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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1443

Senator ARCHER —My question relates to the responsibilities of the Special Minister of State for the Coastal Protection Unit and the Australian Federal Police. In particular I refer to the awarding of the contract to supply aircraft for the surveillance of our northern coastline. Is the Minister aware that the successful tenderer will have to import the aircraft and conduct modifications, even though it is only six weeks before the first contract is due to be honoured? Is the Minister aware that the successful tenderer at present has no maintenance facilities and no skilled personnel to service the 14 aircraft? Is the Minister satisfied with these arrangements? Also are the AFP and the Coastal Protection Unit satisfied with these arrangements? Can he give an unequivocal assurance that the already paltry surveillance efforts will not be further affected by delays in the supply of the aircraft, inadequacies in their maintenance to lack of experience of the operators?

Senator TATE —I am aware of the nature of the contract that has been let for the continuation of the coastal surveillance undertaken under the aegis of the Coastal Protection Unit which is under the control of the Australian Federal Police. In that respect, the AFP acts mainly as the agent for the Department of Primary Industry because the main interest of that surveillance is to do with quarantine, as much as with other law enforcement matters. I do not have at my fingertips the precise details of that new contractual arrangement. Very extensive answers have been given in this chamber by Senator Gietzelt in reply to Senator Durack which outline the fact, as I understand it, that the correct and normal tendering processes were undertaken by the Government in relation to this tender. The contract has been awarded, the successful tenderer having put in a bid which was several million dollars lower than that put in by the current operator, so there will be a considerable saving to the Government and therefore, the taxpayers, by the implementing of those contractual arrangements.

As for the implementation of the arrangements I understand that whilst it is true that aircraft will have to be imported, there will be a staged process of taking over, base by base. Broome, Darwin and Cairns will not all be changed at the one time. The new operator will enter into such arrangements with those who are presently employed by the present operator and there will be a smooth transition, base by base, to ensure that this important surveillance of our coastline continues. To that extent I can give the sorts of assurances that Senator Archer wants.

Senator ARCHER —I ask a supplementary question. I was not asking about the propriety of awarding the contract; I was trying to establish whether the Minister, the Federal Police and the Coastal Protection Unit were satisfied that there would be no impairment to security in relation not only to agriculture but also to quarantine, immigration, drugs and other matters.

Senator TATE —In my answer I placed emphasis on the propriety on the tendering process because naturally part of the assessment of the successful tenderer involved examination of the capacity of that tenderer to perform according to the terms of the contract. That includes all those questions-maintenance, taking over in stages and giving the sort of coverage that is presently given. All these things must be part of the tenderer's capacity. As far as the actual submission to Cabinet was concerned, I took it there jointly, as I recall it, with the advice of the Coastal Protection Unit and the AFP. To that extent the AFP and particularly I, as a responsible Minister, are satisfied.