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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 702

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(3.09) —A number of aspects of this statement are of great significance. While at this stage it is presented as a parliamentary paper, its implications are far more profound than those of many papers that are presented in this way after Question Time when the House is empty and nobody seems to be interested in what is going on. I think it needs to be remembered first of all that it is really no more than a response to the recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation report of 7 October 1986. As the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has identified, there was a suggestion that there had to be a comprehensive planning study and public review of naval facility requirements and alternative sites before there could be any further development of the Jervis Bay site. For this reason it was necessary to have this report before the environmental impact study into the future use of Jervis Bay could be established.

There are a number of aspects within the report which certainly have the total support of the Opposition although the longer term implications and some of its recommendations would certainly not receive carte blanche approval from those of us on this side of the House. There are a number of matters on which we would take quite a different stance if we were in government.

As to the fundamental decisions, however, on having an environmental impact study into the proposal to develop naval facilities at Jervis Bay there is total agreement. It is essential that there be understanding and scrutiny of the Jervis Bay area to determine the impact on the magnificent clear waters and white sands that so characterise that very beautiful part of the east coast of New South Wales. On that, there is total agreement between the Government and the Opposition. There are aspects of the report on which I need to comment because, as I have suggested, the report has a number of implications which I believe to be quite profound. There is no doubt that in defence matters one cannot afford to set short term horizons. Essentially, there is an important program in Australian defence of trying to upgrade our long term capability, to ensure a continental defence capability and to ensure that Australia's defence forces can better react to any situation that might emerge anywhere around the Australian coastline.

While it is true that the establishment of the port of Sydney began with white settlement and has grown from there it is not sufficient for us to maintain a naval facility there simply because it is a good harbour. It is a magnificent harbour but there have to be other reasons for preserving the fleet's main operations there. There are quite justifiable arguments, looking at the 50 year strategy, to develop further the HMAS Stirling facility at Cockburn Sound. It was with that in mind that the coalition Government started the development towards HMAS Stirling. It was the coalition Government's forward planning that enabled the first home basing at HMAS Stirling, following the establishment of residential facilities, so that the families of sailors posted to HMAS Stirling would be able to live with them.

People need to understand that the characteristics of home porting require not just the stationing of a vessel but also the development of sufficient housing and residential facilities so that the families of all those sailors can live within reasonable proximity to the place where the ships will be home ported, so that spouses can see a little of their sailor husbands or, in some instances, wives and so that their lives can be somewhat more normal than would otherwise be the case. In that respect it is essential that we do not take a short term view. If we are to develop fleet facilities at Cockburn Sound it will be necessary to plan for the future development of naval residential facilities in that area so that those who will be based at Stirling can have the same sort of housing development as any other Australians when moved to a place far from wherever their initial point of residence might be.

The long term future of the Royal Australian Navy and the balance between the fleets on either side of the Australian continent generate a number of different arguments. I am certainly very conscious of the financial constraints, to which the Minister has referred, which apply in his terms to this year. But financial constraints are not peculiar to this year. The transfer of naval facilities from any one base to another costs a lot of money. The development of housing facilities costs a lot of money. However, it is true that changing land use means that some parts of the present operations in the port of Sydney are certainly no longer suitable for that area. I agree totally that the Newington armament depot is one such illustration.

There are other facilities in Sydney, although the Minister has referred only to the mine counter-measure facility. There are other naval facilities at Port Jackson, which I believe will need to remain there permanently. Simply because Sydney is a growing metropolis the Navy should not be denied the use of facilities-for example, the facilities at Garden Island. I know that there has been residential agitation from various people in that vicinity who suggest that there should be an alternative use for it but the commitment of resources is such that were the Navy to move from there the cost to the Australian taxpayers, albeit in the 20-year time span-or even longer-that the Minister refers to, would be such that I doubt that it would be justifiable. If one looks at other naval facilities around the world, particularly in the more densely populated countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and countries of Europe, it will be observed that naval bases remain close to fairly heavily populated areas.

The reason is that where there is a population it needs defence. It is no use moving all the facilities simply because there is an alternative civilian requirement. There is a need to co-locate and take account of civilian requirements; there is a need to take account of the environmental impact of those military facilities. But there is also a need to defend both people and the industrial infrastructure that inevitably is part of a larger aggregated metropolitan area. That large aggregate of people provide the services that are so essential to be able to maintain the fleet in a reasonably satisfactory state-as is the case for any item of military hardware or software. Therefore, the Opposition does not accept that it is inevitable that all the fleet, at any stage-even excluding the mine counter-measure-should be moved from Port Jackson.

I have some reservations at the extent to which those facilities that are being transferred from past defence use around Port Jackson and are now being acquired or used by the State Government are in as good and secure hands as they were when they were in Commonwealth hands. The obvious need in the surrounds of Port Jackson is to maintain the environment, to ensure that there is not excessive encroachment of buildings and other unattractive facilities; but also to maintain something of that very beautiful native vegetation that was part of the original Port Jackson. That is far more likely to happen with the Navy or other defence facilities there rather than the land being in the hands of the State Government which, unfortunately, seems to be subject to the cries of land developers and others. State governments inevitably wish to get a few dollars and by selling off a bit of land here and a bit of harbour foreshore there they feel that they can meet their temporary cash needs, forgetting people's longer term environmental requirements. I would far prefer that land be retained by the defence forces around Port Jackson and elsewhere around Australia but used subject to proper environmental constraints.

There is another aspect about this report apart from the need to remain in Port Jackson and that is the extent to which a balance can now be determined in the distribution of the fleet between the west and east of Australia. I do not believe that we can effectively draw a line down the middle of the fleet and say that half the ships will be here and half there. The most efficient use of scarce resources is to try to concentrate particular facilities on one side or the other. That does not mean that we have to home base ships permanently on one side or the other but, major repair and maintenance facilities need to be concentrated.

Whilst it is true for patrol boats that it is fairly simple to develop repair and maintenance facilities-I was pleased to read in the Minister's statement the intention to make a Commonwealth contribution to the Western Australian marine support facility-I suggest that with heavier vessels and perhaps with submarines it would be wiser to try to preserve to the maximum the repair and maintenance facility on one or other side of the Australian continent; having vessels, if need be, home ported on the other side, but leaving the repair and maintenance where it can be best used in economic and industrial terms; so that we can have a better resource base from which to ensure that with fewer personnel there is the necessary maintenance of surface and underwater competence.

A number of other aspects of the report flag future difficulties which are not resolved. The Minister has suggested that the only real decision being taken as a result of his statement today is that to proceed with the environmental protection impact of proposals study, which is necessary before further development of Jervis Bay can proceed. I will refer very briefly to the difficulties. It is important that it be understood that the future development of the Australian fleet predominantly has to be concerned with where vessels need to operate. I am concerned that we should think of our fleet being based not only in the east and west of Australia but also in northern Australia. There are problems in trying to maintain fleet operations. The development of patrol boat facilities at Cairns and Darwin undertaken by the coalition Government are illustrative of that. It is important, when thinking of future home basing or home porting of vessels, that we look at the way in which those ships, albeit closer to northern patrol from Cockburn Sound than they may be from Port Jackson, would be closer still if they could be based somewhere to Australia's north. I feel it is unfortunate that this report does not adequately canvass alternative sites around the north, nor the degree to which it might be possible to provide some additional fleet capability in northern waters. I well understand the difficulties of Port Hedland; yet that was an area-or there- abouts-where for a long while it was thought that it may be necessary to develop a patrol boat facility. I think that it is still essential that we look at north-west Western Australia and consider the degree to which it is desirable for some additional facility to be built there.

The second point of that part of my concern lies in the problems of the general development of Australian industry. There are enormous problems in Australia at the moment in the adequacy of our industrial support. Sadly, our general manufacturing industry is in decline. Many areas around Australia are no longer providing the number of jobs in manufacturing that they used to. We need to be conscious that all our defence equipment is now far more sophisticated than it used to be. We need to have in mind that we need to utilise to the maximum civilian resources rather than military resources in order to maintain that defence equipment. I therefore think we need to encourage to the maximum the use of those civilian infrastructures. If we scatter our military resources to too great a degree, it may well be that we do not have an adequacy of those civilian infrastructures.

In this respect, of course, we need to have regard to the places where future shipbuilding will take place and the extent to which we can maintain an adequate ship repair facility associated with dry docks and with the other ways in which modern vessels can be made and subsequently assembled. In that regard, there is no doubt that in respect of Cairns, for example, where North Queensland Engineers and Agents Pty Ltd has developed an excellent facility related largely to the order that was given it for the building of patrol boats, that city and that part of Australia have been given an industrial capability which is a significant extension of what was previously there. I think that is to be commended. In that sense, I regret that it seems to me to be another aspect that needs to be adequately considered for the future decisions that flow from this report.

I think the cost of this relocation is one of the real problems in determining just where and to what degree Australia can maintain the sort of self-sufficiency for our Australian Defence Force in which we all believe. The cost of transfer from one site to another is enormous. It is necessary to look not only at the military facilities but also at housing, and I think, therefore, that planning and programming over a long time span is essential. To that degree this report is of assistance.

Finally, I say to the Minister that, while I commend him for the presentation of the report, I see no reason why those who have prepared it cannot have their names included. It has always seemed to me to be unusual that, because somebody is in the civil service or the Defence Force, they are not allowed to have their names appended. I believe there is every reason why those who make their contribution to a report of this character should feel that they should get some, albeit temporary, honour and glory just by having their names included as the authors of the report. I suggest that on future occasions perhaps the Minister might adhere to that suggestion.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lamb) adjourned.