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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 189

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. Following complaints about aircraft noise, can the minister inform the Senate what measures the Department of Defence is taking to address the issue of military aircraft noise over Darwin.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I am aware of the concerns expressed by the residents of Darwin in relation to noise caused by military aircraft. Those concerns have been brought to my attention by a range of political figures, including my colleagues Senator Collins and Warren Snowdon. However, it is important to put into perspective the reasons why our operations in the north are so crucial to defence and will continue to be so.

  The RAAF base Darwin is a forward operational base designed to cater for the air defence of Darwin and its maritime approaches, and also for the support of air operations and training. Exercises of the type currently under way are essential to maintain this capability. However, we do recognise the problem of noise for the Darwin community and are moving to accommodate its concerns as best we can.

  The air force has in place a program updating the noise exposure forecasts for all bases around Australia, including Darwin. This involves a gathering of data such as the number of flights and the flight paths. That data is fed into a computer model which profiles those areas affected by noise. The scheduled Australian noise exposure forecast plan for Darwin airfield later this year has now been brought forward as a matter of urgency. I anticipate the forecast will be completed by, at the latest, July.

  Discussions are being held with the national acoustic laboratory for it to undertake noise measurements at Darwin during a major military exercise at the RAAF base. This will most likely occur later this year to coincide with exercise Pitch Black in the August-September period. There have been some suggestions that we should bring these tests forward, but the timing of these tests has been specifically chosen to coincide with one of the major exercises to ensure that these measurements are taken at one of the busiest times rather than one of the quieter times. We will certainly be looking closely at the results of these studies when they are available.

  I am also aware of allegations that visiting pilots are straying from their designated flight plans and agreed procedures. This is a matter of great concern to me. In view of that concern and the concern expressed by others, today I directed the Deputy Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Fisher, to visit Darwin probably next week to investigate first-hand all these issues; to report back to me personally so that I can be assured that there is no abrogation of the current flight plans; and, if there is, to put procedures into place to make sure it never occurs again.