Varley Group the Hunter firm behind NSW Ambulances

IT’S the nondescript Hunter workshop where one of the state’s most-trusted professions gets its wheels.

Right now, at Varley Group’s headquarters in Tomago, workers are busy fitting out an order for some 300 new ambulances for NSW’s 1500-strong fleet.

Varley is one of three manufacturing firms in the state that can fill the order, and if NSW Labor’s plan to limit ambulance manufacturing to domestic firms is ever implemented it’s one of the main companies that stands to benefit.

But Varley chief executive Jeff Phillips says that if Labor is elected in 2019 and the policy is implemented, it won’t change the way it does business.

“The tender process is always going to be competitive with other manufacturers in Australia, so we don’t see that greatly changing for us,” he said.

While the Hunter’s rail manufacturing industry has been decimated by a lack of local content in recent NSW government contracts like the $2.3 billion intercity fleet and $1.7 Waratah replacement trains, the 55 workers currently building ambulances for Varley are a more positive sign for a domestic manufacturing industry showing signs of resilience.

The most recent national labour force figures show that manufacturing added 14,000 jobs over the year to May, while the most recent State of the Regions report found 23,295 people were employed in manufacturing in the Hunter in 2017, compared with 21,499 in 2012 and 17,832 in 2002.

Mr Phillips said when it came to government contracts, he just wanted a level playing field.

“As a leader in manufacturing I’m always disappointed when we’re not given an opportunity to compete,” he said.