By Julian Bajkowski
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her erstwhile Industry Minister Greg Combet might want local governments to buy Australian-made vehicles to support the domestic manufacturing, but it's a very different story for the cars that closely tail the PM's official marque plated C*1.
Less than a fortnight after top level pressure was applied to public sector car buyers, the Australian Federal Police has confirmed that it has now switched to using $300,000 BMW X5 xDrive 50i armoured security vehicles over locally manufactured Ford Territory for dignitary protection duties.
The high-profile decision to switch to BMW's has again thrown into question whether domestic purchasing measures imposed on government buyers can actually sustain local carmakers or even represent value for taxpayer's money.
Fleet managers have told Government News it has become increasingly difficult to source locally made cars that tick all the required needed boxes in terms of benchmarks for safety, emissions, fuel economy, price and resale value.
The AFP's small fleet of five armoured BMWs is fast shaping-up as a case in point.
The distinctive vehicles are increasingly being photographed on official government rounds – including the arrival of re-installed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at Government House in Canberra on Thursday morning.
But the AFP is sticking to its guns for deciding to buy imported vehicles amid an increasingly emotional debate.
An AFP spokesperson said that the agency is "confident they are the best vehicle for the AFP's responsibilities in protecting both Australian and foreign dignitaries."
Some of that confidence may stem from local manufacturers finding that it is just uneconomic to build small numbers of very specialised high-security cars in a market that is already well serviced by global brands like BMW.
"The vehicles were selected after an extensive vehicle selection and tender process. During the process there was no Australian manufactured vehicle identified that met the criteria for armoured security vehicles," the AFP spokesperson told Government News.
A key issue for government buyers is that locally made products that have to be substantially modified to meet specifications can end-up costing more than off-the-shelf foreign equivalents.
"Converting an Australian manufactured vehicle to armoured [security standards] requires significant customisation at considerably greater cost than purchasing purpose built vehicles," the AFP spokesperson said. "These vehicles were procured as part of a long term strategic plan."
However while those most closely guarding Australia's leaders and their foreign counterparts get a prestige German SUV, there seems to be little immediate appetite for switching the PM's official car from a Holden Caprice.
The Governor General also routinely uses a Holden Caprice (even though, or maybe because, a vintage official Rolls Royce Phantom VI is kept garaged should HRH require it.)
There similarly appear to be no immediate plans to move away from using Australian made vehicles to fill the COMCAR fleet that ferry around Federal Members of Parliament and Senators for a price of around $78 per hour.
There is however a growing debate and greater transparency over the levels of locally manufactured vehicle purchasing in the Federal Government after the Department of Finance exposed data comparing the number of Australian-made versus imported passenger vehicles.
As at 31 March 2013, there were 4567 Aussie made cars in the Commonwealth's fleet of 7188, or 63.5 per cent.Another 1879 government cars were "imported by an Australian manufacturer"ÂÂÂÂ to take the total of what Finance rather awkwardly calls "Australian Manufacturer Vehicles" to 6446 or 89.6 per cent.
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