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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 830

Senator BURNS —My question is directed to the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction. I refer to a report in the Weekend Australian regarding proposals to increase the offshore capabilities of the Coastwatch service. Is the minister able to provide the Senate with any information on the Coastwatch capabilities? Also, is there any basis to the claim that the proposed expansion of the service will be a waste of $1 million over the next decade and an unnecessary duplication of work already undertaken by the Australian defence forces?

Senator SCHACHT —I did see the article in the Weekend Australian, written apparently by Professor Des Ball, which suggested the waste over the next decade could be $100 million. The government is calling for tenders at the moment for a nine-year contract to continue the Coastwatch service in Australia, beginning in 1995-96. The terms of the tender have been very carefully and scrupulously prepared by the Customs Service and other relevant government departments. It is to increase the area of surveillance from 200 to 300 nautical miles as a result of requests from client agencies, whether they be in the quarantine area or immigration, to name just two. We should note that Australia has a 37,000-kilometre coastline. The defence forces do provide cooperation for the work of Coastwatch in Australia, but from the very beginning the Australian government believed that the provision of Coastwatch should not be done to compromise the operational effectiveness of the defence forces. That is why we have a separate service.

  We do not accept Des Ball's comment that much of what Coastwatch will be doing over the next decade could be effectively done by the defence forces. There are two different functions and we are looking at civilian surveillance. The most important figure I want to refute is his figure of $100 million. There will not be a waste of that amount. We would anticipate that the contract, subject to the tendering prices that would be accepted, for the enhancement of the capability of Coastwatch would be around $5 million a year over the nine-year period of the contract on what is presently paid. So we are not talking about a $100 million enhancement at all but something considerably less. In response to the demands of the community, we want to ensure that Australia's coastal surveillance is maintained at a level with which the community would be satisfied. We believe that with this contract, which will go through this proper process, we will end up with an excellent Coastwatch service for Australia.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.