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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2272

Senator KILGARIFF(9.04) —I hope that, as the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) says, the Royal Australian Air Force is not indulging in a crash training program for pilots. However, this matter must be taken a little further. During the Estimates Committee E hearing, when we were discussing the training of fighter pilots for the RAAF, the RAAF representative gave some rather gobbledegook answers.

Senator Grimes —You should have understood them then.

Senator KILGARIFF —I do not know whether the Minister was there. I would have liked him to have been there, to see whether he understood what the RAAF representative was saying. I thought the representative was not facing up to the questions asked of him but rather, perhaps because of his expertise, was endeavouring to outsmart-if I could put it that way-the members of the Committee.

Senator Gareth Evans —He didn't have much competition, did he?

Senator KILGARIFF —That is the Minister's opinion. However, some people have a very strong desire to see that the defence facilities of Australia are in good condition. I suggest that they would question the evidence that was given by the RAAF representative at the Estimates Committee hearing. I shall repeat what was said then. Perhaps the representative is not here tonight. I think that perhaps he was a little smart. I do not know what he does for a living or what he did as a representative of the Defence Force. I suggest that if he had had the interests of the RAAF at heart he would have taken more care in the answers he gave. There was very good reason for putting the questions that were put. The questions were simply: Does Australia have sufficient fighter pilots to service the Mirages that are our front line fighters until the FA18 is in use? Are there sufficient pilots for long range surveillance? I refer to the Orions. Is it correct that the average age of fighter pilots these days is getting greater and greater; in other words, are they getting older and older? Compared with fighter pilots in other countries, are they getting older?

Senator Aulich —We are all getting older.

Senator KILGARIFF —Yes, we are.

Senator Macklin —It comes to us all.

Senator KILGARIFF —It does. It is a joke to honourable senators opposite. This is the way the evidence was given to the Estimates Committee-as a joke. I suggest that the defence of Australia is not a joke. It is not a joke that the training hours of our RAAF pilots are getting less and less. My understanding is that the RAAF pilots are coming out of training and going into operational aircraft and, because of the lack of training, they have insufficient knowledge of the operational capacity of these aircraft. That is a serious situation. It was also suggested that the number of training hours received by pilots before going into operational aircraft in the Australian Air Force is far below the requirement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We received a rather smart-alecky answer endeavouring, I suggest, to cover up the situation, which is that deficiencies exist in the training and numbers of fighter pilots of the Royal Australian Air Force.

I go further because I am very concerned about the surveillance of the north. I see the problem so often. I know there are deficiencies. I suggest that while the Government is to blame a lot of blame is to be attributed to the bureaucrats who live in Canberra and who do not realise what is required for surveillance of the north. I hope no one opposite is smiling. The people of the north have seen a lot. Going back a long way, there was the bombing of Darwin. More recently there were drug running, smuggling and similar offences. The bureaucrats are not very closely attuned to northern surveillance and do not understand what it means. We have Orion aircraft which supposedly have the capacity to carry out long range reconnaissance missions into the Indian Ocean.

I ask again: Why does no one take note of what has happened at Cam Ranh Bay? I was in Vietnam a few months ago. Presumably the Government and the bureaucrats read about what is happening at Cam Ranh Bay. It is now the biggest Soviet base outside Russia. It has an immense naval and aircraft presence. The Soviet aircraft have the capacity to range over the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Yet here we sit back in our funny little situation. The bureaucrats came before this Estimates Committee and twiddled their thumbs and fingers while thinking up quick, smart answers to what we, the representatives of the Australian people, asked them. We want to know the answers to questions about the defence of Australia. I tell you, Mr Chairman, that we are not getting those answers.

I go back to the subject of the Orions and the surveillance of the north. I ask once again: What aircrews do we have to fly these aircraft that supposedly have the ability to range into the Indian Ocean? How many aircraft are not operational because of the lack of aircrews? I suggest that in the Royal Australian Air Force these days there has been a cutback in training of aircrews so that it is not possible for all the Orions to be operational. I suggest too that the average age of the pilots of our Mirages, the number of pilots being trained for the Mirages and the ability of the pilots to man these Mirages in an operational capacity are below the levels that are demanded of the NATO services. I say no more about that. I just make the point that I bitterly resent the fact that the officer who sat here during the hearing of the Estimates Committee, supposedly as the representative of the Royal Australian Air Force, should give the tripe that he put forward that night. I suggest it is about time that the Government and the bureaucrats, who are responsible for the defence of Australia, became interested in northern defence and the defence of Australia and got off their hands and did something about it. Once again I say that I, as a senator for the Northern Territory, having asked that day in the Estimates Committee those questions about northern surveillance and northern defence, bitterly resent the answers that I was given. I think the people of Australia are being badly let down by those who have the responsibilities for the defence and surveillance of Australia.