FEDERAL Liberal leader Tony Abbott fell short of guaranteeing defence contracts for Thales during a visit to Bendigo yesterday.
Mr Abbott toured the defence manufacturer’s facilities and announced a veterans’ affairs policy during his Bendigo trip.
He ridiculed the government for failing to give Thales a contract earlier this year, a decision that led to 46 redundancies in Bendigo.
Thales had hoped to build about 200 Bushmaster utes for the Australian Defence Force.
Mr Abbott said Thales was an iconic Australian manufacturer that built vehicles that saved lives in war-torn countries.
“Now, I very much regret the fact that the workforce of Thales has shrunk as the workload has shrunk, because this government has been much more interested in giving work to overseas manufacturers than ensuring that Thales can continue to flourish,” he said.
The Defence Materiel Organisation recommended the government give the utility contract to a German company instead of Thales.
When asked if his government would have gone against the DMO’s recommendation, Mr Abbott was unable to guarantee a contract for Thales.
“Well, we have a preference for Australia,” he said.
“Yes, we’ve got to get value, but we are confident that Australian manufacturers can give us the value that we need.
“We’re particularly dismayed when we see the government giving large amounts of development money to foreign manufacturers rather than to local manufacturers, particularly when the local manufacturer, Thales, has a proven capacity to produce world-beating defence equipment, life-saving defence equipment, for Australian military forces and for our allies.”
Mr Abbott toured Thales with Coalition senators Michael Ronaldson and Bridget McKenzie.
He inspected Bushmasters and Hawkei prototypes and spoke with staff during the tour.
Thales is the only company in the running to secure a $1.5 billion government contract to supply Hawkeis to the defence force.