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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3405

Mr YOUNG (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs) —For the information of honourable members, I present the Government's response to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure entitled `Footprints in the Sand-an inquiry into civil coastal surveillance'. I seek leave to have the Government's response incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Government response to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure-`Footprints in the sand-an inquiry into civil coastal surveillance'.

The report was table in the House on 3 June 1986.

The Expenditure Committee decided to examine coastal surveillance arrangements in March 1985-and in particular to examine the arrangements put into place following the major review conducted by the Minister for Defence (in his then capacity as Minister assisting the Minister for Defence) which was tabled in the Parliament in March 1984.

The arrangements put in place following the Beazley Report involved the establishment of a coastal protection unit within the Australian Federal Police with responsibility for the co-ordination and direction of coastal surveillance. The Government determined that the coastal protection unit should have authority to plan and set priorities for surveillance and to authorise response and enforcement action. The unit is co-located within the Federal Sea Safety and Surveillance centre of the Department of Transport, with regional coastal protection units in Broome, Darwin and Cairns.

The civil coastal surveillance program is designed to meet fisheries, quarantine, immigration and environmental objectives as well as identification of major breaches of Australian law, including illegal drug trafficking.

Elements of the coastal surveillance program include:

Long-range patrolling of the Australian fishing zone by defence aircraft

Use of RAN patrol boats for Australian fishing zone surveillance and enforcement

Littoral aerial surveillance by chartered aircraft

Aerial patrolling of the Great Barrier Reef, and

National co-ordination through the Australian Federal Police Coastal Protection Unit headquarters in Canberra and close co-operation with the States through the Standing Advisory Committee on Coastal Protection and Surveillance.

The principal recommendation of the Expenditure Committee's report is that the functions undertaken by the Coastal Protection Unit should be transferred from the Australian Federal Police to the Department of Transport, with the exception of the response and enforcement capacity.

To a large degree, this would represent a return to the arrangements applying prior to the Beazley Review.

The Committee came to this view on the basis of its assessment that coastal surveillance contributes to law enforcement, especially drug interdiction, only to a limited degree; and that the Department of Transport necessarily has infrastructure and expertise established for the search and rescue function which can efficiently be applied to the coastal surveillance co-ordination function.

While acknowledging the work of the Expenditure Committee in this regard and the points it has raised for consideration, the Government is not inclined to change the basis of the present arrangements at this time.

The arrangements involving co-ordination and direction of coastal surveillance by the Australian Federal Police have been in operation only since October 1984. They were still undergoing development and consolidation during the time of the Committee's review. There have been recent developments designed to bring closer together the roles of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs Services in the coastal surveillance area. These arrangements allow greater integration and utilisation of the combined Customs and coastal protection unit resources, as well as providing for greater co-ordination of response effort.

Further, the Government believes that effective arrangements have been established for liaison with State and local agencies in Northern Australia and would not wish to disturb them at this time. The recent decision announced on the littoral surveillance aerial contract and present consideration of the Aerial contract for patrols of the Great Barrier Reef are major parts of the Government's continuing program in this area.

An important development for the future of coastal surveillance is the recent announcement of the Government's commitment for the project development phase for a network of the over-the-horizon radars (Project Jindalee).

Over-the-horizon-radar has the potential to revolutionise the coastal surveillance system in this country, and may bring about an approach in which interdiction of detected targets is a greater possibility.

It can be expected that the capabilities of Over-the-Horizon Radar for Australia will be much better known in some 12-18 months and by that time the present arrangements will be thoroughly established. The Government would be looking to consider a major review of the coastal surveillance system at that time.

In the meantime the coastal surveillance requirements of the relevant departments and agencies will continue to be met, in co-operation with the States. This is achieved through a program co-ordinated and directed by the Australian Federal Police Coastal Protection Unit, advised by the Standing Inter-departmental Committee on Coastal Surveillance and the Standing Advisory Committee on Coastal Protection and Surveillance. Issues which may improve the operational efficiency of the coastal surveillance and protection regime, under the co-ordinating authority of the Australian Federal Police, will be examined on a continuing basis taking into account the present financial constraints and responsibilities of the concerned ministers.

Developing technology in various areas may provide an opportunity to increase the capability of the coastal protection system and enable the surveillance task to be conducted more effectively. Such technology will be thoroughly assessed as it becomes available.

The Expenditure Committee also recommended that the user-pays principle continue to be applied to the coastal surveillance program and be extended to cover defence and response costs and costs of the Coastal Protection Unit.

The Government is developing the extension of the user-pays principle in the context of the 1987-88 Civil Coastal Surveillance budget.

In conclusion, I reaffirm that the Government continues to place considerable importance on the need for a coastal surveillance and protection capability which prevents the bringing or spreading of human and agricultural diseases and pests into Australia, identifies possible breaches of Australian law and clearly demonstrates Australia's resolve and ability to exercise control over its sovereign territory.

Motion (by Mr Beazley) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

Debate (on motion by Mr Shack) adjourned.