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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 975

Senator CALVERT (7.25 p.m.) —Because of the time taken up by an earlier debate today I did not have an opportunity to take note of an answer from Senator Ray, so I take the opportunity now to put it on the public record. The question I asked concerned the closure of HMAS Huon in Hobart. It may be a small event to those on the government side, and it may not be a great moment in Australia's history, but it certainly means a lot to the people of Hobart—so much so that some 20,000 signatures have been collected on a petition, which is no mean feat in a population of 158,000-odd. The facility has great historical value for Hobart. Lots of events are occurring and are yet to occur on the ground.

  I note from the minister's answer today that he is still immovable in his decision to close the facility—a facility steeped in history. Nevertheless, I suggest to the Senate that I do not believe that the minister has been properly briefed on this matter. He was led to understand that there are going to be savings of $746,000 a year. That is absolutely true; that figure has been quoted often enough. But, as Senator MacGibbon found out in estimates last week, when the services are broken up—as admitted by Rear Admiral Campbell—most of the savings are achieved by reducing the number of staff. Out of the savings of $746,000, some $600,000 is tied up with civil and service salaries.

  The numbers could have been reduced and the facility still retained. The net cost would have been somewhere around $118,000 to $140,000 a year. The government wants to move certain parts of the facility to Anglesea barracks at a cost of something like $250,000—a one-off cost. That takes up two years of the $140,000 cost of retention. In three years time the projected $140,000 saving could be reduced by using the provisions of the new Working Nation statement.

  The main component of the $140,000 is maintenance on the building. That maintenance could be done as part of a training program. The navy would still have had a presence with HMAS Huon on the beautiful Derwent, sitting where it has done for so many years. The minister has already admitted that the diving station and the wharf are going to be retained. So part of the naval operations will be retained anyway and will have to be maintained.

  The government is going to all this trouble to move HMAS Huon up to Anglesea barracks to integrate it with the army and the air force. It has been a sad event as far as the navy personnel in Hobart are concerned. There has been a lot of heartache and a lot of concern, not only from the naval personnel, but from people who have been involved with the navy for many years. The committee to save the HMAS Huon has been working very hard and is receiving unprecedented community support.

  Someone will have to look after the current building. The Department of Employment, Education and Training was mooted as one of the authorities that was going to do so but it has now rejected that and given it the thumbs down. This great, old building is on the state national trust list, which means its retainment is preferable. Someone will have to pay for it. Obviously it will not be the federal government because it has washed its hands of the matter. What a waste of money!  The defence budget runs into many hundreds of millions of dollars. It is ridiculous that there is all this heartache and dislocation for the sake of $140,000 a year.

  Every time we go to the movies we see advertisements trying to recruit people into the navy. Obviously the need to advertise for recruitment purposes is high on the navy's list of priorities. I guess that the navy spends many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year trying to get young people to enlist. In fact, I have a young nephew who is a lieutenant commander in the navy now who did medicine by using the naval facilities. I have no problem with all that because the senior service is a very fine service.

  However, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on advertising. It should be realised that per capita Tasmania, and particularly Hobart, has been the biggest and best recruiting ground for the navy over decades. The quality of recruits coming out of there has always been of a very high standard. I think Tasmania's most famous son is Admiral Collins.

Senator Abetz —Commander Hodgman.

Senator CALVERT —Commander Hodgman, yes. Which one do you mean? There are two of them, of course. One is in the reserves and the other is permanent, the current commander.

  This trauma need not have happened. I do not believe that the minister was briefed as well as he could have been on this matter. Looking at the figures in the true light of day, we have a year-on-year cost of about $140,000. We have this other cost of $250,000 to transfer to Anglesea barracks, which all pales into insignificance in the total defence budget. Bearing in mind the morale of the local servicemen who serve there, I would have thought it would have been a wise decision to take note of the people for once and retain the HMAS Huon. The member for Denison and local senators have been very quiet.

Senator Abetz —The Labor ones.

Senator CALVERT —Yes, the Labor ones. The save the HMAS Huon committee has had no help at all from Mr Kerr. I do not believe that it has had any assistance from anybody else on the Labor side of politics. I hope that the people of Hobart remember that when the next election comes around. If an election were coming up HMAS Huon would have been preserved; but, for some reason or another, it has just been let go. For the sake of $140,000 a year we have lost not only an historic building but the government has also lost the best recruiting station it has ever had and is ever likely to have.