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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1223

Mr BRUMBY(9.36) —Before I commence my remarks on the specific estimates for the Department of Defence and the Department of Defence Support I comment that it is a matter of some concern to me that on every occasion when the Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) has spoken on defence in this House, he has operated a deliberate campaign and spoken deliberately to create anxiety and uncertainty amongst our defence services. He has attempted to diminish morale in the defence forces. I consider that his attitude is quite irresponsible. He ought to desist from doing that. There is certainly nothing in our estimates and appropriations which would lead to any diminution of morale in the defence services. I think that in the interests of an effective service the Deputy Leader of the National Party ought to offer something positive.

However, I welcome this opportunity to comment on the 1983-84 Estimates. Expenditure on defence and defence support is certainly vital to my electorate of Bendigo. More than 3,000 personnel in my electorate are employed by the Department of Defence or the Department of Defence Support. Puckapunyal, near Seymour, is the base for Australia's major armoured and transport corps. The army base not only makes a substantial contribution to Australia's defence requirements but also makes a notable contribution to the economy and community of Seymour. More than 2,000 personnel are directly employed at Puckapunyal, with some 800 families living at or around the base in married quarters.

Estimated appropriations to the Puckapunyal army base in 1983-84 put to rest the myth which, as I say, has been perpetrated by the Opposition that our Government is intent on destroying Australia's defence capabilities and service. More than $5m will be spent this year as part of a massive $14.7m redevelopment of the armoured centre. The project is expected to be completed by 1985 and involves the integration of existing buildings with new buildings and engineering services to form a permanent training centre for the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. The $14m project will provide direct and indirect employment for some 500 people, including a peak on-site work force of 175 during the first half of 1984.

In another major project at Puckapunyal more than $700,000 will be spent on the first stage of a project to install airconditioning in the main instructional building of the School of Transport and Catering. That project is expected to be completed by September 1985 and involves a total cost of $2.3m. It is a project which I have strongly supported and on which I have spoken on a number of occasions. Present conditions for personnel training in the main instructional building are totally inadequate in warm and hot weather. Tests carried out in the building last summer showed that the temperature in the main kitchen was 43 degrees celsius when outside temperatures were 28 degrees celsius, and temperatures at the air inlet to the grease filters at ceiling level were measured at an amazing 68 degrees celsius. Severe disruption is obviously being caused by these excessive temperatures, and it is quite understandable that at times the students have been less than enthusiastic about training in those circumstances.

When other appropriations to Puckapunyal are taken into account for items such as housing and minor works, more than $7m will be spent this year at Puckapunyal on projects which in total involve forward expenditures of some $20m. Bendigo itself is home to both the Army Survey Regiment Unit, based at the historic Fortuna site, and the Bendigo Ordnance Factory. Some 300 personnel are directly employed at Fortuna and when families are taken into account more than 500 people in Bendigo are directly or indirectly dependent on the unit for their livelihood. Contrary to the views of successive governments for more than 15 years, the people of Bendigo are united in their opposition to the proposed relocation of the Army Survey Regiment Unit to Bonegilla.

I will quickly relate to honourable members some of the history of this important issue. In 1967 the Royal Australian Survey Review Committee was appointed to examine the role, organisation, training and accommodation of the Royal Australian Survey and to produce a master plan for a phased reorganisation to be implemented by 1975. In 1968 the Review Committee recommended the formation of an Army mapping and charting centre involving co-location in a suitable area of the five units of the Army Survey. Early in 1970 the then Minister for Defence, now the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), in reply to questions from the then Federal member for Bendigo, Mr Kennedy, and representations from Bendigo City Council stated:

I must say that I am satisfied with the decision, and must confirm that the present plans to re-locate are entirely justified on administrative, technical and operational grounds . . . In the light of all the evidence I am unable to put aside the recommendations of the Review Committee that Bonegilla is preferable as the site for the Survey Regiment.

Later in 1970 the Army Works Committee and the Chief of General Staff approved facilities for the co-location of the Army Survey Regiment, the map depot and the School of Military Survey at Bonegilla. Following further strong local and political pressure in the early 1970s aimed at retaining the centre in Bendigo the Defence Facilities Location Committee reconsidered the question of relocation in 1973. But it also recommended that the transfer go ahead. Finally, in June 1982 a facilities brief prepared by the Army confirmed the relocation decision and listed detailed justification in support of the relocation to Bonegilla.

Despite the recommendations of those reports and the views of successive Ministers over almost 15 years which support the relocation to Bonegilla, I take this opportunity to state very clearly the total and unequivocal opposition of the Bendigo community to this proposal. Our community is determined to fight to retain the Survey Unit at Fortuna. Honourable members will well remember the insensitive and foolish decision taken by the previous Government to attempt to sell off the Bendigo Ordnance Factory. The fact that the Ordnance Factory stands alive and well today is in no small part due to the concerted and unified compaign by the Bendigo community to keep the Ordnance Factory.

Mr Spender —And by the former member.

Mr BRUMBY —The former member first proposed to sell it in 1974.

Mr Spender —He fought very hard to keep it.

Mr BRUMBY —He proposed to sell it in 1974. He reiterated that promise until 1981 . The Government can expect a campaign of similar strength and persistence in relation to the Army Survey Regiment Unit.

I conclude my remarks this evening by making some observations concerning defence support appropriations and the Bendigo Ordnance Factory. The Ordnance Factory, which provides the defence services, government authorities and commercial customers with a broad and high quality engineering capability, directly employs some 650 people and generates at least-I emphasise the words ' at least'-$10m of income in the Bendigo economy annually. As I have already said , the Factory stands alive and well today because of the efforts of the local community and the strong support of the Australian Labor Party for a defence industry capacity in Bendigo and throughout Australia. Defence support estimates for 1983-84 will ensure a higher work load at the Factory than for 1982-83. The Budget also allocated some $239,000 for the provision of a new machining centre which will provide significant benefits when machining complex items in small numbers. Additional defence contracts for the Ordnance Factory over the coming years are vital if industrial capacity and employment levels are to be increased . Apprenticeship intakes and the age structure of personnel presently employed at the Ordnance Factory ensure a natural increase in employment of between 70 and 80 people by 1986. The factory itself has been highly effective in gaining private commercial contracts but clearly requires additional defence work in the future.

Of particular significance in relation to future defence contracts for the Factory is the $2m allocated from this year's Budget for management and other reforms at the Williamstown Naval Dockyards. Federal Cabinet is to decide in the very near future on the placement of contracts for two follow-up destroyers at a cost of somewhere near $800m. Should those contracts be awarded to the Williamstown Dockyards some 250 man years of work will be generated for the Bendigo Ordnance Factory. Having taken a very close interest in the Williamstown Dockyards and having attended a conference at the Dockyards on 17 June this year I strongly advocate the awarding of those contracts to the Williamstown Dockyards. Over the past 12 months absenteeism at the Dockyards has fallen dramatically and time lost because of industrial action is only one-tenth of that at its peak in 1979-80. To my mind the Dockyards are well placed to accept these contracts and recommence the task of restoring a viable defence shipbuilding facility in this nation with its associated benefits for other defence establishments such as the Bendigo Ordnance Factory.

The task facing our Government in the area of defence industrial capacity is a massive one. During the 1970s under the policies of the Liberal-National Country Party Government overseas purchases of capital equipment for the Australian Defence Force increased rapidly, representing a massive 70 per cent of total capital expenditure in 1982-83. At the same time, Australian industry's involvement in repairs and maintenance declined. Existing contractual arrangements for defence purchases such as the new fighter and others make it extremely difficult in the short term to increase substantially local Australian participation. Despite these difficulties, I am confident that our Government can and will provide our defence industry with the support it so obviously deserves.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired .