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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 763

(Question No. 933)

Senator Kilgariff asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and Technology, upon notice, on 5 June 1984:

(1) What plans does the Government have to upgrade radar installations in the Gulf of Carpentaria region, having in mind the problems experienced in the north during Cyclone Kathy: (a) the Minister for Science and Technology reported statements that the Bureau of Meteorology is still using obsolete weather radar equipment such as valves (some of which date back to 1943); (b) that this can be blamed on the lack of funding for weather research stations; and (c) the Minister's answers to my question on notice No. 875 (see Hansard, 29 May 1984, p . 2103) in which he said better communication links were needed in remote areas.

(2) What plans does the Government have to improve communications generally in remote outback settlements, particularly in the Gulf of Carpentaria region, so they may be able to cope more ably in period of stress such as that experienced during Cyclone Kathy.

Senator Ryan —The Minister for Science and Technology has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) A new 'current state of the art' radar facility is planned for Gove and every endeavour will be made to have it operational by the 1985-86 tropical cyclone season. This radar will have both wind finding and weather watch capability and will enable better tracking of tropical cyclones in the Gulf of Carpentaria area. Gove will also have a radiosonde facility for the measurement of upper air temperature profiles used to aid the provision of forecast and warning services.

The aged weather watch radar at Cairns is planned for replacement with a modern unit during 1986.

Subject to the availability of capital funds it is also banned to provide a new radar facility at Weipa in the later 1980s to further improve the radar coverage in the Gulf area. This would provide improved tropical cyclone warning services and improved services to the aviation industry.

(2) The Minister for Communication has provided the answers to this part of the question:

Communications generally in remote outback settlements will be enhanced through Telecom's rural and remote areas program. This program has the following aims:

(a) conversion of all remaining manual telephone services to automatic working (currently 27 000 services);

(b) replacement of partly privately-erected telephone lines with Telecom plant;

(c) provision of new telecommunications infrastructures in remote areas to bring telephone services to those people not currently served.

Telecom estimates the direct capital cost of this program at $400m (1983-84 dollars) and aims to complete it by 1990.

In the Gulf of Carpentaria region, Telecom plans include provision of broadband trunk facilities, and new customer distribution networks. These works include the following and are subject to adequate resources being available in the years ahead:

Cloncurry-Normanton broadband trunk route,

Burketown radio junctions off the above trunk route,

Conversion of Croydon and Normanton exchanges to automatic operation,

Provision of Digital Radio Concentrator System (DRCS) in the Normanton and Burketown areas,

Services to Aboriginal communities including Doomadgee, Gununa, Kowanyama, Edward River and Aurukun.

The importance of ABC and commercial broadcasting stations in providing emergency information is also recognised. Until now development of such services in remote areas has been limited because of the technology and resource problems involved.

The expected launching in late 1985 of the first two satellites of the Australian Communications Satellite System (ACSS) is expected to improve radio and television services in remote areas. ACSS can broadcast direct to relatively inexpensive receiving dishes of 1.2 to 1.8 metres diameter. This facility, known as the Homestead and Community Broadcasting Satellite Service, makes possible ABC services in each of four regional zones, and is independent of any conventional broadcasting station which might be disabled in a cyclone.

Where a broadcasting facility does not exist or where an existing local station has been disabled, the Department of Communications has a transportable emergency broadcasting station held specifically for deployment to the scene of a disaster. Pending restoration of the local services the station can broadcast emergency messages and other information. It can be rapidly transported at short notice to transmit on any frequency in the medium frequency band. To assist the public it would normally operate on the same frequency as the inoperative station it replaces. Emergency coverage would be provided for at least 15-20 km.

The station is unique in that it is fully self contained but broken down into component modules and packed into boxes ready for transportation to the disaster area. It may be carried, together with technicians, in any one of a variety of defence force or commercial aircraft, including helicopters. Upon reaching its destination it can be unpacked, reassembled and brought into operation within hours.