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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 697

Senator MASON —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is it a fact that the majority of Australia's 120 Centurion tanks, while in urgent need of maintenance after having been mothballed for nine years, are still in usable condition but are regarded as unsuitable for service because of the very high petrol consumption of the original Rolls-Royce engines fitted to them? Has the Israeli Army, at relatively low cost, re-engined its Centurion tanks and are they now still in service as a reasonably effective fighting force? Is the Australian-built General Motors diesel engine suitable for re-engining our own Centurions at a fraction of the cost of new tanks? Will the Government investigate this possibility at this time before the tanks deteriorate any further and will the Minister agree that to allow the equipment to deteriorate beyond practical future use would represent a serious misuse of public assets?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am advised by the Minister for Defence that Australia's Centurion tanks have been placed in long term storage. They are not in immediately usable condition, but would require major refurbishment at considerable cost. Re-engining would be only part of any such refurbishing. The status of the Centurions is reviewed periodically in the light of operational and technological changes, and no doubt it will be again in the context of the force structure review which is proceeding this year. At this stage there is no requirement to refurbish them. I am advised by the Minister for Defence that when the Leopard tank was introduced to Australian service, now nearly a decade ago, in the view of the Minister and his Department the Centurion was already a logistic burden, it lacked endurance and reliability and had poor tactical mobility. Under those circumstances, it seems like an admirable vehicle for the Australian Democrats.

Senator MASON —I ask the Minister a supplementary question. Will the Government check the information that has been given to me, that in fact these weapons are now at the stage where they might be still used but are rusting away and that the unserviceability issue which the Minister raised in such a derisive fashion is, in fact, due substantially to the engines?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I was given the courtesy, which I have not reciprocated, of being given early advice of this question. I did, accordingly, have the matter checked out in the terms in which Senator Mason raised it with me and I doubt, as a result, that any further checking could usefully add to the answer that I have given. However, I will refer our exchange to the Minister for him to take such further action as he thinks appropriate.