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Wednesday, 5 September 1984
Page: 478

Senator KILGARIFF —I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I note that a previous question and answer related to northern surveillance and also I understand that the Budget Papers show a reduction in coastal surveillance in the portfolios of Health, Primary Industry and Home Affairs and Environment. In view of the recent statements by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, that he believed that mystery aircraft may be running drugs over Timor in the direction of Australia and in view of the extreme vulnerability of northern Australia by virtue of its geographical position, will the Minister undertake to ensure that sufficient funds are made available to allow for the normal training and operational flying in the north of Royal Australian Air Force air-crews, whether of fighter, bomber or surveillance aircraft? Will the Minister also ensure that there are no cutbacks in flying time allocated for coastal surveillance operations? I have in mind the movement of illegal immigrants, drug running and the danger of introducing exotic diseases into Australian herds. Will the Minister say whether action will be taken to implement 24-hour coastal surveillance operation? Will this come about? Once again, having in mind a previous question and answer and noting the funding of the Australian Federal Police, what is its exact role in the overall operation?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I hope this briefing note addresses itself to the particular speech we have just heard. If it does not, I will do my best to supplement it later on. The figures mentioned by the honourable senator in the Budget are in respect of only one aspect of the total coastal surveillance program. There has been a reduction in the number of flying hours under the civil contracts for coastal surveillance following, as I think I said earlier, a reappraisal by the Department of Health of its requirements for littoral aerial surveillance for quarantine purposes.

Senator Peter Baume —You won't become the member for Jagajaga.

Senator GARETH EVANS —There are some people I am going to miss less than others. This has resulted in reduced expenditure on this aspect of coastal surveillance. The reappraisal by the Department of Health meant that the contractor had the capacity to perform other aerial surveillance within the terms of the existing contracts which run to 31 March 1986. The patrols of the Great Barrier Reef were capable of being accomplished within this framework at a considerable saving because the Commonwealth was already legally obligated to pay the standing charges for the excess aircraft and the additional charge was for actual flying time only. In overall terms, there has been a slight reduction in the cost of coastal surveillance this financial year. It represents 3.5 per cent of the total cost of the coastal surveillance program budget of $21.2m, a figure I mentioned earlier. Mr Speaker-Mr President, the Government is cognisant of the need for an effective coastal surveillance regime.

Senator Lajovic —You are still in the Senate.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am happy to table this document. It is all good practice .

The PRESIDENT —Will the honourable member come to order!

Senator GARETH EVANS —This has been demonstrated by the Government's initiative in having the Minister for Aviation and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence review Australia's practical coastal protection and surveillance arrangements. The Minister's report was tabled earlier this year. This is a long boring answer to yet another long boring question; I am sorry. Following consideration of the Minister's report, the Government established the coastal protection unit within the Australian Federal Police with responsibility for the direction and co-ordination of Australia's coastal surveillance response and enforcement. This is a major step forward, I hope it will be appreciated, because previous arrangements did not vest overall responsibility in one organisation. The unit will have three regional co-ordination centres: One in Darwin, one in north Queensland and one in the north-west of Western Australia. With respect to the last two, the views of the respective State governments have been sought as to their location, as I previously said.

Another major initiative is the establishment of the Commonwealth-State Standing Advisory Committee on Coastal Protection and Surveillance. It will enable senior officers of respective governments to consider appropriate aspects of Australia's coastal protection and surveillance arrangements. That Committee will hold its inaugural meeting on 4 October 1984. The civil flying contracts-to pick up the point about the RAAF-are but one part of the overall system which includes the use of RAAF P3 Orion aircraft for surveillance of the Australian fishing zone, Royal Australian Navy patrol boats for surveillance and response action off-shore and civil surveillance of the fishing zone. There has been no reduction in the activities of the Defence force resources.

Senator KILGARIFF —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Would the Minister please investigate that part of my question where I asked him to ensure that training and flying times of the RAAF in the northern areas are not cut back? If the Minister looks into that situation he will find there are cutbacks in operational and training flying.

Senator GARETH EVANS —As I have just said, I am advised that there has been no reduction in the activities of Defence Force resources but I will have that proposition checked and give the honourable senator such further information as may be relevant.