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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1017

Senator PETER BAUME(6.40) —I wish to say a few words about the provision of extra army training facilities in New South Wales. If one looks around New South Wales, one will find several groups running no base committees. Wherever one finds those groups, one will know that that is an area in which the Army may be seeking to extend its operations. It is unfortunate because the existing Army base at Singleton is really appreciated by the district. It brings enormous economic benefit to the Singleton-Cessnock area, Indeed, some of the farmers whose properties adjoin the Army base have told a colleague of mine, the Liberal candidate for the seat of Hunter, that the Army was the best neighbour that they had ever had. If it knocked down or broke a fence, it was mended the next day.

Any plan to extend the base would provide some problems for the people nearby. I have received a letter dated 20 March from Ms Gus Eddy, the Secretary of the Wollombi Valley Association's No Base Expansion Group in the Wollombi area. I have shown the letter to the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans. In order to save time, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Wollombi Valley Assoc. No-Base Expansion Group c/o Wollombi P.O. 2325 March 20th, 1985. Senator Peter Baume12th Floor,Commonwealth Government Offices,Chifley Square,Sydney, 2000

Dear Senator Baume,Re proposed expansion of the Singleton Army Base

The Wollombi Valley Association No Base Expansion Group wishes to draw your attention to the urgent problems facing our area following the announcement by Premier Wran on March 13th 1985, that the State Government had recommended to the Federal Government that Singleton be the site for the proposed Army Training Schools complex. This preferred option of Singleton comprises the existing Army base (13,400 hectares) plus adjoining Crown Land (7000 hectares), the use on a conditional basis of the Pokolbin State Forest and Crown Land (42,000 hectares) to the south west of the base.

Release of a map by the State Government at this time shows clearly there will be considerable incursion of the base into the Cessnock Local Government Area.

At a meeting held at Wollombi on March 17th 1985 and attended by 250 concerned residents, Alderman Gordon Williams, Mayor of Cessnock spoke strongly in support of the Association's protest at such incursion.

The following resolutions were passed at this meeting:

(1) That the meeting totally rejects the expansion proposal of the State Government dated 13th March 1985.

(2) That the nomination of the Singleton site by the State Government is, in fact, a political expediency, ill conceived, possibly deliberately so, and is designed to test the strength of the reaction in the Cessnock Singleton area and the Army's reaction to this.

(3) That environmentally, historically this should be an inviolate area.

I have included for your information a copy of the submission prepared by the Wollombi Valley Association outlining the main reasons why the Singleton Army Base cannot meet the Defence department's criteria for expansion into the 21st century. We believe that the effects of this expansion on our historical and cultural heritage of both aboriginal and white peoples would be disastrous.

The Wollombi Valley Association No Base Expansion Group respectfully requests for your intervention on our behalf in this matter of extreme urgency by raising the following question:

'Has the Federal Government and the Defence Department seriously thought through the military and strategic consequences of establishing a major military training schools complex with facilities suitable for expansion into to 21st century so close to the major industrial area in N.S.W.?''

Should you require additional information we would be happy to supply it.

I remain, Yours faithfully,

MS GUS EDDY Secretary No Base Expansion Group.

Senator PETER BAUME —I am grateful to the Senate. This letter draws attention to the fact that the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran, announced on 13 March that the State Government had recommended to the Federal Government that Singleton be the site for the proposed army training schools complex. That is not just the infantry school, but the other training schools as well. This would require a considerable expansion of the Singleton training area. The State Government had given its preferred option-that is, to use the existing army base, which comprises about 13,500 hectares, plus adjoining crown land comprising 7,000 hectares, the use on a conditional basis of Pokolbin State Forest and crown land of 42,000 hectares to the south-west of the base. The areas involved surround the Wollombi Valley and the area between Broke and Wollombi. It is a very beautiful area of New South Wales and some of it is held in freehold title by various farmers, mostly small farmers; some of them in fact are hobby farmers. Nevertheless, they are concerned at what is proposed.

Mr President, if you look at the map on which the area is shown it becomes quite obvious that if the Army did extend into this area it would provide considerable difficulties for those living between Broke and Wollombi. They would have the Army on each side of them. There has even been a suggestion that if the artillery school was moved there, the Army would be firing across the inhabited area, from on area of Army land to the other. Whether or not that comes to pass, of course, we still have to learn. Further, the crown land of 42,000 hectares contains within it a number of freehold properties. There must be some concern that they would need to be resumed. There certainly would be concern that there may be moves to resume land to give the Army continuity if it took this area and held it for any length of time.

I have checked with some of my colleagues in the Upper Hunter region. They tell me that the Army is welcome in that area. It is a very good neighbour. It brings considerable benefits to the area and they would not want to see the Army leave. They have no!doubt that the present infantry training school should stay where it is in Singleton. Whether or not the manoeuvres training group should go to Singleton is more problematical. My colleague Dr Ron Dolton thinks it may be more likely to go to Cobar where, as honourable senators know, there is a proposal for the Army to acquire some quite good grazing land, and where there is also a very active no base group operating to try to hold on to its freehold land. A further study is being done as to whether the artillery school should go to that area. That would depend on the decisions that the Army makes about Holsworthy.

I think that we must acknowledge that the people in the Broke area and the Wollombi area do have some concerns. It will be quite interesting to see how the Commonwealth Government responds to the proposition that has been put to it by the New South Wales Government. A study was done a couple of years ago by the Department of Defence as to how the artillery training school might be incorporated in this area. I ask the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan): Is it possible to seek from the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) the publication of all the studies which have been done and which may help the people in the region understand what it is that governments have in mind?

I conclude by saying that like many citizens of New South Wales, including those like me who have actually served at Singleton, I believe it is a good area for the Army to operate. You, indicate Mr President, that you too have served there. It is a good place for the Army to operate. The district and the people of Wollombi want to see the infantry training school stay there. What concerns them is that the areas of land proposed to be included in an extended Army area are close to their properties; they surround them. They are concerned that they may have their land resumed at some time in the future. They are concerned about the environmental damage that might occur if the Army brought in its artillery training. They are concerned at some of the damage that may occur to their enjoyment of the environment of the area.

I ask the Minister for Education to make known to the Minister for Defence these very genuine concerns of the Wollombi people. I ask the Minister to try to set up a process of consultation with the people in this region, as well as with the people in the Upper Hunter, who are more sanguine about the presence of the Army, in order that they should know what is proposed, that they should know the dangers that may face them and the extent to which the Army might go if it did take over the entire area of land which has been proposed.