Australia: government accused of overspending for Thales-built vehicles

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A large, heavy military vehicle parked at an exhibition. It has a green and brown camouflage design.
A Hawkei military vehicle on display. Photo: Michał Derela CC BY-SA 4.0

In Australia, the coalition government has been accused of succumbing to pressure from the French arms company Thales, and spending nearly twice as much as was necessary on a new fleet of combat vehicles.

Documents obtained by The Guardian reveal that Thales was “aggrieved” at findings by the Australian auditor general, Grant Hehir, that Australia could save hundreds of millions of dollars by buying army vehicles from the USA. After “extensive lobbying” Australia eventually decided to pay $1.3bn for 1,100 Hawkeis vehicles built in Bendigo, in south Australia.

Thales demanded that the Australian attorney general, Christian Porter, used “extraordinary and largely unprecedented powers” to hide sections of the report. In particular, Thales requested six key paragraphs be removed from the report, which explained how Australia could buy similar vehicles from the USA at half the price. Thales argued that these paragraphs would impact the Hawkeis “marketability”. Porter acceded to the request and removed the six paragraphs from the original report because they would have had a negative impact on Thales’ commercial interests and threatened Australia’s national security and defence. This was despite the reports original author having worked with the Australian department of defence to make sure that the report didn’t contain any material that could have risked Australia’s national security.

In response, Thales argued that the original report was based on flawed analysis and statistics, didn’t meet auditing standards that the Hawekis vehicle wasn’t comparable to the cheaper alternative, and that the report didn’t take account of the value of export sales or the benefit of the local economy, arguing that the Hawkeis production in Bendigo created 400 jobs. Hehir, the attorney general, has rejected claims that his work was “substandard”.

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