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JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Development of operational facilities at RAAF Base, Learmonth
- Parl No.
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JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Development of operational facilities at RAAF Base, Learmonth
Air Cdre Kennedy
Group Capt. Byrne
Group Capt. Kavanagh
Wing Cmdr Morgan
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JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
(JOINT-Monday, 30 June 1997)
- Committee front matter
- Committee witnesses
Group Capt. Byrne
Wing Cmdr Morgan
Air Cdre Kennedy
Group Capt. Kavanagh
- Committee witnesses
- Committee witnesses
- Committee witnesses
Wing Cmdr Morgan
Air Cdre Kennedy
Content WindowJOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS - 30/06/1997 - Development of operational facilities at RAAF Base, Learmonth
CHAIRMAN —I welcome the witnesses. The committee has received a submission from Department of Defence dated May 1997, do you wish to propose any amendments, Air Commodore Kennedy?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Mr Chairman, we have no changes to the text. I have provided to the secretariat a change to the table of contents.
CHAIRMAN —It is proposed that the submission be received, taken as read and incorporated in the transcript of evidence. Do members have any objections? There being no objection, it is so ordered.<INC.DOC>
The document read as follows--
[DOCUMENT OMITTED FROM DATABASE, SEE HARD COPY PAGES 3-29]
CHAIRMAN —Would a representative of the Department of Defence now read a summary statement to the committee, after which we will proceed to questions.
Air Cdre Kennedy —The construction of new facilities to improve the operational effectiveness of RAAF Base, Learmonth is advocated by this proposal. RAAF Base, Learmonth forms part of a chain of defensive airfields across northern Australia and is vital to the air defence of north-western Australia. Learmonth is a bare base under the command of Headquarters Air Command and is administered by No. 321 Air Base Wing, based at Darwin.
The primary function of the base is to serve as a deployment base for combat aircraft in a contingency. The layout of facilities at Learmonth incorporates planning during the late 1960s and early 1970s when the base was developed by No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron. The layout lacks modern passive defence measures and separation of facilities to take account of ordnance safety regulations. The proposed works are needed primarily to provide the base with the facilities to perform its operational role in a safe and effective manner.
The prime deficiencies can be summarised as follows: the lack of explosive ordnance aprons for deployed fighter, strike and maritime patrol aircraft presents constraints on the manner in which aircraft can operate at the base; there are no operational and technical support facilities at the base to support deployed fighter, strike and maritime patrol aircraft; and there is no facility at Learmonth for the safe loading and unloading of C130 transport aircraft used to transport ordnance, and this imposes constraints on airfield operations. Also, aircraft placed on alert lack an appropriate sheltered facility with rapid access to the main runway for take-off. Such a facility is required to improve the air defence potential of the base.
Other deficiencies are that explosive ordnance preparation facilities are primitive and are located contrary to the master plan; the central emergency power station is located in the aircraft operational zone contrary to the master plan; the aircraft pavements have not had major maintenance since their completion in 1974 and they exhibit signs of ageing; the airfield lighting equipment is aged and does not meet contemporary operational requirements; and the existing airfield lighting cabling and luminaires have reached the end of their useful life.
The works include: 10 explosive ordnance loading aprons for fighter and strike aircraft; four explosive ordnance loading aprons for maritime patrol aircraft--one apron of which will double as an explosive ordnance apron for transport aircraft; alert facilities for fighter aircraft; operational and technical support facilities for fighter and strike aircraft; upgrading of existing flight-line buildings to provide operational and technical support facilities for maritime patrol aircraft; ordnance preparation and pre-load facilities; central emergency power station; rehabilitation of existing aircraft pavements; airfield lighting equipment and airfield lighting; engineering services and civil works. The estimated out-turn cost of the works is $69 million, including professional fees and charges, furniture and fittings, and a contingency provision.
Subject to parliamentary approval of this proposal, tenders are planned to be called in September 1997, with the objective of having construction completed by the end of 1999. The proposed development works would enhance the operational effectiveness and capability of RAAF Base Learmonth. Of paramount importance is the provision of facilities to enable deployed fighter, strike and maritime patrol aircraft elements, including their support, to operate at Learmonth in conditions that accord with ordnance safety regulations and to enable safe loading and unloading of air transported ordnance.
An environmental certificate of compliance has been issued for the
operational works. No direct adverse environmental effects are foreseen and
measures to contain any possible environmental degradation are being
incorporated into the design of the facilities, including safeguards to
prevent the possibility of contaminants entering surrounding watercourses
and subterranean environment. Ordnance safety aspects would be improved. No
heritage implications are evident in respect of the works. Consultation has
occurred at Commonwealth, state and local government levels.
CHAIRMAN —Air Commodore Kennedy, on the number of occasions that you have appeared before this committee it has always been for a defence proposal with which you have clearly had a commitment, but an impartial commitment. It is obvious that, in the case of Learmonth, we have a base with which you have had a long association--five years of your military life was spent here. In fact, local rumour has it that, but for the confusion that it would have caused our allies, this entire peninsula may have been renamed `Cape Kennedy', I am told. Do you think, Sir, that you are in a position to be quite impartial in your advocacy of this particular project?
Air Cdre Kennedy —The Kennedy you are talking about is probably deceased, Mr Chairman. My association here goes back over 25 years ago so I do not have quite as close an association as you may seem to think.
CHAIRMAN —Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that you have shown, appropriately, this morning a certain pride in this base and in the development that has occurred. Therefore, would you like to comment, for the sake of the Hansard record and to reassure the committee, on the strategic importance of this site relative to other sites for which we have to make taxpayers' resources available?
Air Cdre Kennedy —I will ask Group Captain Byrne to answer on the strategic importance of the base. But I think it is fair to say that the Royal Australian Air Force has a very close association with the township of Exmouth, particularly with No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron, which I was honoured to serve with, being here from 1970 through to 1974.
It is fair to say that the roots for the Australian Defence Force were
sown in that time and have been admirably carried on by the Royal Australian
Navy since the airfield construction squadron left. In terms of the
strategic importance, I will pass to my colleague.
Group Capt. Byrne —RAAF Base Learmonth is a vital part of a number of air bases that stretch across the north of Australia. It is the most westerly of those operational bases that would form the defence of the top end of Australia. Together with Curtin to the north-east of here, Darwin and Tindal in the Darwin-Tindal access, Scherger and, south of Scherger, Townsville, RAAF Base Learmonth forms the basis of the air defence and control of the sea-air gap to the north of Australia.
CHAIRMAN —Given that the north and western coasts of Australia are obviously important in strategic terms, is Learmonth a weak link in the cover you have just indicated?
Group Capt. Byrne —No, in fact, it is probably one of our strong points. Learmonth is able to be supported by virtue of a reasonably secure sea transport link to the south-west of Australia. It can also be resupplied by road and by air. Indeed, by virtue of its position to the south of the line of airfields across the north of Australia, it is more survivable by virtue of being less vulnerable than the other bases. It is, thus, a very important part of air power projection to the north of Australia. It is not a weak link. It is one of the stronger links in our northern defences.
CHAIRMAN —Perhaps I should rephrase that. This committee is reasonably familiar with Scherger--the base is yet to be opened, but it is in the construction phase--and even more familiar, as you are aware, with Tindal, Darwin and Curtin. I would have thought that, if Australia were to find itself under threat tomorrow, in terms of readiness this would be seen as a weak link.
Group Capt. Byrne —The weakness to which you refer is really a reflection of a need for development and redevelopment. This is a most important site that does need to be developed. The limitations that are present with the current base, which are being recognised and addressed through the redevelopments that are occurring or are proposed to occur over the next two years, would redress many of the weaknesses that you allude to.
—Concerning the weaknesses that I have alluded to, and
that this hearing is looking at the stewardship of addressing, the committee
gathers from its briefing that one of those weaknesses--and I appreciate you
may find another word you prefer to be used--is the pavement surface here at
Learmonth. Would you--or whomever Air Commodore Kennedy may nominate--care
to comment on the pavement surface, on its relative strength, on the upgrade
and on the estimated life of the upgraded pavement surface?
Air Cdre Kennedy —The existing pavement surface is now almost 25 years old. It is quite extraordinary that this will be the first occasion major refurbishment has taken place, compared with other flexible pavement surfaces on pavements around Australia. We would expect the resurfacing to occur every 15 years or so. The other important aspect is that the pavement has not shown any occurrences of changing shape. The problem with the surface is primarily due to ageing, which is a natural phenomenon with flexible pavements which rely on bitumen to bind them together.
The strength of the pavement is quite adequate for the purposes that are intended, both from a military perspective and also from a civil-domestic airline perspective. There has been some comment by the Shire of Exmouth in terms of the downgrading of the PCN from 50 to 38. The reason for that downgrading was primarily to align the pavement with the way in which we would appropriately record the strength of pavements within the Department of Defence.
The pavements, as the committee is aware, are owned by the Department of Defence. We have the responsibility for managing those surfaces. We are very concerned that the surfaces are available in operational form to meet the purpose of them being constructed for operational needs, so we manage them very carefully. The way in which we manage them primarily relates to aircraft weights in terms of the type of configuration of the different types of aircraft.
So the PCN of 38 more aligns with our evaluation of the pavement's strength. With the overlay of the pavement with a nominal 50 millimetres of asphalt concrete, that will increase the strength by about 10 per cent, bringing it up to a PCN of about 43. In terms of the ability of those pavements to be able to support projected civil requirements, certainly concessions will have to be granted, but those concessions allow up to 33 movements under concession in the sixth-month period, including military movements. The military utilisation in terms of the need for concessions is very minimal. I hope that answers the question for you.
CHAIRMAN —So the frequency of usage has as much impact as the weight of the aircraft involved in the usage, does it?
Air Cdre Kennedy —It does. The 747, for example, in considerable heavy configuration would not allow up to 33 movements under concession. It would be a lesser number. We divide them into three categories, but the total number of concessions is 33.
—If, for example, the use of Learmonth for civilian
activities were likely to exceed that, is Defence receptive to a joint
upgrade, if necessary, to allow the PCN to be lifted? I am not sure how the
PCN of, say, 43--to pluck an example out of the air--would compare with
Adelaide International Airport but, if it were necessary to lift it, is
Defence receptive to the idea of a joint approach?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Defence has a number of joint user airfields. Learmonth is just one. RAAF Base Darwin is an international airfield. Williamtown and RAAF Base Townsville are international airfields. There is also Fairbairn in Canberra. Where the requirement to increase the strength of the airfield is required by Defence, Defence would pay for that upgrade. Where the upgrade is required by the joint user, then the joint user would pay for that upgrade. My view, based on my discussions with the Shire of Exmouth, is that the need to substantially increase the strength of the airfield is a long way off in terms of the likely utility of the airfield.
CHAIRMAN —But, if I ask a question as a layman, is it possible to upgrade the strength of the airstrip without rebuilding the foundations?
Air Cdre Kennedy —The overlaying of asphalt would provide that. As I mentioned earlier, providing 50 millimetres of asphalt concrete will increase the strength by about 10 per cent.
CHAIRMAN —I will turn to the committee for questions in just a moment, but there is one other area I would like to pursue first, Air Commodore Kennedy; that is, without wanting to prejudice the committee's views, I want to say that Defence has certainly indicated the relative inadequacy of Learmonth compared with the Curtins or Schergers of this world in 1997 terms. The concern that every committee member would have would, of course, be the stewardship of the $69 million estimated cost of this particular proposal. Can you indicate for the committee's information what the cost of bringing Curtin up to the 1990 standard happened to be? You could also take Scherger, if you wanted to take a greenfield site.
Air Cdre Kennedy —I suppose it depends on what element of infrastructure you are talking about.
CHAIRMAN —Can I rephrase it then and say there are obviously two concerns I have as chairman of the committee. Firstly, presumably it is cheaper to do what we are doing on the existing site than to be inland 30 kilometres or whatever. Secondly, the almost $70 million represents a large portion of taxpayer revenue by any resource. The responsibility this committee has, as ruthlessly as it can, is to discover what sort of stewardship we are making to the $70 million and what is being done by Defence to ensure that there is not any additional expenditure within that $70 million that could not be better used in other areas of the Defence budget.
Air Cdre Kennedy —Within the Defence budgeting procedures, the department is very conscious of a need in terms of the priorities of work. That is one of the prime reasons why it has taken until now to address the deficiencies here at Learmonth. In fact, Learmonth is currently one of the most important priorities. Scherger will come on-line next year.
We have significant work to be done at Darwin and Tindal. That has just
been before this committee and works are about to commence. That is seen as
being vital in priority. I believe Defence has been very conscious in terms
of the importance of the works here in the total context of a budget of
about $500 million annually that Defence spends on capital facilities.
CHAIRMAN —But within Defence, and particularly within RAAF, what internal evaluation mechanisms do you have in place to ensure that it is necessary to expend $69 million and not $62 million to achieve the same end result here at Learmonth?
Air Cdre Kennedy —It gets down to a clear definition of what your requirements are. There are some dozen or so elements that it is clear need to be done here. We cost cap the project based on a consultant's assessment of the scope of work, and we then manage to ensure that we deliver those works within that cost cap. That gives an element of discipline to ensure there are no embellishments to the project as we proceed. No doubt the committee has in the past been very concerned about the elements of contingency we provide within the project to ensure that is appropriate. I am confident that the $69 million is appropriate to be able to accommodate the elements that we have identified.
CHAIRMAN —How does that compare with the cost of, for example, the Scherger base?
Air Cdre Kennedy —The Scherger base in total development was estimated at just under $190 million; we will complete it next year for $145 million. You should bear in mind there was a very significant element of contingency on Scherger, primarily because of the unknown quantity of developing in that remote locality. There has also been very strong management control on the process to ensure that savings that accrue from that particular project compete with other priorities within the Defence budget.
CHAIRMAN —Do you recall what the outlay on Darwin was for the upgrade?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —It was in the order of $65 million.
Air Cdre Kennedy —It was actually $59 million outturn.
CHAIRMAN —That was a figure we were debating. There are other questions I would like to ask, but they do not refer specifically to the airfield upgrade. I will hand to Senator Murphy.
—If I can just refer to the Gascoyne Development
Commission's submission that you would have seen, I assume. Firstly, page 4
of that submission says that the Shire of Exmouth was proposing to develop
an international air terminal. There is an indication at 4.6 on page 4 that
the shire is ready to call tenders, and the commission indicates there is an
opportunity for the concurrent calling of tenders. What discussions have you
had with the shire, and what is Defence's view of joint tender calling or
concurrent tender calling?
Air Cdre Kennedy —I visited here several months ago and had some in-depth discussions with both the Gascoyne Development Commission and the Shire of Exmouth. We certainly did discuss opportunities for economies of scale. The Shire of Exmouth looked at this and have come aboard with us in terms of overlaying their aircraft apron and the lighting component for that.
For the remainder of their works--and they can confirm this when you speak to them later--I understand they do not have total approval to proceed. Certainly, we did look at economies of scale. We made the offer. They responded to us recently and we will take that on board.
Senator MURPHY —Did I understand you to say that you are not sure that they have approval to proceed?
Air Cdre Kennedy —With the major development.
Senator MURPHY —Because there is an indication at 4.6, it would read to me, that the shire is ready to call tenders at this time.
Air Cdre Kennedy —You will need to ask them that question.
Senator MURPHY —Again, in areas of concern under section 5 of their submission, it talks about the question relating to the lease agreement. It states:
The Shire of Exmouth entered into a lease agreement with the Commonwealth Government in 1993 on the understanding that services to the civilian terminal would be guaranteed, and that subject to Department of Defence priorities, access to the runways would be unrestricted.
I understood from some discussion we had this morning that there may be some restrictions placed on the access. Can you indicate to the committee what they might be?
Air Cdre Kennedy —I suppose there are a couple of aspects. One is that, with Learmonth being so remote from Exmouth, the utilities on the base service a number of other users beside Defence, including the shire of Exmouth who are the managers of the civil terminal, the Bureau of Meteorology and the solar observatory. In terms of electricity, for example, the main supply comes from town with Western Power being the provider. It enters our intake substation, is reticulated there and we feed these facilities.
When these works commence, the central emergency power station will have
to be removed. That means that no emergency power will be available for any
of the users during the period of the construction. What we will work
through with the shire of Exmouth and the other users is an administrative
arrangement, both a method of working plan in terms of the operational
elements of the airfield and an administrative arrangement in terms of the
provision of services to ensure that everyone's requirements are met during
the construction period. For example, with airfield lighting, which is vital
for flying at night, we will need to put in some interim control facilities
to control the lighting and also some emergency power to back up that
lighting during that period. We will do that and we will consult with the
shire of Exmouth on that. In terms of the overlay, a method of working plan
will be developed to ensure that appropriate runway length is available when
domestic services require it.
Senator MURPHY —In 5.2, although they do not explain specifically what the limitations were, it says:
Preliminary discussions with the RAAF indicate that there may be limitations imposed on the supply of services to the civil terminal.
And I assume that relates to the power supply matters. Also on page 5 it mentions the central emergency power station where they go into that question of their seeking a cooperative approach. Can I assume from what you have just said that that is occurring?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Yes, it will be a cooperative approach. However, I think I should add, as I said this morning, that Defence is not in the game of providing utilities to other users but, because of the remoteness of Exmouth and the services that are provided by Exmouth from Learmonth, we need to work in a cooperative arrangement.
I have discussed with the shire of Exmouth that, as their electrical load profile increases with the development, they may care to consider having an independent feed bypassing the air force grid. When these works are completed with the central emergency power station in place--I should mention that the load that is supplied to the base is currently geared to a maximum of 1 MvA and Western Power cannot provide more power than that--and the load profile gets greater than that, our central power station will turn into a central power house to provide our needs. But we cannot guarantee emergency power to any of the other users other than mains power; so they will need to make that judgment themselves whether they can accept being load shed if the demand gets too high.
Senator MURPHY —If I can just ask one final question relating to point 102 on page 17 of your submission:
A search of the Register of Native Title Claims and the National Native Title Register indicated that no applications for the determination of Native Title have been lodged in relation to land in this area.
I think I was informed at lunchtime that there may now have been a native title claim lodged for a substantial area. I just wondered whether Defence has checked that and whether or not there is any potential impact of a claim that has been made most recently.
Air Cdre Kennedy
—We have not checked specifically. Our
consultants GHD who did the environmental assessment for us had discussions
with Aboriginal elders from this area and to their knowledge there were no
heritage aspects, no standing claims nor any intention of having any claim.
Senator MURPHY —I would like to know because it is something I was made aware of at lunchtime.
CHAIRMAN —We can ask the shire that question when they appear before us to give evidence.
Mr HOLLIS —Air Commodore Kennedy, going back to the point the Chairman was making about the $69 million--a lot of money--I note with interest what you were saying about Scherger coming in at much below cost because of the, if you like, inflated contingency. Has the contingency in this project been inflated?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Absolutely not, Mr Hollis.
Mr HOLLIS —But you said at Scherger too, didn't you?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Pardon?
Mr HOLLIS —But you gave us to understand at Scherger that there was no fat in the contingencies?
Air Cdre Kennedy —My memory is not as good as yours, Mr Hollis. We were aware that the contingent provision for Scherger was very high. There were quite a number of very significant unknowns. It is very remote. We had to open a new quarry which required moving material some 200 kilometres along an unsealed road. But we undertook to manage that contingency to ensure that there was no embellishment to the project, and that has been achieved.
Mr HOLLIS —Are there special costs associated with building here at Exmouth?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Probably the greatest risk to us, and I think it is a manageable risk, again would be the high performance rock materials. In this particular case--unlike Scherger where we decided to open our own quarry and have a contract to operate it--we are leaving that to the industry; that is, we are leaving it to the preferred contractor who is going to do the contract work to obtain the rock to meet the design parameters himself. So there is an element of risk there. I know that they will need to liaise with the state and so forth on the ability of the quarries here to be able to produce that.
—Who is going to do this work; is it going to be put out
Air Cdre Kennedy —It will be put out to competitive tender. We propose to let one contract for the entire job.
Mr HOLLIS —One contract and then?
Air Cdre Kennedy —The contractor himself will then subcontract accordingly.
Mr HOLLIS —How often will Defence be using this base here?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —We anticipate there will be continuous use for the base on a limited usage with deployments from mainly air force and also army for exercise purposes, but we will activate the base for a major exercise once every three years.
Mr HOLLIS —And basically to use the base and activate it once every three years, this $69 million can be justified?
Air Cdre Kennedy —I believe so, Mr Hollis, quite so. In terms of the operational capabilities that this base has to perform, these works are essential.
Mr HOLLIS —I noted in the papers somewhere that this is regarded as a backup airport for Perth airport; has it ever been used as a backup airport?
Air Cdre Kennedy —You probably should ask the shire of Exmouth in recent times how often it has been used. But when it was originally designed it was in mind as an alternate designation to Perth. I believe it has been used but I cannot tell you how often.
Mr HOLLIS —That is all, Mr Chairman.
Mr HATTON —Air Commodore, if I could start with you: this was first used as a World War II base, use was discontinued after World War II and then it was built when you came here 25 years or so ago. Is the decision to upgrade this base now on the basis that the decision was made 25 years ago and you have got existing infrastructure here; was it decided on that basis to go ahead with this rather than to create a new bare base further inland or somewhere else that had better location factors; or was the decision that was made 25 years ago that the best location factors for a base were here at Exmouth?
Air Cdre Kennedy —I cannot answer the question regarding what happened in the 1960s in the determination to develop Learmonth as against any other location. But certainly in the context of the work that is going on now in terms of the infrastructure requirements for defence airfields right across the top end--I am talking about the strategic airfields--there has been a very significant look at this by higher defence committees as to whether the actual location of Learmonth is appropriate or otherwise.
It is vital that Learmonth be located where it is. It is not as
significant, as we mentioned this morning, in the sensitivity area of the
airfields like Scherger, Darwin, Tindal and Curtin. It does not fulfil an
identical role to what those bases perform. But whether Learmonth is
appropriately located, my belief is yes.
Group Capt. Byrne —Mr Hatton, if I may add to that: Learmonth being developed at the time that it was--that is, it was developed before Scherger and Curtin--the positioning of Curtin and Scherger depended as much upon the pre-existence of Learmonth as the strategic need. As I have mentioned before, these bases are complementary. They are not competitive in any sense. Indeed, Learmonth complements Scherger, Darwin, Tindal, Curtin and Townsville.
Mr HATTON —So that, for the protection of our assets in the Indian Ocean and for the protection of our assets inland here, there is a particular complementarity between Curtin and Learmonth and they operate together; is that right?
Group Capt. Byrne —That is exactly correct. Indeed, if one takes it even further, there is a complementarity between Learmonth and Christmas and Cocos Islands--that these work together as bases available to the ADF in projecting our power wherever we need it to the north-west of Australia.
Mr HATTON —This question you may not be able to answer but, given the significance of this base--that it has very good location factors, that it can be serviced by road, air and sea and that it is very well sited--why have you chosen to leave it as a bare base rather than develop it as a populated base? We have only got Darwin and Tindal as populated bases and we are leaving this for use once every three years. Was it ever considered to build it up as a fully operating base?
Group Capt. Byrne —Not to my knowledge.
Group Capt. Kavanagh —It was, I believe, manned up until 1973; so it was manned for 30 years after World War II. But we decided to then withdraw from it and leave it as a bare base, mainly for economic reasons I believe. It does cost a lot more to put an airman here on a permanent basis than, for example, to have him based in Point Cook or in Williamtown and close to the cities on the east side. I think it is economic reasons more than anything else.
Mr HATTON —You have argued that it is absolutely necessary and fundamentally important to expend the $69 million. In the periods when it is not being used as an operational base, what sort of protection of these assets do we have in operation; how is the security of the airfield guaranteed during that period of time when it is not being used?
Group Capt. Kavanagh
—We rely on the current security situation
right around the whole of the country. We have bare bases all over the
country. If the security need increased, then we would have to look
specifically at that requirement. But with our current threat assessment
within Australia, we do not believe we need to put specific resources into
the security of bare bases right now.
Mr HATTON —And just in terms of local security, that is covered--
Group Capt. Kavanagh —That is covered by caretaker personnel and by standard defence measures such as fences and so on.
Mr HATTON —I would like to ask whether the facilities planning for this base were affected by the defence efficiency review. Is there any conjunction between the two lots of planning here?
Air Cdre Kennedy —None.
Mr HATTON —None at all?
Air Cdre Kennedy —No.
Mr HATTON —What about with the defence information paper in 1987 and then the white paper in 1994, did the development of this base and the other bases to the north emerge out of the thinking that was involved in those papers?
Group Capt. Byrne —The force structure review in 1991 did recognise the need to develop our northern defences. So that is one direct linkage between the development of Learmonth and the force structure review. It has taken from 1991 to the current time to develop that and, of course, it is a matter of budgetary pressures and priorities as to what you put your money into first.
Mr HATTON —There is another white paper due fairly shortly, is it your expectation that the upgrade of this facility and the further upgrades of Curtin, Scherger Darwin, Tindal and so on will not be swept aside by that? That is, we could expect an endorsement of what is proposed here.
Group Capt. Byrne —I expect that that will be the case. From my understanding--I have not been privy directly to that strategic review but I understand that it will be going to cabinet very soon--and from everything that I have read to date, I believe that that review will strengthen the need for the redevelopment of Learmonth.
—Chairman, I might come back later with other questions.
I have just got one for Air Commodore Kennedy. You indicated that there are
no heritage considerations operative in regard to this upgrade. But, as I
understand, the Heritage Commission had not much idea when defence replied
that there is one piece of evidence of World War II usage and that is the
old gravel runway that was in existence. You can just see part of that. But
I imagine that the work done 25 years ago by your lot in the future may give
grounds for a heritage provision here but Lake Kennedy may also be--you need
not answer that.
Air Cdre Kennedy —You are very naughty, Mr Hatton.
CHAIRMAN —Air Commodore Kennedy, in the briefing that Group Captain Kavanagh gave us this morning, you mentioned attached property 10 which was being used as a small arms firing range now and had been used as a firing range for the base in the past; am I right?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —Attached property 10 is the air weapons range which is primarily an air weapons range. It has not been used in that full sense since 1992, although we have a continuing use for it as an air weapons range. In the interim period, it has been used for small arms fire primarily by the army.
CHAIRMAN —Is it a polluted area because of this former use or are there no UXOs or anything like that on the range?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —Like all air weapons ranges it will have some unexploded ordnance on it; so we cannot say that it is totally sterile. There would be some pollution on it, yes.
CHAIRMAN —Is public access to it even more restricted than public access to the rest of Learmonth base or does it simply fall into the same constraints?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —There is public access through the range along the coast but that is well away from the target areas. We have put into place security measures such as fences, gates and sign posting to make people aware that it is an air weapons range. When we ever use it, obviously it would be cleared and secured before we would use it.
CHAIRMAN —The other issue I wanted to raise with Defence was a location of, I presume, a civil light aircraft strip to the north of Learmonth--in fact, not far south of the town of Exmouth. A road sign indicated that it was just west of where we were travelling. Does the presence of light aircraft pose a problem for you in either the day-to-day activities or in exercises out of Learmonth?
Group Capt. Kavanagh
—No, it does not create a problem for us.
There is enough natural separation. Aircraft that operate in and out of
there work on a seen to be seen principle. If we run a major exercise there,
we bring in our own air traffic control operators who would then maintain
separation from the ground. On day-to-day operations with the usage of both
the light aircraft airfield and our own airfield there is no problem.
CHAIRMAN —How much light aircraft activity is there on and off that airfield? Would Defence be aware of it, or should I ask the shire?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —I am not aware of the exact usage. I have a feel that it is not a great deal. You would have to ask the shire to get the exact figures.
CHAIRMAN —On a similar line then, given that we are talking about the development of an airstrip that will continue to be used for both civilian and defence purposes, if Defence is involved in a major exercise in liaison with our allies, would that mean that there is a need to close the Learmonth airstrip to civilian use?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —Do you mean the light aircraft?
CHAIRMAN —No, Learmonth air force base. If we have a major exercise like Kangaroo 97 or whatever the next exercise will be involving sharing responsibilities with the Singaporeans, for example, do we then find ourselves so busy and so needing the facility for the realistic exercise that it is necessary to close it to civilian use?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —The simple answer to that is no. We can operate during major exercises out of international airfields like Darwin, where we have got 120,000 movements per year. We certainly have the air traffic control resources to support that, but we would have to bring in those resources and apply those resources to the size of the exercise, if you like. I do not see any problem there at all.
CHAIRMAN —So you see no threat to the tourism potential of this town as a result of the potential expanded air force use of the air force's facility?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —No, I do not.
Senator MURPHY —This morning when we were getting our briefing with regards to the changes that you will ultimately, I assume, carry out at the air base, I understood that there was a plan to move the civilian residential facilities from where they are currently located.
Air Cdre Kennedy —Do you mean the on-base domestic facilities?
Senator MURPHY —Yes.
Air Cdre Kennedy —We are certainly foreshadowing to this committee that we do intend at some time in the future to relocate those facilities.
Senator MURPHY —So it is not part of this proposal?
Air Cdre Kennedy
—No, it is not part of this proposal.
Senator MURPHY —That is okay. It was just that I could not find any money in there for it.
Air Cdre Kennedy —We are awaiting agreement from the committee, which I understand is forthcoming, for the contingency accommodation to go into Tindal. That will be a trial. We want to trial that first before we implement that at other locations. It would be our intention to relocate all the domestic accommodation at Learmonth to the master plan location for it.
Senator MURPHY —With regard to the additional land that was discussed this morning for potential acquisition, is that also a separate proposal?
Air Cdre Kennedy —That will be done separately.
Senator MURPHY —There are no associated costs with this project?
Air Cdre Kennedy —No. No capital works related to this project require land acquisition at this time, but we would intend to do that to accord with our master plan of what we intend to do in the future.
Senator MURPHY —I was curious about the number of people that may be required in a permanent sense once you get the upgrade done. You have got two at the moment. Is it likely that there would be more than two after the completion of the additional works?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —We do not foresee any more than two. It will not make a great deal of difference to the role and responsibility of the current caretaker and his offsider.
Senator MURPHY —Once you have completed the work and you have come around to the once-every-three-year live base operation, what will the security arrangements be for operating domestically and operating as a live base at that time? Will that change at all?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —When you say security--
Senator MURPHY —If you have those ordnance facilities there, which are not there at the moment, will you need to upgrade your security arrangements?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —Part of the upgrade is to improve those security arrangements.
—I am asking the question from an employment point
of view. Will security people need to be used for maintaining the security
of the base?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —During those periods, we have our own personnel there. Part of the contingent that will be deployed will be security people, service policemen and airfield defence guards, and so on. When we run these exercises, one major aspect of them is physical and defence security, so we would bring our own resources with us.
Senator MURPHY —So there will not be any need for additional security once those facilities are there. In a general sense, when you are running it as a bare base, there will not be any need for anything to be monitored?
Group Capt. Kavanagh —I do not believe so, no.
Mr HATTON —I refer to cost effectiveness. Paragraph 21 deals with the upgrade of the operational technical facility for maritime operations. The argument has previously been put forward that there would be fighter and strike aircraft stationed here and provision has been made for maritime patrol deployments. When you were doing the planning for this, why were the deployed fighter and strike aircraft facilities not left in the place they are in now and a separate maritime facility created?
Wing Cmdr Morgan —As part of our development of the layout of the base, and in conjunction with the master planning, we conducted a technical site selection board. It looks in detail at all the relationships of each of the activities. One issue was that we could have had it either way: the maritime in the centre, and the fighter strike at the other end.
As to the financial development of the base, there is really no difference in cost. In the short term, we intend to use three of the existing five aprons as interim OLAs to support maritime aircraft. That dictated that we would develop the existing flight line building as the interim maritime OPTECH facility, and the four new OLAs for the maritime aircraft fitted nicely into that area. Functionally, that worked well. Likewise, it worked well functionally to have the fighter operations central on the base.
In conjunction with that, we still have the quick reaction alert facilities, which are now at the southern end. That interrelates with the fighter strike OLAs, which are now central because those aircraft will be closer to and better able to service that facility.
We are trying to minimise the costs that we will have for the upgrade of the interim flight line facility. That is part of the detail of the design process--to make sure that we do get value for money. Some time in the future, we may wish to have an aboveground earth-covered building--perhaps in stage two or three--which is what we have for the fighter strike.
—You are always stuck with the problem of either having
ad hoc development, and then having to undo some of that ad hoc development,
or having development which may seem to be ad hoc but, because the demands
on the base have changed, you have to do a fairly big re-jig of your
thinking. How recent is the master plan? Are the planning considerations
that have gone into here fed directly into this new master plan?
Air Cdre Kennedy —As a preface, I think it is important to note that the current horizontal services were constructed in the early 1970s. The defence explosive ordnance regulations did not come into vogue until 1980, I think. Those aprons--the five at the northern end--were found not to accord with those explosive regulations. But we see great benefit in getting some utility out of them in support of the additional four OLAs for the P3s and the transport aircraft. The OPTECH facility that is adjacent to them will provide some additional life for a few years to come, so we want to get the greatest utility that we can out of that. Certainly in the longer term we will want to replace that with a state-of-the-art facility similar to the one we are putting in for the fighter strike facilities. It is certainly not being seen as an ad hoc approach.
In terms of the other part of your question, the zone plan has been completed and endorsed. We hope to finalise the master plan within the next few months. One of the reasons it has not been finalised to date is that the design concepts that are ongoing at the moment will give us the fine detail to be able to lock this down and get a higher authority within the department to sign up to it.
Mr HATTON —The OPTECH facility is not totally protected in terms of the roof line in front of it. If a blast is directly lateral it is fine because it is covered but, if you had a blast that went right through the top, it would actually shear the roof off. There was a comment on the way around that to bunker the facility or do it in a safe way would cost too much at this time. Are you looking to get a longer life out of it and then finally replace it?
Air Cdre Kennedy —It certainly would not be cost effective to do that. In fact, we did a similar exercise at Tindal in reusing an existing facility. We noted in that study that it was not cost effective to do it. I want to be clear, Mr Hatton, that there is nothing unsafe for the occupants of that particular facility. It is just that in the way we design those today we design them for greater purpose than just protection from the adjacent apron. We have got to think about the whole design strategy for these facilities. But it is certainly not unsafe for those people who are in that facility.
Wing Cmdr Morgan —I would like to add to that. During our design development, structural engineers looked at that based on the aircraft that are going to be parked on the interim apron. We are looking at any small amounts of work that need to be done to those buildings. In fact, they have been assessed as quite strong and able to meet most of the need in their current form. So there is not a great deal of structural upgrade required as you would expect, being in a cyclone area as well.
—In the proposal you have included an above-ground
facility as well to complement what is existing. That is my understanding of
Wing Cmdr Morgan —The aboveground earth-covered facility is strictly in support of the fighter strike OLAs.
CHAIRMAN —So it cannot pick up the role of the existing OPTECH facility if it were damaged?
Air Cdre Kennedy —The answer is, yes, it probably could, but we see the need for two independent OPTECH facilities. The other important part--getting back to what I said about people not being at risk--is the type of activities that are going to be undertaken on those three aprons. In other words, the explosive quantity of ordnance on that is much lower than on the other four new ones.
Mr HATTON —In the submissions that we previously had in regard to both RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal, the functions of the bases were spelled out in quite a degree of detail. But here, in regard to Learmonth, it is described on paragraph 10 in relatively general terms. There is no mention made of visiting foreign air forces and support elements. Is there any particular reason that there was much greater detail in the submissions in relation to Tindal and Darwin and it is more general here?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Darwin is used much more often. One of the aspects is that we already have a home base there--an air base wing. It is activated some 10 months of the year by a whole host of exercises. That is one reason there would be quite a deal of detail to convey to the committee the exact role and purpose of that base. I do not know whether Group Captain Kavanagh would like to add to that.
Senator MURPHY —We received Forte Airport Management's submission. I assume you would have seen their submission. It contains some matters I would like to raise. I was wondering whether you would mind putting a statement on the public record with respect to some of the issues they raise. On page 2 they raise--it is something we discussed this morning; I think you pointed it out in part earlier--the pavement strength of the runway. They say in subsection 3 of their submission:
This reduction in pavement strength has altered the civil usability equation to the extent that Learmonth's runway is now below strength for most aircraft seeking to use it above B737 in size.
We seek assurances that the proposed AC overlay will extend up to the civil lease property boundary and encompass Taxiway W but it will also be of sufficient structural adequacy to reinstate the pavement strength to at least that level of the previously published strength rating.
Would you like to put some comment on the record about that?
Air Cdre Kennedy
—I did mention it before in terms of the PCN
rating. The overlay will not bring that up to 50. It will probably bring it
up to around 43. But I emphasised earlier that the strength of the pavement
is unchanged. It is still the same pavement. It will still perform exactly
the same way as it had in the past. The pavement has been very effective. We
have not had any change in shape or structural damage to the pavement in
terms of the loadings it has been under for the last 24 to 25 years, but we
will not be bringing it up to PCN 50. It was never PCN 50. A document said
PCN 50, but it was never PCN 50.
Senator MURPHY —I assume that there must be some domestic requirement or a requirement on the part of the airfield to have some rating that goes to a certain level before aircraft can actually land there. Is that right?
Air Cdre Kennedy —If the aircraft that is going to use it exceeds the rating of the airfield, then a concession must be sought--in other words, permission for that operation to take place. We would not envisage unnecessary restriction on the operators in terms of our experience of how the airfield is used.
Senator MURPHY —I am just curious about the point that they raise about its having reduced the domestic usability. I guess that is a question we will have to ask them, but I am just trying to understand it from Defence's point of view.
Air Cdre Kennedy —Now that they have read our response they will probably have something to add, and we would be only too happy to respond to that later.
Senator MURPHY —On page 3 of their submission they talk about the assurances about the airfield lighting being extended to taxiway W. Was that something that we addressed this morning? Where is taxiway W located? Is that the domestic taxiway?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Taxiway W is the taxiway that leads to the civil apron--that small, stubbed taxiway. The issue in the Shire of Exmouth's submission is that that taxiway lies outside their lease, but that taxiway was built to service that apron. It has no direct application to any of the military activities on the airfield. It is there primarily, totally, to service that particular apron. Therefore, we in Defence see that the management responsibility for maintaining that taxiway in terms of both the pavement and the lighting rests with the local authority.
CHAIRMAN —I have one other question. As you are aware, Air Commodore, the committee has recently been involved in an infinitely more controversial hearing--relatively unrelated, I must concede--over Kingsford Smith airport and extensions there to the tune of $350 million to accommodate traffic for the Olympic Games. In that case, the work could reasonably have purported to be of a revenue producing character, to quote from the committee's reference. As such, we are expected to look at the level of revenue the work could reasonably produce. In fact, it was expected that the additional work would pay for itself.
Is it possible, given the emphasis on tourism that has been indicated to
us--certainly this morning and, prior to that, yesterday evening--that this
work may ultimately be of a revenue producing character too?
Air Cdre Kennedy —I would think not. The only component of the work that will be utilised by tourists or operators servicing tourists will be the maintenance of the airfield pavements, which is an ongoing requirement anyway. It is something that we would expect would need to be done.
CHAIRMAN —But you are already compensated in some way for the civilian use of the pavement, aren't you?
Air Cdre Kennedy —Not that I am aware. There is a lease arrangement between Defence and the Shire of Exmouth concerning that particular lease that they hold and also the use of the aircraft pavements.
CHAIRMAN —There is no landing fee involved for people who--
Air Cdre Kennedy —To my understanding, revenue goes to the local authority in terms of domestic landing fees.
CHAIRMAN —If there are no other questions, I thank the representatives of the Department of Defence for appearing. They will be recalled later in the afternoon.