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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 1002

(Question No. 1375)

Senator Chamarette asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 5 May 1994:

  With reference to the proposed expansion of facilities at HMAS Stirling naval base on Garden Island in Western Australia:

  (1) Will public access to Garden Island be limited during the construction and/or operational stages of the proposed facilities.

  (2) Are there existing facilities or alternative sites for the location of the proposed extra facilities.

  (3) What procedures will be followed to ensure that the environmental values of the island will be conserved and what long-term monitoring will be put in place to ensure that these values are maintained.

Senator Robert Ray —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) Construction of all the proposed facilities will be undertaken within the previously approved zones of development, comprising about 1% of the island total. Once construction starts, access to these areas will be restricted. However, the sites are largely away from normal public access areas and public access to the remainder, including all recognised recreation areas of Garden Island, will be unaffected.

  Once construction is completed, access to about 2.4km of beach from Gilbert Point through Hoking and Ewing Bays will be restricted while the Small Arms Range is in use. This will occur on up to about 3 days per week, but never on the weekends or on Public Holidays. Range usage will be widely publicised in advance and flags and sentries will be deployed to ensure public safety.

  (2) The proposed development comprises eight facilities. Alternative sites and facilities where applicable, have been examined as follows:

  Power House Upgrade

  The existing facility cannot meet future power requirements and there are no alternative sites.

  Small Arms Range

  There are three Service ranges in the Perth area; Swanbourne, Bindoon and Bushmead. All are over 120km return, generating significant travel costs and associated loss of productivity. Bushmead has ceased military operation and has conservation values of its own, leading to it being placed on the interim register of the national estate. The remaining ranges are already in heavy use so access to Navy would be limited.

  Trials and Research Support Facility

  At present there are no facilities on the west coast to support the increasing range of research and development support activities required for the Collins Class submarines. These activities involve constant interaction with the secure computer network at the Submarine Systems and Training Centre and hence need a secure location. The cost of transferring, storing and securing sensitive data and equipment outside HMAS Stirling would be significant.

  Training Centre—West

  Facilities for the on-going training of the increasing numbers of personnel who will transfer to the west with their ships, do not currently exist at HMAS Stirling. The facilities at the local TAFE are also inadequate in terms of provision of defence oriented equipment and suitably qualified lecturers. The only alternative is to transport all trainees to the east coast for training, generating significant travel costs and associated loss of productivity. This is not cost effective.

  Torpedo Maintenance Facilities

  Once the Collins Class submarines are home-ported at HMAS Stirling, all Mk 48 torpedo firings (up to 75 per year) will be undertaken in the west. At present the only torpedo maintenance facilities are on the east coast. The transport of torpedoes to the east coast for maintenance then back to the west for firing is not cost effective.

  Submarine School Extension

  The existing facilities to carry out the functions of the proposed extension are on the east coast. These functions involve the initial and on-going training of a submarine's command and control and warfare teams in the detailed technology of fighting the weapons platform. The only alternative to building on the west coast, is to transport all trainees to the east coast for training, generating significant travel costs and associated loss of productivity. This is not cost effective.

  Helicopter Support Facility

  Transfer of about half the Fleet to the west will mean up to ten helicopters will be operating from ships home-ported at HMAS Stirling. Some maintenance can be undertaken onboard ship, but generally, more detailed maintenance must be done onshore. The only alternative to a maintenance support facility on Garden Island is to build appropriate facilities at RAAF Pearce or a civilian airport. All airports in the area, including RAAF Pearce are currently heavily utilised and helicopter operations are generally incompatible with fixed wing operations. Use of off-island facilities generates a range of disadvantages, not the least being security of expensive sensitive equipment and increased flying times over built-up areas. An overall assessment of these and other disadvantages, lead to the selection of Garden Island for the site of the facility, in accordance with the plans previously subjected to public environmental assessment in 1989.

  Aviation Fuel Storage

  Naval helicopters use a special low flash point fuel not used by land based helicopters. There are no existing storage facilities large enough to store the amounts required and no realistic alternative to storing the fuel on Garden Island.

  (3) The Environmental Management Plan for Garden Island issued in 1993, details the procedures to be followed to ensure environmental values are conserved. A range of monitoring measures is detailed in the EMP, usually involving the Garden Island Environmental Advisory Committee (GIEAC).