Defence department facing $500,000 WorkCover lawsuit over injury from testing Hawkei vehicle

<span>An Australian army Hawkei vehicle at Puckapunyal. Victoria’s WorkCover Authority is suing the defence department after a contractor was injured testing one of the vehicles.</span><span>Photograph: CPL Nunu Campos</span>
An Australian army Hawkei vehicle at Puckapunyal. Victoria’s WorkCover Authority is suing the defence department after a contractor was injured testing one of the vehicles.Photograph: CPL Nunu Campos

The defence department is being sued for more than $500,000 over a claim a contractor was instructed to rock a Hawkei vehicle back and forth to test its suspension.

The cost recovery claim by Victoria’s WorkCover Authority alleging negligence in the high court adds to the woes of the troubled $1.3bn Hawkei procurement project.

These include findings by the auditor general the procurement was not value for money and brake issues that have led defence to conclude the vehicles are not suitable to be sent to war-torn Ukraine.

Technical officer Bradley Longmuir worked for Fortburn Pty Ltd, which provided drivers and technicians at the army’s Monegeetta testing grounds north of Melbourne.

According to WorkCover’s statement of claim, Longmuir was “required to perform manual duties that were excessively heavy, repetitive and awkward in nature”.

It alleged that Longmuir suffered an injury as a result of being “instructed to rock a Hawkei armoured personnel carrier from side to side” in February 2019, and conducting an “awkward inspection of the undercarriage” of a vehicle in May 2019.

The injury allegedly included “impairment of the cervical spine”, chronic headaches, dizziness, chronic pain, difficulty swallowing, anxiety and depression.

WorkCover submitted this was “caused by the negligence” of defence, alleging a failure to provide a safe system of work to test the suspension of military vehicles and undertake an “adequate ergonomic assessment” of his duties. It alleged defence failed “to take heed of complaints” by Longmuir or his coworkers.

WorkCover has paid $506,717 in compensation to Longmuir, which it is seeking to recover from defence along with interest, costs and a declaration it will indemnify WorkCover for future payments.

The biggest component of Longmuir’s payout was $404,749 of “weekly payments”, a sum implying he had been off work for several years.

The Australian government committed to build up to 1,000 Hawkei patrol vehicles at Thales Australia’s plant in Bendigo in 2015.

The Guardian revealed in 2018 that the auditor general had suggested the government could have spent half the amount if it had chosen to join the US joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV) program, instead of purchasing the Hawkei. Findings of the Australian National Audit Office were suppressed by then attorney general, Christian Porter.

In March 2022, the ABC revealed that three months after the start of full production, defence stopped accepting Hawkeis due to concerns about the vehicles’ brakes.

In June, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said the government had received ADF advice that offering Hawkei vehicles “would not be the best way to provide assistance to Ukraine”.

Defence officials told Senate estimates in May the Australian government was “still working through the rectification of an ABS braking issue”, and in October that the issued had still not been resolved.

In October Maj Gen Andrew Bottrell advised that a “robust interim solution” now means “the vehicles that have been issued to army can be operated with no restriction”. Thales was on notice to provide a “permanent solution” by mid 2025, he said.

A defence spokesperson said “as this matter is before the court, it would not be appropriate for defence to comment further”.