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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1532

Senator CALVERT —Earlier this afternoon I inadvertently missed putting down a tabling speech referring to the development of HMAS Stirling, Garden Island, Western Australia. Given that there has been a lot of interest in this in recent weeks, I seek leave to make this brief statement on the tabling of that report.

  Leave granted.

Senator CALVERT —The report which was tabled deals with the further development of HMAS Stirling, Garden Island, Western Australia. HMAS Stirling is located on Garden Island, which is offshore from the city of Rockingham, some 60 kilometres by road south of Perth—Senator Panizza would know where that is. The need to further develop HMAS Stirling stems from the government's two-ocean navy concept. This requires the provision of a secure base on the western sea board to support major fleet units operating in the Indian Ocean and minor fleet units operating, generally, close to the coastline. Additionally, HMAS Stirling will become the home base for the Collins class submarines.

  The overall development of HMAS Stirling comprises three stages. Stage 1 was largely completed in 1978, with additional works progressing through to stage 2, which covers the development from 1989 to 1996. Stage 3 will extend the development from 1996 to the year 2000.

  This proposal, which continues the stage 2 development, will provide additional operational, logistic, maintenance and training support prior to the planned stage 3 development. The works proposed in the development include a helicopter support facility, a small arms range, power house upgrade, aviation fuel storage expansion, training facilities, trials and research support facility, torpedo maintenance facilities and extension of the submarine training and systems centre.

  The Senate will note that, while recommending the construction of the works in this reference, the committee is not yet convinced that a need exists for a small arms range at HMAS Stirling. The Department of Defence advised the committee at the public hearing that, following experience in the Gulf War, Somalia and Cambodia, it became apparent that naval personnel are in need of extra training in the use of small arms.

  Although acknowledging that simulation can never fully replace actual practice on a firing range, the committee believes that simulation could form part of training. This simulation could then be completed by training at one of the army facilities on the mainland. The committee therefore recommends that the Department of Defence investigates the possible use of a simulated firing range at HMAS Stirling, which could be used in conjunction with army firing ranges on the mainland.

  Should the small arms range eventually proceed, the committee would like to stress that it has been assured by the Department of Defence that only 2.5 kilometres of beach would be unavailable to the public when the range was being used, which would be up to about three days per week. Access would not be restricted on weekends or public holidays. I should also stress that the public has access to some 84 per cent of the island.

  The committee was told at a public hearing that operational safety measures would include sentries, warning flags, notices in local newspapers and personnel allocated to restricting public access within the safety template. The Department of Defence informed the committee that, following advice from the army, the range is in accordance with military guidance and the safety template provided to it.

  At the public hearing, the committee was made aware by various environmental groups of the rare fauna and flora native to Garden Island. The fauna includes the tammar wallaby, the lynx skink, the carpet python and the brush bronze-wing. The Department of Defence advised the committee that it recognises that the native animal life on the island plays an essential role in its natural ecosystem. Accordingly, environmental management is aimed at maintaining the behaviour, diversity and ecological integrity of indigenous animal species.

  The question of preserving trees native to Garden Island was brought to the attention of the committee; in particular, the Rottnest pines, the Rottnest tea-trees and cheesewood trees. The Department of Defence advised that every care is taken to preserve the flora on the island, with exotic species being controlled and possibly eradicated. The committee commends the Department of Defence on action taken to preserve the unique environment of Garden Island.

  During the public hearing the committee received the impression that non-government, environment and conservation groups believe that they were not adequately consulted or represented when decisions were made concerning environmental issues on Garden Island. The committee has therefore recommended that a representative of these groups be appointed to the Garden Island Environmental Advisory Committee.

  The Department of Defence has assured the committee that, to the best of its current knowledge, the total development of HMAS Stirling, including stage 3, would remain at 17 per cent, or 206.1 hectares of the 1,214-hectare island. This statement should therefore allay fears expressed by various groups that the navy plans to occupy the entire island.

  While recommending the further development of HMAS Stirling, Garden Island, Western Australia at an estimated cost of $40.54 million at December 1993 prices, the committee has, as previously stated, recommended that the need for construction of a small arms range be further investigated. I commend the report to the Senate.