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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1142

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (16:21): On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, I present the committee's report entitled Report 1 of 2012: referrals made September to October 2011.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Ms SAFFIN: by leave—This report deals with four inquiries, with a total estimated cost of $617.5 million. In each case, the committee recommends the House of Representatives agree to the works proceeding. I shall now outline our reasons for this.

The new works include construction of a new Australian embassy complex including chancery and head of mission residence in Bangkok, Thailand; the redevelopment of HMAS Albatross at Nowra, New South Wales; the redevelopment of RAAF East Sale in Victoria; and the Defence LAND 17 artillery infrastructure project.

Let me first deal with the new embassy plan in Bangkok. A new embassy complex is required to provide more secure and appropriate accommodation for our ambassador, and for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and nine other Australian government agencies. The new complex will be an efficient and effective modern office environment, and, importantly, the complex will act as a hub for other Australian missions in the region.

However, the committee was told that the driving need for this construction project was to meet security considerations not able to be met adequately in the current facility. Evidence tendered supports this. Our existing embassy, unfortunately, cannot meet the enhanced standards that have been applied since the Jakarta embassy bombing in 2004. The new construction will meet all security requirements.

With Bangkok's history of floods, and with the 2011 Bangkok floods at the forefront of the committee members' minds during the inquiry, we were concerned to ensure that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had appropriately assessed and mitigated the risk of flood. The committee noted the department's plans to undertake a comprehensive geological survey to confirm subsoil conditions once the Commonwealth took possession of the proposed site; however, plans for a hydrological survey had not been made. The committee recommended that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade conduct a hydrological survey of the site as one part of a thorough review and investigation into the risk of flooding on the proposed site, and investigate further measures which may be undertaken to mitigate any risks.

The committee examined the redevelopment of two significant Australian Defence Force bases. The first redevelopment is at HMAS Albatross at Nowra, New South Wales. The purpose of the project is to upgrade facilities, infrastructure and engineering services to meet the base's projected operational needs and support capabilities over the next 30 years. The committee noted that the underground services have not had a base-wide upgrade since the base commenced operations in 1942.

Overall, the committee was impressed with the evidence provided by the Department of Defence regarding the proposed redevelopment of HMAS Albatross, especially considering the broad range of scope elements in the project. The committee was greatly assisted by the department's private briefing on the project, and by the supplementary submission to the inquiry, which addressed a number of outstanding queries.

Moving to the second defence base works, the committee examined the redevelopment of RAAF East Sale in Victoria. The purpose of this project is to improve the functionality and capability of the base by upgrading or replacing inadequate and non-compliant facilities, infrastructure and engineering services. The committee was told that the majority of base engineering services are at the end of their design life, are at capacity, have no redundancy and are in a very poor state.

The committee heard evidence regarding the opportunity for local engagement in construction works for the base redevelopment—a matter the committee pursued as well—and how the Department of Defence and community groups in the Sale region were attempting to maximise local employment while ensuring that local subcontractors were treated equitably.

The committee recognises that the relationship with the base and the Sale community has been mutually beneficial. The committee noted the overwhelming view that the proposed redevelopment will foster a number of economic and social benefits for the Sale community and surrounding region. I note the honourable member for Gippsland is here, and he was present and gave evidence at the inquiry when the committee was there.

The fourth inquiry for this report examined the Department of Defence's LAND 17 infrastructure project, which forms part of the force's new artillery capability. This project aims to provide new and upgraded facilities to support the introduction of new M777-A2 lightweight towed guns into the Australian Defence Force. They are big guns!

Dr Emerson: Is that official?

Ms SAFFIN: It is official: they are big guns! I saw them. The committee queried the Department of Defence on the possible implications on the value of LAND 17 phase 1A to the Australian Army if LAND 17 phase 1B and 1C were not approved by the government. The Department of Defence stated that phase 1A does deliver a capability outcome with the delivery of the new guns and operating systems. The committee is satisfied that the value of the works would not be diminished should phases 1B and/or phase 1C not be approved to proceed.

There are some substantial works being undertaken at Gallipoli Barracks in Queensland, including the Enhanced Land Force Stage 2 project approved by the previous Public Works Committee, and now the LAND 17 project. These considerable works, with hundreds of associated construction staff, have contributed to traffic congestion in the local area.

It is clear that it is not Defence's role alone to resolve the issues relating to traffic in the vicinity of Gallipoli Barracks. The committee understands that the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads is the agency primarily responsible for developing a resolution to the issue of traffic congestion. However, the committee is of the view that Defence should take a leading role and drive the negotiations to resolve the traffic concerns around Gallipoli Barracks at the earliest possible opportunity, noting the impact of these issues on the success of construction at the barracks and the importance of maintaining positive relationships with the local community surrounding the barracks. I would like to thank members and senators for their work in relation to these inquiries. They are substantial inquiries and the Public Works Committee conducts a lot of them. In particular, I would like to thank Senator Sue Boyce, who joined the committee in September 2011. I would also like to commend my deputy, the honourable member for Mallee, who provides me and the committee with great support and who makes a wonderful contribution. I also thank the secretariat for the work they do and for the knowledge and skill that they apply. I commend the report to the House.