SHERIDAN STEWART: Meanwhile, of course, the big news of the day, Queensland has won the race to build $5 billion worth of fighting vehicles as part of the largest purchase in the Australian Army's history. A German contractor has been set to build the 211 light armoured vehicles at a new facility in Ipswich, which is west of Brisbane. But I wanted to find out how that was going to affect us in regional Queensland, so to tell you all about the contract, just before I jumped on air I spoke with Minister for Defence Marise Payne.
MARISE PAYNE: Great pleasure, Sheridan.
SHERIDAN STEWART: I understand this is a huge win for Queensland. Can you describe in a nutshell the announcement that was made today?
MINISTER PAYNE: This is a particularly important announcement, Sheridan, for Army capabilities, for increased safety, for increased mobility, and for increased firepower for our troops when they're doing the job that we ask them to do, the men and women in the field. Importantly, it is also a very important announcement for Queensland, one which will see a significant number of jobs and an investment of over $1.8 billion made in Queensland through the development of the new capability in the combat reconnaissance vehicles.
SHERIDAN STEWART: I was curious, I looked up CRV and Google came up with some very different abbreviations: comfortable roundabout vehicles, compacter recreational vehicles. But you called them combat reconnaissance vehicles, have I got that?
MINISTER PAYNE: Yes. I don't think you'll see these as comfortable or relaxing in any way, shape or form. These are extremely impressive pieces of capability for Army. They will replace our long-serving ASLAVs, which are familiar to many Australians, that have been with us for over 20 years. And most importantly, it is Rheinmetall's commitment to ensure that over 1450 jobs are created in Australia, and the investment for Queensland is a very significant one.
SHERIDAN STEWART: What will these vehicles actually be used for? Are they peacekeeping vehicles? Do they get shipped out to war?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well, they can do both. They are an armoured vehicle. They weigh about 38 tonnes. They are going to give significantly increased capability and protection to our troops. So, for example, they'll have a very important role in providing the intelligence that's necessary to inform our battle plans, to help us make sure our strikes are decisive. They are very high-tech, they have very complex systems, and they will provide great situational awareness and intelligence to the crews who are part of their operation. I spoke to some of the young soldiers with the Prime Minister this morning and they are very excited at this new opportunity, and of course many of those are serving in Queensland at Enoggera, where we were today, and at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville.
SHERIDAN STEWART: The project's going to be based in Ipswich; what was the key deciding factor in that choice?
MINISTER PAYNE: That was a choice that was made by Rheinmetall, the business that is the preferred tenderer in this case, their choice in terms of the research they did, but I know that it also provides an extraordinary opportunity for Queensland professionals and Queensland trades, people with experience in trades, to be part of this process.
SHERIDAN STEWART: So, you mentioned 1450 jobs to be created; what sort of skills will be needed to undertake those roles?
MINISTER PAYNE: Manufacturing skills will be very important and there will also be very high-tech requirements as well. Again it's an opportunity, Sheridan, to focus on the need for Australians to look at opportunities in the STEM space, in Science, in Technology, in Engineering and in Maths. What we are doing in re-equipping the armed forces in Australia, whether it is in the developments we're undertaking in Navy – and listeners would be familiar with those in relation to frigates and submarines – in the air in terms of the Joint Strike Fighter, or these combat reconnaissance vehicles and the infantry fighting vehicles which will come after them, the need for skills and engagement across industry is extremely important for all of us.
SHERIDAN STEWART: Are there jobs that, for example, our Queensland miners, some of the engineers and the tech people might be able to transfer into?
MINISTER PAYNE: I think there is a complementary set of skills between the sort of work that is often sought on projects such as this, but also on some of the others that I've mentioned and people who have experience in other industries, be they the sort of example you've given or those who've been involved in other aspects of manufacturing. We want to make sure that we are advising Australians and Australians are well-informed about the work that we're doing. One of the reasons that we were so pleased to be able to make the announcement at Enoggera today is it enables the young men and women who are already serving in the ADF to report to us on what their career is like and what they're looking forward to with these new vehicles, and I, of course, am always encouraging young Australians to consider their options in terms of what they might like to do with their futures.
SHERIDAN STEWART: Let's turn our attention to some businesses for a moment. There's about 100 small-medium enterprises, or SMEs, that are tendering across Queensland; how many winning tenders are there likely to be?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well, there will be several. Already working with Rheinmetall, who is of course the proponent of the bids, there is in excess of a dozen businesses already identified. Whether they're businesses like DGH Engineering, which I know has a presence in Mackay and I believe in Townsville, businesses that are active in the Brisbane area but extend their activities further afield. All of those are ones which will be able to engage with Queenslanders. The other thing I would say is over 40 companies around Australia are already listed by Rheinmetall as part of their proposal. This is truly a national enterprise, and whether you are from Queensland, from New South Wales – my own state -from Victoria, from WA, from Tasmania to South Australia, we know that the work that we are doing across Defence, making sure that the men and women of the ADF have the capability they need to do those jobs that we ask of them, which involves putting their lives on the line, that all over Australia that national enterprise will be contributing to their development.
SHERIDAN STEWART: Has Australia ever actually produced military machinery on this scale before?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well, we have a history of quite good niche development of defence capability, but one of the things which governments historically have not done is to ensure that that is sustainable over and above the ADF's requirements, and that's one of the reasons that this Government is so committed to developing a sovereign capability, a sovereign defence industry in Australia, and ensuring that with the work we're doing through our Defence Industry Policy Statement, through our Defence Export Strategy for example, that businesses who are professional in the defence industry area have an opportunity to not just work for the delivery of ADF's capability but, perhaps even more particularly, in the export context.
SHERIDAN STEWART: When it comes to expertise, though – I'm thinking here of the issues that plagued, say, the Collins class submarines – have we got the expertise to do this?
MINISTER PAYNE: We absolutely do, and we need to grow more. I'm happy that you go back to this point, because the opportunities that we have to engage skilled Australians who have an interest in making a contribution to defence capability are virtually limitless at the moment – as I said, an extensive naval shipbuilding program, work underway significantly on the Joint Strike Fighter componentry around the country, and now this announcement in relation to Army capability. There are so many things happening in the in the defence space in terms of delivering what the men and women of the ADF need, that across the entire nation we are calling it a national enterprise. We are engaging educational institutions, we are engaging both vocational and tertiary, and certainly secondary as well, to make sure the options are clear to younger Australians. We are engaging businesses, and we do significant numbers of information days, of industry days, to make sure that we're conveying the message and they are able to ask questions about what is possible, and we do that regionally, we do it in national capitals and state capitals, and make sure that as far as we are able to, the message is out there.
SHERIDAN STEWART: So, the big announcement has happened; what happens next, Minister?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well, we will see the first vehicles available for use by the ADF in 2020. It's going to take a significant amount of preparation, a significant amount of training for young men and women who are part of Army who will be using these vehicles and working with these vehicles. And we look forward very much to welcoming 211 of the very impressive-looking Boxers and making sure that the young men and women who serve us are well protected.
SHERIDAN STEWART: Minister Payne, thanks for joining us this afternoon on ABC Radio Queensland.
MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you, Sheridan.
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