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Marles must urgently guarantee Geelong’s defence industry future

The member for Corio and Labor’s new Defence Minister, Richard Marles, must urgently guarantee that the Albanese Government will not cancel, cut or scale back Geelong’s Howitzer defence project.

A $1 billion contract for the first phase of the program – the manufacture and maintenance of 30 self-propelled Howitzer guns and 15 armoured supply vehicles for the Australian Army – was signed last December with Hanwha Defense Australia.

On 8 April 2022, I joined the then Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, representatives of the South Korean government and Hanwha for the turning of the first sod of a new $170 million armoured vehicle centre of excellence, to be built at Avalon Airport in the Corio electorate.  This was an incredible day for our region.

In July 2020, the Morrison Government announced it would proceed with phase two of the program to deliver a further regiment of vehicles, at an estimated cost of between $1.5 billion and $2.3 billion, and phase three.  This extension to the Howitzer defence project has not yet been contracted.

After the previous Labor government cancelled the Howitzer defence project in 2012 to cut spending, I am deeply concerned that history will repeat itself.  This decision not only hurt defence vehicle manufacturing jobs and defence capability but drove relations between Australia and South Korea to an all-time low.  Labor, when last in power, cut defence spending to just 1.56 per cent of GDP, the lowest level since 1938.

After failing to match the Liberal’s commitment to Howitzer in 2019, Mr Marles must urgently guarantee that his government will proceed with not only phase one but phases two and three of the Howitzer defence project.

With Labor announcing that spending cuts will be made in the October budget, there is genuine fear in the defence community that Labor will seek to cut defence spending, as it did before.

I am also calling on Mr Marles to guarantee the delivery of the Land 400 Phase 3 contract to Geelong, worth a monumental $25 billion.  With Hanwha vying to secure this contract for Geelong, to be co-located at Hanwha’s manufacturing facility at Avalon Airport, this would not only drive unprecedented investment to our region but would deliver hundreds more local jobs. Combined with Howitzer, the manufacture of some 450 vehicles under Land 400 Phase 3 – including 198 infantry fighting vehicles, known as the Redback – would deliver an estimated 1,600 direct and indirect jobs in total.

With the overall cost of the project a key factor in any such decision, the Victorian Government must also step up and deliver funding for Land 400 Phase 3 to help secure this project for Victoria.   Daniel Andrews failed miserably with Land 400 Phase 2, committing an estimated $40 million to the project compared with some $400 million provided by the Queensland Government.  Victorians need to know that state Labor is serious about bringing this project to Geelong.

In contrast to my fight for defence industry jobs over many years which helped deliver the Howitzer project to Geelong, Mr Marles has never fought for defence industry jobs for his electorate or the broader region.  It is time he started to put Geelong first and secure Geelong’s defence industry future.

4 June 2022

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