Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend is one of Australia’s largest urban renewal areas. Covering approximately 480 hectares, it is made up of five key precincts and is projected to support 80,000 residents and 80,000 jobs by 2050. To paraphrase former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, it’s a beautiful set of numbers.

One of the key precincts within the site will be the old General Motors Holden facility which the Victorian Government purchased from General Motors Holden Ltd (GMH) as part of a plan to redevelop the site as a hub for design, engineering and technological excellence. The Government’s vision is to create thousands of high value jobs by bringing together the best capabilities in defence, automotive, education, design and engineering, technology research and development and more.



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Victorian Defence Industry Advocate and former Federal Minister for Defence Materiel and Science Greg Combet, says the Victorian Government put a lot of thought and effort into maintaining the state’s manufacturing sector after the demise of our home-grown automotive industry.

“The state has always had the nation’s largest manufacturing sector and in the post-World War II era there was a large dependence on the commercial automotive industry with Holden at Fishermans Bend, Toyota at Altona and Ford at Broadmeadows. The automotive industry was a large employer so its closure was a significant development in the state’s manufacturing history,” Combet says.

Interestingly, even now, after the automotive manufacturers have left town, the state’s manufacturing sector is still worth $27.7 billion and employs more than 286,000 people across 13,000 manufacturing firms.

“What the purchase of the 32.06 hectare former GMH site at Fishermans Bend site does is secure a critical piece of prime industrial land close to the city and gives the government an opportunity to focus on the future, especially with the closure of the auto sector.”

Preserving the Fishermans Bend site’s manufacturing and design heritage, the Government’s vision is to transform it into a world class advanced engineering precinct. This is already taking shape with Melbourne University announcing late last year that it would relocate its School of Engineering to the site. This will bring students and create the basis for residential accommodation in the area as well.

BAE Systems Australia also reached an agreement to locate its Land 400 manufacturing facility on the site if it is the successful bidder for the project to build Australia’s next generation of military vehicles, worth billions to the Victorian economy.

A decision is pending at present with the two remaining bidders for Phase 2 (and perhaps by extension, Phase 3) being BAE Systems Australia and Rheinmetall Defence Australia.

BAE Systems winning the bid would continue Victoria’s long history in the defence sector and especially in military vehicle manufacturing, where Thales with other prime defence companies has manufactured the Bushmaster Protected Military Vehicle, which has been exported to six countries. Furthermore, Land 400 vehicles offered by BAE Systems are currently used by seven other militaries across the world.

Importantly, Phase 2 is worth around $4-5 billion and would create up to 2,000 manufacturing and supply chain jobs in Victoria. Moreover, it would also create jobs downstream in other states such as New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

Yet while the Land 400 project would be a boon to Victoria’s manufacturing sector, the future of the Fishermans Bend site is not contingent on Victoria winning the bid. Located next door is the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and nearby is Boeing’s commercial aviation facility where parts of the aeronautical behemoth’s Dreamliner are manufactured.

BAE Systems Vice President Brian Gathright says the company also sees Fishermans Bend as more than a focus around Land 400 and is an opportunity to consolidate all of its operations across air, land and sea in Victoria in a single location.

“It’s a chance to optimise what we deliver to the Commonwealth. This comes in a variety of forms. Innovation in business practices, in how we engage with small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and having synergies of capability – it’s really advantageous beyond Land 400,” Gathright says.

“Other advantages for BAE Systems will be the co-location with DSTG and Melbourne University and other organisations who we will be able to collaborate with and it puts us at a key centre point across the SME community. It allows us to access and have closer operational relationships with some of the innovative things they are doing.”

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According to Combet, the Land 400 project as well as Melbourne University, Boeing and DSTG’s presence are “exactly the types of things we want to develop at Fishermans Bend” and where there will be a “close relationship between research, learning, design and production in the engineering field.”

“It really is the key to value-adding capabilities to the state in the years to come,” Combet says.

It will be a place where students and researchers will work alongside business and industry leaders – sharing skills, knowledge, research and connections.

Without doubt it will become a nationally significant defence and manufacturing precinct, especially as the federal government endeavours to rebuild the nation’s industrial capacity in the years to come. Part of that will be driven by the up to $200 billion being spent on defence projects in the coming decade.

According to Combet, people underestimate how big these projects are for Australia.

“For example, the submarine project is far bigger than the Snowy Mountains Scheme in terms of finance and technology – it’s massive. And the idea that it’s a wholly South Australian project is quite absurd.

“Large national programs require very large national and international involvement from the US to the UK and France. Many companies from overseas will have a role in the projects and building the capability here (in a precinct such as Fishermans Bend) will ensure we can transfer the technology, knowledge and IP locally.

“To do that we have to have our own institutions that can accommodate these international players so we can be the driver of these projects in the future.”

Victoria is Australia’s state of defence excellence. Our defence sector plays a leading role in the development and ongoing maintenance of Australia’s defence capability. It employs approximately 20,000 people across the defence industry and Australian Defence Organisation, and has over 400 businesses which make equipment and provide services for defence activities. The Victorian Government supports its defence industry to build capability, secure projects and create jobs. 

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