The promotion of several Queensland Liberal National MPs to cabinet, and the dumping of Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester, is ringing alarm bells in the Victorian government over the fate of the LAND 400 Phase 2 project.
Queensland MP David Littleproud has replaced Darren Chester while Queensland backbencher John McVeigh has been promoted to Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government.
The promotions came just days after Defence announced its first Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for trusted autonomous systems will be established in Queensland, a project that will receive $50 million in funding over the next seven years, and one that Victoria had been hoping to secure.
The recent spate of decisions has the Victorian state government is concerned it will lose out on the LAND 400 Phase 2 project to Queensland, which will be the site of the build if Rheinmetall is selected as the winner of the contract.
"The Andrews Labor government has grave fears that Malcolm Turnbull’s dumping of Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester paves the way for Victoria to be frozen out of the vitally important LAND 400 Phase 2 defence contract," a statement from Victoria's Minister for Trade and Investment Philip Dalidakis said.
"The LAND 400 contract is crucial to our national interest and instead of being awarded on merit, it looks increasingly likely that it will go to Queensland as a naked pork barrelling exercise designed to help save Coalition seats at the next federal election."
Victoria, which is in the running to be the build site of the 224 combat reconnaissance vehicles if the BAE Systems LAND 400 Phase 2 bid is successful, has a strong history in manufacturing defence vehicles and is banking on securing the project to help its depleted automotive industry.
"Victoria’s manufacturing industry has long suffered at the hands of the Abbott and Turnbull governments, who ran our automotive industry out of town and sent defence contracts to South Australia, Western Australia and now the latest drone contracts to Queensland," Minister Dalidakis' statement said.
"Victoria already builds the Hawkei and Bushmaster and has a proven track record when it comes to military land vehicles through its expertise in engineering, design and technology, as well as strong research and development sectors."
Minister Dalidakis has called on the Prime Minister to reassure Victorian companies that would benefit from BAE Systems' bid that the decision will be based on merit and not politics.
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“This project is too important to be the plaything of a Prime Minister desperate to save his political skin in Queensland," Minister Dalidakis said.
“This decision must be made in the national interest, not the rank political interests of Malcolm Turnbull.
“While Malcolm Turnbull may have silenced Darren Chester, he won’t silence Victoria – we’ll continue to lobby for LAND 400 because we know that our state is best equipped to deliver the project."
The Victorian government has estimated up to 2,000 manufacturing and supply chain jobs will be created in Victoria if they secure the project.
BAE Systems Australia is proposing the Finnish-designed Patria AMV35, while German firm Rheinmetall Defence Australia is offering the Boxer CRV. Should they win, BAE will assemble their vehicles at Fishermans Bend, Victoria, while Rheinmetall will make their vehicles in Brisbane.
Defence has completed its evaluation of the BAE Systems and Rheinmetall vehicles. The government will announce its decision next year.