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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21674

Mr BARTLETT (4:24 PM) —I am very pleased to hear that the Public Works Committee has recommended the expenditure of $35 million for the reinvestment project at RAAF Base Richmond. I want to thank members of the committee and the chair for their visit to my electorate to look at Richmond RAAF Base and this proposal, and I appreciate their support for the work that is going on at RAAF Richmond.

This expenditure is well overdue. We have seen about $20 million spent on RAAF Base Richmond on a number of projects in recent years, but this much more substantial redevelopment is vital. RAAF Base Richmond is the home of the airlift group, and the men and women of RAAF Richmond do a fantastic job for this country. In recent years they have been involved in East Timor, Kyrgyzstan, Bali, Iraq and the Solomons, and they do an outstanding job.

This $35 million to be spent on much needed infrastructure maintenance and improvements will maximise their operational efficiency. Some aspects of current arrangements do hinder efficiency in some areas. This expenditure will also ensure that they work and live in satisfactory conditions, necessary to keep up the morale of these men and women. This schedule of works will greatly help in this regard.

However, this expenditure and the ongoing maintenance issues on the base do raise questions about the long-term future of RAAF Richmond. For some 20 to 30 years there have been rumours regarding the closure of RAAF Base Richmond. In 1991, under the former government, the force structure review flagged the relocation of the C130s, the prime platform of the airlift group, to Amberley. As a result of that, there has been reduced maintenance spending on Richmond for a number of years, and this has led to a deterioration in some of the facilities. This $35 million will address that deterioration and provide for much needed maintenance.

The Prime Minister's commitment back in 1998, I think, to RAAF Base Richmond being there until at least 2010 warrants this expenditure for the wellbeing of the RAAF personnel for at least the next seven years. But the question of the long-term future of Richmond does need to be addressed. I do not have time to address it in detail, but I will make a few comments. Firstly, the changing defence paradigm since the 1991 review means there are changing strategic and operational imperatives. These imperatives make it, in my view, absolutely necessary to keep the airlift group at Richmond. Many factors relate to this, including the recent decision to locate a second tactical assault group and an incident response regiment at Holsworthy in addition to the 3RAR and 4RAR that are there. There has also been a recent decision to put the central Defence warehousing at Moorebank. Many other industrial, military and personnel suppliers—the airlift group's key customers for transportation—are located in Sydney. It is therefore just a matter of commonsense that the chief transport base for those customers would also be based near Sydney.

The second point, briefly, is that economic arguments put in the past in favour of relocation simply do not hold water. They have fundamental flaws. Many of the assumptions on which the JLW study was done in 1997 are fundamentally flawed. They indicated perhaps only a four per cent saving at the most. That may well evaporate, and in fact a lot of evidence indicates that there may be a cost increase for any relocation to Amberley. So on strategic and economic grounds there is no justification at all for relocation from Richmond.

The third point I want to make, briefly, is that RAAF Richmond is critical to the Hawkesbury economy. It puts some $106 million a year into the Hawkesbury economy. I am pleased that this $35 million will be spent. It will inject money and jobs into our local economy. I welcome the expenditure—the government's commitment of $35 million—and I want to see more in years to come.

Question agreed to.