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Holden angered by media reports it did not submit bid to supply ‘blast-proof’ vehicles for Australia

Sydney Morning Herald, 13 December 2013

The top of the line Holden Caprice was recommended by the Attorney-General's Department last year as the preferred option for a fleet of nine specialised blast-proof VIP vehicles to be used by the prime minister and other dignitaries, according to confidential government documents.

The revelation appears to contradict reported Abbott government sources as saying Holden had not even submitted a bid in the tender because the car maker simply ''was not interested''.

Holden viewed that claim – which appeared in a News Corporation newspaper on Wednesday, just hours before the car maker announced its withdrawal – as part of a deliberate negative backgrounding campaign by Coalition ministers designed to make the company look uncommitted to Australia.

The report also cited government sources revealing the multimillion-dollar contract to replace the ageing fleet of Caprices was about to be filled with ''off-the-shelf BMW High Security 7-Series vehicles'' at a cost of $525,000 each.

Part of a confidential ministerial brief from the Attorney-General's Department to then attorney-general Nicola Roxon has been shown to Fairfax Media.

Dated December 12, and headed ''Protected Vehicle Acquisition – an update on progress'', its summary cover note advised Ms Roxon that after a lengthy evaluation process a bid by BAE Systems, using the Holden, was successful – outpointing several European options.

It said the successful bidder had been chosen from a  shortlist of four, including two German manufacturers – Audi and Mercedes Benz – and another Holden-related bid by a company called Integrated Design and Engineering Solutions. BMW was not mentioned and it is understood from the documentation that the Bavaria-based auto giant had not even been shortlisted.

It remains unclear why the Holden-BAE recommendation was not acted upon but a government insider from the time said then prime minister Julia Gillard had been concerned about negative publicity if Labor was seen to be spending $7 million of taxpayers' money on limousines before the election.

The internal departmental documents from last December raise questions as to how BMW came to be considered given that it was not shortlisted and was not the successful bidder.

The opposition, which on Thursday moved unsuccessfully to censure Prime Minister Tony Abbott after he revealed he had not met with Holden before its Wednesday decision, said the claim that Holden had not wanted to supply the cars was part of a pattern of behaviour designed to discredit GM Holden because the government believed it was leaving Australia.

''These extraordinary events give every indication the government pursued a vendetta against Holden,'' said opposition industry spokesman Kim Carr.

''What we have here is a proper tender process being run and won, legitimately, by a BAE-GM Holden consortium. Yet suddenly, in the midst of a concerted backgrounding campaign against Holden by senior government ministers, BMW emerges with a contract for this work.''

That claim has been rejected by a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Michael Keenan, who said the tender remained open.

Senator Carr described the assertion that Holden was not capable of meeting the standards required as ''patently untrue''.

Mr Abbott adopted a more conciliatory tone in the Parliament on Thursday after the more bullish approach of his Treasurer and other ministers, pledging that the government would commit itself to working with Holden, with its staff and with the state governments of Victoria and South Australia to develop replacement industries.

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