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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2416

(Question No. 1150)

Senator Kilgariff asked the Minister representing the Special Minister of State , upon notice, on 13 September 1984:

(1) Does the Special Minister of State, following the report in the Northern Territory News of 10 September 1984, which detailed the report of the Australian Federal Police that there have been 22 reported 'mystery' aircraft movements over northern Australia in the last 3 years, acknowledge the seriousness of this situation where unidentified aircraft, possibly involved in drug running or other illegal flights, are able to fly over northern Australia unchecked.

(2) Will the Minister take action to implement a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week coastal surveillance, to ensure that all flights over the northern Australian coastline can be adequately monitored.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Special Minister of State has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) The Government views seriously the possibility that aircraft are being used to smuggle drugs into Australia through the remote north.

The 22 reports referred to came from the records of the Department of Transport , and represent incidents reported to the Australian Coastal Surveillance Centre by persons in the north who became suspicious because they did not have a ready explanation for something they had seen or heard. In no case did the follow-up inquiries point to the fact that any of the suspect aircraft were engaged in smuggling drugs or other goods. We acknowledge that it is difficult to check on all aircraft movements in the North. We are looking at over 10,000 kms of northern coastline, encompassing an area consisting mainly of uncontrolled airspace in which many hundreds of legitimate aircraft movements take place each day. However, the situation is improving, particularly as a result of the establishment of Coastal Protection Unit regional co-ordination centres at Cairns, Darwin and Broome.

(2) It is not practicable to develop a system which could adequately monitor all flights over northern Australia 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Government is confident nevertheless that advances in technology together with enhanced intelligence gathering, and improved co-ordination of surveillance and response operations will substantially increase our capacity to control drug smuggling in the remote north.