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Monday, 31 October 2005
Page: 14

Mr FAWCETT (1:23 PM) —Action to date in relation to UXOs has largely focused on landmines, leading to action to have a worldwide ban on landmines. Antipersonnel mines, which were first used on a large scale in World War II, have been used in many conflicts, including in Vietnam, Korea and the first Gulf War. Modern warfare, increasingly against non-state actors and involving higher degrees of mobility and less entrenched defensive positions, has changed the weight of opinion in government and military circles about the strategic and tactical efficacy of landmines. The Ottawa convention in particular has led to far fewer countries producing or using them. Hopefully this means that they will be less of an issue in the future in terms of the remaining legacy of UXO issues.

An incident on the weekend involving our near neighbour Papua New Guinea highlighted that UXOs take in far more than landmines. A man there was killed and others were injured when a World War II bomb went off during a brush burn-off on Bougainville. In Laos there were over half a million bombing raids during the South-East Asian conflict, with some two million tonnes of ordnance being dropped. In addition to the aerial-delivered ordnance, there are artillery shells, mortar rounds, rockets, grenades and other devices which are still present as an UXO hazard. Estimates are that some 30 per cent of ordnance which was delivered did not actually detonate—hence the legacy risk.

Previous speakers have told of the legacy of UXOs and the ongoing horror of civilian casualties. I support their comments, and I too commend the Australian government on its leading role in the Ottawa convention and its increasing role in the provision of education and practical clearance support to the community in Laos. Some $107 million has been spent since 1996, exceeding the pledge of $100 million. As previous speakers have noted, there has been an increased pledge which will allow the average amount of Australian aid to increase from $10 million to $15 million over the next five-year period. This is going to make a real difference to people in Laos and hopefully reduce the toll which, as recently as 2003-04, included 41 people killed and 76 people injured.

I wish to look at this issue from a slightly different perspective. Military action, while it should be a last option for the Australian government, must remain a viable response option. But once we commit troops we have a duty of care to ensure that the weapon systems we employ, including the munitions, are effective in bringing about the national, strategic and tactical effects that are desired but also in minimising post-conflict issues such as UXO contamination. Part of the ability to deploy and maintain a viable combat force is the ability to supply and maintain a range of support measures, including aerial fire support and indirect fire support. Many aspects of our history bear testimony to the efficacy of this. In particular, we celebrate the victory that Australians had at the Battle of Long Tan—this was partly because of the courage of the troops in D company but largely because of the effectiveness of the indirect fire support that came from the Nui Dat fire support base.

If we are going to deploy troops, we need to make sure that we have ordnance—whether it is ordnance for small arms, crew served weapons or indirect fire support such as artillery or aerially delivered ordnance—which is going to be effective in supporting our troops and achieving the objectives. We also need to ensure that it will have a far greater success than the 70 per cent success rate we saw during the South-East Asian conflict. To achieve this, we require a continued investment in enabling capabilities for defence such as research, testing and evaluation, and training. These are often the hidden elements of a defence capability.

We often look at the front-line capability and the units which are delivering capability, and in order to achieve efficiencies in expenditure we sometimes cut costs as regards the enabling capabilities in terms of the number of people, training or equipment. With respect to ordnance, there are some particularly important areas such as ordnance regulation, testing and evaluation, and training, which the Australian government, the Australian people and our defence organisations need to continue to recognise.

So whether it be through the Ordnance Safety Group, the Joint Ammunition Logistics Organisation or some of the test and evaluation organisations—such as the Aircraft Research and Development Unit or the Aircraft Stores Compatibility Engineering Agency, which look at integrating overseas procured munitions to make sure that they are effective in the way that we use them, that they are stored safely and delivered safely and that they not only work effectively and safely to support our ground forces but also do not remain as a legacy—ongoing investment in these capabilities is essential. The government, DMO and the defence forces must continue to recognise the necessity of investing in this enabling infrastructure of defence such that there is indigenous capability to integrate new ordnance into our legacy weapons systems. Failure to do this will not only result in decreased operational efficiency but also cause a legacy such as UXOs. (Time expired)