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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5583

Senator NETTLE (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. Can the minister indicate, with regard to current military techniques, whether there are any plans for Australian military aircraft to use low-altitude air to ground bombing in any future engagements?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The short answer is: if necessary.

Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that these outdated bombing techniques have not been used since the Korean War and are no longer a part of any training regime for some of our main military allies, how can the minister justify the refusal of the RAAF to close down the Salt Ash Air Weapons Range near Newcastle, which poses a serious risk to local residents through accidents, the health effects of noise and contamination from unburnt fuel; which is causing environmental damage to a sensitive aquifer that provides part of the water supply for the largest regional city in Australia and which has as its only purpose the training of pilots in a redundant military technique?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —For the benefit of the honourable senator, the Gulf War was much more recent than the Korean War. This base has been in operation since 1941 and the range was established in 1943. It has been valuable to the Australian Defence Force in training during that very long period of time and continues to be valuable.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator HILL —There are issues, I concede, in relation to some domestic build-up in the vicinity of the weapons range. Defence has been endeavouring to meet the—

Senator Brown —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I cannot hear because of interjections like the one from Senator Boswell: `If people are going to build houses there they can expect what they get.' I ask you to cease the interjections.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brown makes a legitimate point. It has been very noisy in the last couple of questions. I ask senators on both sides to come to order and to hear the answer that the Minister for Defence is giving, because I think it is a rather serious one.

Senator HILL —I was on the one hand saying that the range is essential for training; I was also making the point that we are cognisant of the potential impact of these activities on the community and have been endeavouring to ameliorate that impact to the extent possible. For example, Air Force has agreed on a number of measures, including no flying on weekends et cetera, and I will provide further information. (Time expired)