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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1922


Mr MAHER —My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. In view of the Minister's reported comments at the weekend about the poor state of military equipment available to meet emergency or disaster requirements, will the Minister advise the House of any plans the Government has to rectify this state of affairs?


Mr SCHOLES —I thank the honourable member for his question and for his interest in this important area. I am able to inform the House that action is under way to correct what is a serious or potentially serious deficiency. The Government has today authorised negotiations with the French company Aerospatiale for the supply of six light search and rescue helicopters and an interim spares package. These helicopters, together with the spares package, will cost an estimated $A6. 5m. They will replace the Iroquois UH1B helicopters currently used by the Royal Australian Air Force in a search and rescue role, which reach life-of-type in 1984.

The Commonwealth is currently in the process of acquiring 18 AS350B helicopters from Aerospatiale, 12 of which will be used by the RAAF for pilot training and six by the Royal Australian Navy for survey and light utility roles. The same type of helicopter, configured for search and rescue work, has been deemed appropriate to meet the RAAF requirement for a replacement light search and rescue helicopter. The Government has arranged that Australian industry will participate in this project to a minimum of 30 per cent of the total cost.

I think it is important to inform the House that, on a regular basis and over many years, the defence forces have played a major part in search and rescue operations for the civil community and in many areas of disaster and other emergencies. It is essential that they have available to them equipment which protects the lives of the servicemen involved and enables them to perform the tasks which the community expects of them and which they do so proficiently. This order will ensure that the RAAF has available to it search and rescue equipment which is necessary to the RAAF and vital to the Australian community.