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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7391

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (3:02 PM) —I seek leave to incorporate the answers to questions asked by Senator Evans on 4 December relating to the Westralia fire.

Leave granted.

The answers read as follows—

On December 4, 2002, Senator Evans asked a number of questions in relation to the Westralia fire.

I provide the following advice from the Navy.

1. Can the minister confirm reports that the initial Navy Board of Inquiry into the Westralia fire was held before the ship's engines had been stripped down and examined?

There was no “initial” Navy Board. The Navy Board of Inquiry (BOI) was directed by the terms of reference to determine the cause of the fire, which it did as the result of the evidence of the Western Australian Police Arson Squad Report as to the cause being the failure of a fuel supply hose. While other theories were initially submitted to the Board their proponent did not press them. None of those theories or the evidence of the Arson Squad required any investigation of the internal elements of the engines. The internal examination of the engines was done in 2 stages as part of the restoration of the ship, not to determine the cause of the fire; first by way of determining what if any damage had been sustained by the engines as the result of the fire, second by way of work commissioned as preventative maintenance, intended to ensure the engines served the planned period between major overhauls and was based on recommendations flowing from the first fire damage report

2. How could that BOI have thoroughly examined the causes of the fire if it did not have the report from the detailed engine inspection?

As the issue for the Board was the cause of the fire and this was determined on the basis of reliable evidence, subjected to full testing by cross examination from all represented parties, it was not consistent with the role of the Board to order a stripping of the engines when there was no probative value as to the cause of the fire in following that course.

3. Does it show that a number of faults other than the flexible fuel line could have caused the fire?

No. The first report addressed the fire related damage to the engine and included the results of an examination of the two cylinders on the Starboard Main Engine around which the fire had erupted. The report stated “Combustion spaces were in the condition that might be expected for an engine that had been operated on lower loads in recent times.” The nature of the examination could nevertheless have been expected to identify such other causes had they been present. No such matters were raised in the report. The second report was based on the findings of a substantial overhaul operation concerning the technical state of the engine which included taking measurements of wear and distortion of components. While some wear and distortion was identified this was consistent with the use of the engine and not of any failure of the engine or component. Both of the examinations and reports were provided by Rolls Royce.

4. Can he also confirm that the Commonwealth representative at the coronial hearing this week into the Westralia fire argued that the hearing should not be held in public? Did you, as minister, authorise that submission and if so why?