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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2388


Senator DURACK(3.54) —I do not know what the Attorney- General was hinting at regarding finishing consideration of the Estimates at 4. 15. There are a number of questions to be asked in relation to the Department of the Special Minister of State, apart from any other matters that may be raised. I think the Attorney should be made aware of that at this stage. I do not know whether he wants to extend the sitting of the Committee beyond 4.15 or what he has in mind. I hope that officers who can deal with these questions are present.

The Attorney-General would be aware of the great concern that was expressed in relation to coastal surveillance undertaken under the estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State. The matter to which I refer concerns answers to questions which we have received regarding what was called the extension of the Skywest Airlines Pty Ltd contract. We have received a series of answers from both the Australian Federal Police and I believe the Department itself. Unfortunately, I am still uncertain, from the answers we have received, as to why the contract was extended in the way it was when it was decided not to renew the contracts for the other companies which were engaged for surveillance of the northern and Queensland coasts. When those contracts expired the Skywest contract was extended to cover those operations and no tenders were called from other people who might have been interested in seeking to contract for those areas. As I understand it, under the Skywest contract there was excess capacity. The Government could call on Skywest to perform surveillance work outside the area off the Western Australian coast. The airline had excess capacity and, as I understand it, it was able to do this work cheaply . I understand that is the reason the Government simply extended the Skywest contract.

We have never received a copy of the actual contract, although there was a lot of talk about it. I wonder whether the contract could be tabled. Certainly, it would have made our discussions of it more intelligible, particularly as officers who appeared before the Estimates Committee did not appear to know anything much about it. I recognise the problem that the Australian Federal Police had because they took over this responsibility only recently. I think that it would have been better for all concerned if the contract had been made available to us.

Is it a fact that under the Skywest contract the Government had guaranteed that Skywest would be called upon to fly a certain minimum number of hours? In other words, was the Government paying Skywest for flying hours that it did not require? Alternatively, did Skywest have an excess capacity that was not being called upon and, therefore, did not have such a profitable contract as it had anticipated? Further, did the contract contain a provision that the areas that were designated for surveillance by Skywest would be exclusive only to Skywest or did the Government have the right to engage any other contractor in those areas which were covered under the contract with Skywest?