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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 26

Defence Properties

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:20): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Can the minister update the Senate on plans to expand the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and the Townsville Field Training Area?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:20): I thank Senator Back for his question. I can confirm today that Defence will only be purchasing land from willing sellers in the vicinity of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and the Townsville Field Training Area in support of the military training agreement with Singapore. I have received initial advice from Defence on its master planning and have heard the concerns of local landowners, which have been expressed to me directly, and have been able to remove the question of forced sales from the master planning process.

Defence will continue to talk to landowners around the two training areas who are interested in selling as willing vendors, and officials will continue to engage with local communities while that master planning process and the socioeconomic impact study are finalised. Following my third visit to Rockhampton a fortnight ago and subsequent discussions, those significant concerns of the community were of course raised with me, and today's decision will go a significant distance to address those concerns. Any land that is purchased by willing sellers will, of course, be owned by the Australian government, and the Australian Defence Force will maintain its priority use and access. Those who are peddling misinformation about this might want to note that. Under the military training agreement there will be significant benefits to both the Rockhampton and Townsville regions as well as, importantly, to the Australian Defence Force.

Today's announcement does not affect the implementation of the agreement to increase the training of Singapore forces in these two regions. Community and stakeholder consultation will continue to be a part of Defence's approach to this work as the master planning process continues and as properties come onto the market and as willing vendors make contact with and negotiate with Defence.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Minister. Senator Back, a supplementary question?

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:22): Yes, Mr President. I thank the minister for her leadership in this space and I ask: can the minister advise the Senate—

Senator Cameron: She got rolled.

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left. Senator Back, you have the call.

Senator Cameron: It's not leadership; it's called capitulation.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron.

A government senator: Shut up, Doug.

Senator BACK: I ask: can the minister advise the Senate how the training agreement with Singapore and the investment in the Shoalwater Bay and Townsville regions will benefit from the Australian Defence Force?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:23): Thank you. I can indeed advise that the upgrading and the expansion of the Shoalwater Bay training area and the Townsville field training area will provide the Australian Defence Force with important access to modern facilities and will provide increased land and air space for what are very new, very contemporary weapons and equipment, including those outlined in the defence white paper of 2016.

The government, as set out in the white paper and in the integrated investment program, is modernising the systems and the platforms that are used by Army to ensure that our Australian soldiers have the best possible protection and, importantly, have the capability they need for future operations and for future activity and, importantly, that they are trained to do so.

Changes in technology and in war fighting techniques mean that our Army will operate over a much larger area than has been possible previously. Our new fleet of armoured fighting vehicles have sophisticated digital communications and very advanced weapons systems. They fire further; they are more powerful than existing vehicles— (Time expired)

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:24): Finally, I ask: can the minister advise the Senate what economic benefits the military training agreement with Singapore will deliver to the communities of Rockhampton and Townsville?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:24): Thank you very much. This is an important aspect of the comprehensive strategic partnership and clearly of no relevance for those opposite because they have no plan for Central Queensland, North Queensland or any other part of Queensland.

Up to $2.25 billion is to be spent over the next decade in the development of the training areas, and an estimated $50 million is to be spent annually for the 25 years of the agreement, which also specifies that priority will be given to local businesses in the Rockhampton and Townsville areas. That will be in addition to the significant investment which is currently made—every exercise, every training period—by the ADF and the Singapore armed forces. In fact I have heard countless anecdotes from local businesses about the value of those contributions.

The military training agreement will drive jobs and investment through the construction of infrastructure, through the purchase of local supplies, through equipment hire and the maintenance of vehicles and equipment. We also expect the significant increase in Singaporean troops to drive a boost in the local tourism sector— (Time expired)