Andrew Peacock, the former Liberal Party Parliamentary Leader, Foreign Minister and Australian Ambassador to Washington, retired back in February from his position as President of Boeing Australia.
In early March the Minister for Defence, Dr Brendan Nelson, made the surprise announcement of a decision to spend $6 billion with Boeing on a batch of Super Hornet fighter aircraft for the Australian air force.
That Boeing should win a major contract is not surprising. The American company, after all, is the world’s leading aeroplane manufacturer and a substantial supplier of defence equipment to countries around the world.
What made this acquisition different, and the recent connection of Mr Peacock to Boeing potentially embarrassing for the government, is the direct involvement of Dr Nelson in making it.
For the purchase of the Super Hornets was not the result of some orthodox procurement policy where teams of military and public service officers spend months, or even years, weighing up the alternative options. This purchase was very much the minister’s own decision.
Dr Nelson made it to avoid the risk of the air force being caught short between the phasing out of the F111s planned for 2010 and the arrival of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft which Australia is all but committed to buying from the United States when it is finally built.
Since the announcement that 24 Super Hornets will be the insurance policy against JSF delays, air force experts have been bobbing up everywhere criticising the purchase on the grounds that it is not capable of doing the required job.
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Dr Nelson would be wise to quickly make it known that he had absolutely no discussions with Mr Peacock about the purchase.