial project for Geelong and Victoria.

But this is not the only example of Mr Marles deserting his electorate, including manufacturing workers. We know that on his watch Ford announced the closure of its manufacturing operations in July 2013—a dreadful day. He refused to back Avalon’s international airport, saying at the time that this was not in Geelong and Australia’s interests. On Mr Marles’s watch, in a city that depends so much on manufacturing, he smashed heavy industry with a job-destroying carbon tax. In the lead-up to last year’s May election he declared that the end of thermal coal exports would be a good thing, turning his back on Australia’s 55,000 coal workers. He stood silent when there was an unlawful blockade by members of the AWU which cost Viva Energy $20 million. He has done nothing to advocate for fast rail infrastructure, including advocating to match our $2 billion fast rail commitment between Melbourne and Geelong. He backed, at one stage, the East West Link but then went silent when Premier Daniel Andrews cancelled that project, refusing to back this important vital infrastructure project. He went silent when state Labor cancelled Bay West, a second port for Victoria. He fails to stand up for onshore conventional gas and the need to lift the moratorium in Victoria. He prevails over an electorate with one of the highest unemployment rate in the country, with no ideas to fix it. Mr Marles is no friend of manufacturers, no friend of industry and no friend of farmers. I condemn his failure to celebrate our government’s investments, including one of the most important manufacturing projects and opportunities ever to come to Geelong.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

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