CLASSIFIED MESS: Blacked out army chopper audit
THE FEDERAL Government had no basis to suppress a report that was critical of a $2.2bn arms deal involving Army's Hawkei, a tribunal has found.
Thales Australia - owned by French military giant Thales - won the contract to build the army's light-armoured patrol vehicle, the Hawkei, in 2015.
Armoured vehicle designer Jacobus De Wet was involved in the vehicle's initial submissions phase, where he and other directors at Protected Transport Systems designed and tested their version of the landmine and ballistically protected vehicle.
The defence contractor's submission was denied and instead awarded to Thales Australia.
Mr De Wet - who was responsible for redesigning the Bushmaster to include blast protection - told the Townsville Bulletin the federal government was ultimately responsible for ongoing issues surrounding the Hawkei.
"I have predicted these events and unfortunately it's happened," Mr De Wet said.
"I'm not aware that it has met all specifications set out in the original requirement.
"It's an unacceptably long development period that it has taken with the government dragging their feet and technical issues throughout the development and well published design faults.
"We are talking 11 years later and the product is still not fully acceptable.
"I think it's sad that this is the best we can do for our men and women."
In 2018, Auditor-General Grant Hehir investigated the purchase to determine whether it was effective and good value for money, but before it could be tabled, Thales Australia asked Attorney-General Christian Porter to use his powers to black out sections of the Auditor-General's findings on national security grounds.
This was the right of the Attorney-General under paragraph 37(1)(b) of the Auditor-General Act 1997 (the Act), that in his opinion the disclosure of certain information would be contrary to the public interest.
Mr Hehir expressed his frustration in his audit report, and later in parliament, at the effects of the decision to suppress his findings.
He wrote he was unable to share his conclusion on whether the Hawkeis were "effective and achieved value for money".
The unprecedented move to use parliamentary powers to redact parts of the report prompted independent Senator Rex Patrick to lodge a freedom of information request seeking the full, unredacted audit report.
The stoush ended up with the administrative appeals tribunal, which handed down its decision on Wednesday, where it found in favour of Mr Patrick.
The tribunal ruled that much of the redacted material was already publicly disclosed, either through media reporting, the version of the audit report already released, or a separate federal court case.
"In light of the information that is publicly available, I am not satisfied that disclosure of the disputed material would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to the export prospects of the Hawkei," AAT deputy president Peter Britten-Jones wrote.
The Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet now has 30 days to appeal the decision.
In 2018, a spokesman for the Attorney General said the decision to intervene and suppress parts of the report was made "pursuant to the act based on all of the information before him".
Originally published as CLASSIFIED MESS: Blacked out army chopper audit under microscope