‘No limits to what Coalition will do to hide embarrassing information’

July 2020

The government is trying to stop the auditor general giving evidence to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing about his 2018 report that was critical of a $1.3 billion arms deal. According to Guardian Australia, the French multinational arms manufacturer Thales was “aggrieved” by the report and asked the Attorney General to black out sections of it.

The Coalition used extraordinary powers to suppress parts of the auditor general’s report after pressure from Thales, according to Guardian Australia. The report found that Australia could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars had it gone to the United States to buy its new fleet of light protected army vehicles, instead of buying 1,100 of Thales’ locally built Hawkeis.

Documents obtained by Guardian Australia reveal that Thales was “aggrieved” at auditor general Grant Hehir’s finding and approached the attorney general, Christian Porter, in January 2018 and asked him to use extraordinary and largely unprecedented powers to black out sections. In particular, the arms manufacturer wanted struck out six paragraphs which found that Australia could have got a similar vehicle for half the price through the US joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV) program. Australia had pulled out of joining the JLTV program and decided on a locally built option after what the auditor general described as “extensive lobbying” from Thales and the defence industry.

Hehir had told a parliamentary inquiry that he had worked through his report with the Defence Department to ensure it contained no information that could jeopardise national security. Hehir said he remained “unaware as to why” national security grounds were used to justify the suppression of parts of his report.

According to Guardian Australia, the crossbench senator Rex Patrick has been locked in a freedom of information battle with the government in the administrative appeals tribunal (AAT) in an attempt to force it to release the unredacted version of the report and has issued a summons to the auditor general for him to give evidence. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is objecting to the summons.

Said Senator Patrick: “The lengths the Morrison government appears willing to go to hide embarrassing information knows no boundaries. First they censored the auditor general in the parliament and now they’re doing everything they can to censor him in the tribunal.”

Brothers-in-Arms: the high-rotation revolving door between the Australian government and arms merchants

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