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Opposition issues ultimatum against MRH-90 Taipan disposal

Australian Army soldiers from the 5th Aviation Regiment conduct start checks on an MRH-90 during Exercise Vigilant Scimitar on 05 November 2020 at Royal Australian Air Force Base Townsville. Photo: CAPT Carolyn Barnett

The federal opposition has issued a “please explain” to the federal government over its handling of the decommissioned MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet.

The federal opposition has issued a “please explain” to the federal government over its handling of the decommissioned MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet.

Leader of the opposition in the Senate and shadow minister for foreign affairs Simon Birmingham, shadow minister for defence Andrew Hastie, and deputy chair of the joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade David Fawcett issued the ultimatum on 14 February.

“The Albanese government must immediately clarify why it will not respond to new evidence and instruct Defence to pause the burial of Australia’s MRH-90 Taipan helicopters,” the joint statement said.

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“Labor has made various excuses as to why Australia is unable to provide the Taipans to Ukraine, including that it’s too late in the dismantling process to fulfil the request, that the aircraft may not be safe, and that the helicopters are not suitable due to low availability.

“However, it was established in Senate estimates today [14 February] that the Taipans are, in fact, safe, some of the helicopters have not been extensively stripped, and that our close partners in New Zealand show that it is possible to successfully operate a reliable fleet.

“Evidence showed that it may not be too late to pause the dismantling of the fleet and provide it to Ukraine in line with Ukraine’s request and allies’ offers of assistance.

“Despite Labor’s narrative having been shown to be inaccurate, Defence officials were unable to confirm during the hearing who within the department provided that advice.

“What we see is a dysfunctional, confused government, unaware itself that the helicopters could potentially be provided to Ukraine and now not strong enough to direct Defence to take a different approach.

“The opposition calls on the government to recognise that it is not too late to pause the dismantling of some of the remaining Taipans and clarify with European allies and industry whether it’s possible to meet Ukraine’s request.”

The joint statement likened the decision to bury the helicopters as an example of weak leadership, indecisiveness, and a lack of accountability by the federal government.

The ADF MRH-90 Taipan helicopter fleet was originally grounded late last year following a series of aircraft accidents. An MRH-90 helicopter crashed south of Hamilton Island while participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre in July 2023, another aircraft ditched into NSW waters during a routine counterterrorism training exercise in March 2023, flying operations were suspended in June 2021, and a tail rotor vibration problem was identified at HMAS Albatross in 2019.

A global search was undertaken by MRH-90 Taipan contractor NATO Helicopter Industries to find potential buyers and a December 2023 request from Ukraine for the aircraft were both unsuccessful.

“We need to be making sure that what we are providing to Ukraine is useful and is practical. And that’s been at the heart of all of the decisions that we’ve been making in relation to support for Ukraine,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles late last week.

“We are very committed to … supporting Ukraine, and we continue to be committed to supporting Ukraine, and you’ll see more from us in relation to that.

“[When] you draw a line through the commitments that we’ve made, and it is being able to provide capabilities which are sustainable in the context of the fight that Ukraine is in; and our Taipans are not that.

“That is why we’ve made the decision in respect to Taipans. We will continue to support Ukraine in the conflict apparent that they’re engaging in.”

Robert Dougherty

Robert Dougherty

Robert is a senior journalist who has previously worked for Seven West Media in Western Australia, as well as Fairfax Media and Australian Community Media in New South Wales. He has produced national headlines, photography and videography of emergency services, business, community, defence and government news across Australia. Robert graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in Public Relations and Journalism at Curtin University, attended student exchange program with Fudan University and holds Tier 1 General Advice certification for Kaplan Professional. Reach out via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via LinkedIn.
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