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Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works
HMAS Albatross redevelopment, Nowra, New South Wales

ANTONIOU, Mr Vasilios (Bill), Project Manager/Contract Administrator, URS Australia

CAPPER, Commander Carl Loder, Commanding Officer, HMAS Albatross, Department of Defence

CLARKE, Mr Garry, Base Support Manager, Shoalhaven, Department of Defence

GAGEL, Mr Patrick John, Project Director Southern New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, Department of Defence

MOSS, Mr David Michael, Design Manager, Leighton Contractors

NAUMANN, Brigadier Darren Scott, Director General, Infrastructure Asset Development, Department of Defence

TRINDER, Mr Colin Leslie, Director, Environmental Impact Management, Department of Defence

Committee met at 13:02

CHAIR ( Ms Saffin ): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for waiting. You will see that the local media are here from WIN TV, so it is nice that they are interested in the proposal. I would like to thank the witnesses from Defence and associated agencies for the briefing that we had this morning and the tour of the facilities and the site. That is always particularly useful when we get eyes on and hands on. It just brings the submissions to life.

I declare open this public hearing of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works inquiry into the proposed HMAS Albatross redevelopment, Nowra, New South Wales. I call the representatives of the Department of Defence. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that these hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament. Consequently they warrant the same respect as proceedings of the parliament itself. I remind witnesses that giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. Brigadier Naumann, we have your submission, but would you care to make some brief introductory remarks?

Brig. Naumann : Yes, thank you, Madam Chair. Before I do that, though, I would like to make one minor correction to the statement of evidence, please, at paragraph 36.

CHAIR: Please do. That is project element 6, on new hot refuelling—is that correct?

Brig. Naumann : Yes, that is right. It is to do with hot refuelling. Please insert the word 'dedicated' in front of 'facilities'. So the sentence should read:

There are no existing dedicated facilities that provide aircraft hot refuelling …

Hot refuelling is currently carried out on the aprons from tankers, as we talked to you about this morning, with a fire tender in attendance.

This proposal seeks approval for the HMAS Albatross redevelopment project for the Department of Defence. The defence base now known as HMAS Albatross commenced operations in 1942 and since 1948 has been the home of the Australian Naval Aviation Group. In addition to a number of helicopter squadrons, it is the home of the headquarters Fleet Air Arm, the Army's Parachute Training School and a number of other units and supporting functions. Although there have been various base upgrades during the almost 70 years of the life of the base, much of the engineering services and a number of the existing facilities are aged and have deteriorated to the extent where they have become ineffective and unreliable.

The aim of this project is to undertake works to facilities, infrastructure and engineering services that require replacement, refurbishment, upgrading or modification to meet projected base operational and support capabilities for the next 30 years. Priority will be given to the upgrade and refurbishment of the engineering services, much of which has not been upgraded since the base commenced operations in 1942. The remaining elements of the project will focus on works that will deliver operational efficiencies, address occupational health and safety issues and meet current personnel support requirements.

The project comprises 22 separate elements of work at HMAS Albatross, as detailed in our statement of evidence. Consistent with our aim to maintain operations at the base for the next 30 years, approximately half of the proposed budget is allocated to engineering services, with a substantial amount of that focused on ensuring that we have sufficient power to the base and that the additional power is efficiently distributed around the site to support future capability.

The estimated cost of the proposed works is $192 million, excluding goods and services tax. This cost estimate includes the construction costs, professional management and design fees and charges, and furniture, fittings and equipment, together with appropriate allowances for escalation and contingencies. Subject to parliamentary clearance of the proposed project, construction is planned to commence in mid-2012, with completion expected by mid-2015. That concludes Defence's opening statement. The Defence witnesses are now ready to answer questions from the committee.

CHAIR: Thank you. We have a lot of questions and I know we will not be able to get through them in the time we have allocated. Because there are so many different elements to this project, the questions are divided up element by element. There are about 47 questions. We would be running to get through them all, so I just want to put you on notice that we will send some of those to you on notice and then you can reply to us. But we will do our best to get through some of them. As you say, it is such a huge project with some complexities. At $192 million, you can imagine there is a lot to ask and know about. I will lead off with the first question, and it is something that is fundamental to the committee's role: why are the works necessary for this base? It goes to need.

Brig. Naumann : As we briefed you this morning, this base is the home of the Fleet Air Arm and helicopter squadrons that comprise that Fleet Air Arm, along with a number of other elements—the Parachute Training School and all of the other supporting and ancillary support units and functions. As we indicated on the tour this morning, a lot of the facilities—most of the engineering services infrastructure—are very old. We tried to demonstrate to you this morning that there are significant problems in some areas on the base. We think it is about time that we got in there and did some investment, particularly in engineering services, to ensure that this base can continue to operate for the foreseeable future.

One of the other issues that we talked about this morning was the arrival of new capability to the base, with the MRH-90 helicopters that you saw this morning and the new Seahawk helicopters that were delivered under the future naval aviation capability project. There is also the helicopter aircrew training school, which is slated to come to this base in the future. It was imperative that we ensured that the base had the required facilities, the required engineering services support, in particular, to ensure that we could continue to maintain the capability that is generated out of this base and that will be generated out of this base over the next 30 years.

CHAIR: Is any of the infrastructure unsafe or does it create an unsafe working environment?

Brig. Naumann : There are certainly some areas where we have concerns with safety, and I will get Mr Moss to talk a bit about some of that in a moment. Probably the key point is that, where there are issues of safety, we ensure that we have got work-around processes in place to ensure that we are not exposing our people unnecessarily to unsafe working environments. I will ask Mr Moss to talk about some of those issues.

Mr Moss : Some of the issues include the stormwater drainage, which we explained earlier is currently causing flooding of the flight lines, so we have had to come up with mitigation strategies to avoid the water running across the tarmacs and flight lines. The water mains are at the end of their useful life. It makes it very difficult for pressure testing of the fire services and making sure they are operational. Sometimes when pressure tests are carried out there are bursts in those pipes. So in terms of general OH&S, that is one of the safety issues. A number of sewer blockages occur. There are a number of cracked pipes in the existing vitreous china pipes, so we are having to reline or replace those to ensure there are no blockages or backups of sewage across the base.

CHAIR: Thank you. I will now call upon Senator Boyce for questions.

Senator BOYCE: I might follow up on that. Would someone like to comment about the safety around the parachute drop zone?

Brig. Naumann : I will ask Commander Capper to fill in some detail. As I think is probably evident, throwing people out of an aircraft is not necessarily a thing that you would immediately think is a safe action of itself. However, through the Parachute Training School we endeavour to ensure that those soldiers and other service personnel that we require to undertake that function are trained appropriately to ensure that they can undertake that function in a safe manner. Some of the issues that we have had on that drop zone relate to simply the hardness of the zone. When these fellows come down under the parachutes, they do tend to hit the ground pretty hard. We have got data that has indicated that we have seen a number of injuries as a result of that. We have been looking at what we can do as a Department of Defence, as an Australian Defence Force, to minimise those injuries.

Senator BOYCE: What do you do right now?

Brig. Naumann : There are three elements. We are fortunate at the moment, because we have had rain over the last two to three years. While we did not take you out to the drop zone today, it is actually quite soft right now. But that was not the case in 2008, just before the long drought ended. As we briefed this morning, it was actually quite hard. Hitting that under a parachute, we were experiencing a number of fractures of lower limbs particularly. I will ask Commander Capper to add a bit of detail around that.

Cmdr Capper : There are a number of factors going into what has been done to improve the safety of parachuters jumping into the Husbands drop zone. They were looking at the parachute itself. They were introducing a new parachute which has a lower rate of descent and also reduced oscillation, so when they are hitting the ground it is at a much lower rate. They have also improved the training program, so the trainees are getting far more training before they actually make their first jump. There has been some remediation to the Husbands drop zone over the last few years—a watering program to soften the ground—but in times of drought the water is not there, there is no recirculation system. So if we go through another dry period we can expect injuries to increase. The remediation works that are planned to be done as part of redevelopment will ensure that the Husbands drop zone is a smooth surface and a soft surface and will provide a much lower rate of injury for personnel jumping into that area.

Senator BOYCE: What phase of the project would you expect the upgrade of the drop zone to be completed by?

Brig. Naumann : I will ask Mr Moss to talk to the program and where we have got that currently scheduled.

Mr Moss : The drop zone works can be done independently of the other work, so we would envisage to start that with the main infrastructure and to be scheduled at the start of the construction period. It is probably going to take about six months in program purely because we have a number of issues with the soil in terms of getting the vegetation up to scratch and we have to tie that in with the parachute training school. The actual dates have not been fixed in the program but that will be worked through with the parachute training school.

Senator BOYCE: But early in the construction?

Mr Moss : Yes.

Senator BOYCE: I have got some other questions but not in the safety area.

CHAIR: We will come back to you.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you for the update on the naval air wing. I had no idea that we had a naval air wing, so my question might appear a bit ignorant or a bit rude. Why is the capability at HMAS Albatross so compelling that we cannot do it from an Air Force base where the voter thinks that traditionally aircraft live?

Brig. Naumann : There are a number of issues that would underpin the location here. I am going to ask Commander Capper as the base commanding officer to talk about that. I think probably the most immediate is the proximity to the east Australian exercise area, where the fleet operating out of Sydney exercises off the coast of Australia here. The helicopters are based here in at Albatross for easy transit to that exercise area. I am sure Commander Capper will be able to provide you with much more detail.

Cmdr Capper : The base was established in 1948 as a naval air station. It has a fairly significant independent capability in terms of the support we provide to fleet. Essentially the operating squadrons here, managed by the Headquarters Fleet Air Arm, provide a raise, train and sustain capability to provide ships for ships flights at sea, and those ship flights go towards Navy's goal to fight and win at sea. Those aircraft when they join those ships at sea become an integral part of that ship's weapons system. Albatross is uniquely set up to do that. As the brigadier said, we are located right next to the east Australian exercise area. There are already many facilities on the base to enable us to train naval aviation operators and maintainers. For example, we have the flight deck procedures trainers here where we can actually train to a dummy deck here on the base. We have the helicopter underwater escape training facility where we can train people to evacuate from a helicopter in the event of an accident or incident. And we have many other facilities—in particular on the training side the simulators to support those aircrew as they go through their training.

Senator GALLACHER: So it is an integrated transport logistics supply system for the fleet?

Cmdr Capper : Absolutely.

Senator GALLACHER: My impressions as we went around was that there was not any hardstanding and you are going to fix that by removing those hangars. The runway did not appear to be very long to me. In terms of a 30-year base—I know you are operating helicopters, but you could be landing planes as well—is that hardstanding runway going to be up to the capabilities you might have in 25 years?

Cmdr Capper : Yes. As part of the redevelopment D, E and F hangars, which are on the hardstanding to the south of A and B hangars, will be demolished and that will free up some more hardstanding space. Also during the tour we explained that Swordfish Road is going to be relocated eight metres to the east. That will also free up more hardstanding area. In terms of the runways, both runways are just over two kilometres long. They do not look that big, but that is a significant distance.

Senator GALLACHER: It looked like a par 5 to me!

CHAIR: What's that?

Cmdr Capper : You are better golfer than I am, Senator! One is 2.1 kilometres long and the other is 2.2 kilometres long. They are more than able to support the fixed wing operations that we do here. Although we operate helicopters from here, we provide a lot of support for other ADF assets. Quite regularly we get C130s here in support of PTS operations, and C17 aircraft as well. They are in here on a regular basis, particularly in transporting Seahawk helicopters, and they will transport other helicopters in the future to other areas of Australia.

Senator GALLACHER: So, if we had a US aircraft carrier off the coast, we could accommodate the activity.

Cmdr Capper : We have a runway that can support them. We can provide whatever support we are geared up to do. As an example, in the last few weeks we had six F18s operating from the airfield in support of President Obama's visit to provide cover over Canberra. We provide all support required for those aircraft, including the fact that those aircraft are fully armed.

Senator GALLACHER: Thanks very much. That has much improved my knowledge of HMAS Albatross.

Brig. Naumann : There is a point I would add to that about the area where we are looking to demolish those hangars south of the air movements section along Swordfish Road. The idea is to make that space available for the future development which will come in support of the future naval aviation capability project, which is just in the process of finalising its procurement of the capability. We will be coming to the committee around the middle of next year, I think, with a project proposal for that. The other one is the arrival here of the Helicopter Aircrew Training System, so we have to locate that somewhere on the base as well. Removing those redundant facilities along Swordfish Road provides us with space in that high-value area along the front of the airfield to place those air side requirements.

Senator URQUHART: Brigadier Naumann, section 9 of your submission, the environmental impact section, talks about potential soil contamination from demolished buildings and hydrocarbons related to airfield operations. Can you outline what actions you can take to mitigate any potential soil contamination? What actions is Defence taking to deal with this issue? You also say that it is not anticipated that a referral will be required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. If there were a referral, could you explain what the consequence would be?

Brig. Naumann : I will take that question in two parts and I might answer the last one first. I will ask Mr Trinder to talk us through the environmental assessment that we have undertaken thus far and the process leading to the determination that this is not a referable action under the act and what might happen if something were to crop up. I will then pass to Mr Moss to talk about the way we will handle any contamination that we discover.

Mr Trinder : In relation to the EPBC referral process, we have undertaken a number of environmental studies looking at the different aspects of this project already internally, within Defence, through the engagement of professional environmental consultants. Those reports identified a number of matters that are important but not significant in terms of the sorts of tests that are applied under the environmental legislation. The specific things that have been identified in those studies include the existence of some heritage buildings. The place itself is not on the Commonwealth heritage list but some of the buildings have some heritage importance, but they are not sufficiently significant that they need to be preserved. The plan for that is simply to ensure that the heritage management plan is implemented and archival recording of what is actually there now is undertaken so that there is a record of what is there before it is demolished. On the heritage side, that is how that aspect is being managed.

There were some significant ecological species that were identified on the various environmental databases that are available for searching, but on investigation none of those species were found to have habitat that exists anywhere in the footprint that is proposed for the works on this site. By the time those studies were concluded and the environmental risk assessment was completed, my professional environmental staff concluded that there were no significant impacts on the environment from any of the work that is proposed under this project and determined that there was no requirement to refer it any further under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for consideration by the environment minister. There will be some follow-on work that we will require of the project, including the development of a comprehensive construction environmental management plan, which will manage all of those issues that are associated with construction. We have a lot of experience with those throughout the program that Defence undertakes for its infrastructure development. We are completely confident that they will manage any residual environmental risks.

Senator URQUHART: To the naked eye, and given the time frame, it looked like there may have been some asbestos-clad buildings. Is that the case with any of the buildings that are being demolished?

Brig. Naumann : We can probably talk to that in terms of how we deal with contaminated material. We have done an assessment of the facilities for asbestos. We run an asbestos database on all of our sites now anyway. We have undertaken inspections, so we understand where asbestos is located.

Senator URQUHART: We did see a sign as we came through one of the buildings.

Brig. Naumann : So we do know that it exists. In the majority of cases it is in a safe form; it is bonded asbestos. So, provided we do not disturb it, it is fine; it does not present a hazard. It is only once we start to pull the building down that you perhaps start to see some potential issues. I will pass to Mr Moss, and he can talk about that.

Mr Moss : There have been a number of asbestos studies done on the base to date. We are demolishing 34 buildings. I believe 24 of those buildings contain asbestos and have been identified. We have not done any intrusive tests yet because the buildings are currently occupied. Once we get access to those sites, we will do further intrusive testing to verify the type of asbestos. We will also proffer an asbestos management plan to remove that, and that will be incorporated into the demolition packages prior to starting works. There are a number of buildings that we are demolishing that contain asbestos.

Senator URQUHART: The removal of that asbestos will be dealt with under the appropriate New South Wales legislation and disposed of.

Mr Moss : Correct. We have identified a number of waste disposal sites in the region where we can safely dispose of that material.

Senator BOYCE: You mentioned in your submission that you expect the project to create about 90 full-time jobs over 40 months, peaking at about 270 full-time jobs. I presume that the 90 is an average. Is that what you are saying?

Brig. Naumann : Yes, that would be right. It is an average. As you know with all construction jobs, you will see a gradual start increase to a peak and then we will taper off as we get towards the end of the project.

Senator BOYCE: Where will those workers come from?

Brig. Naumann : Again, I will ask Mr Moss to provide some detail about how Leightons would go forward with engaging the workforce. Generally what we tend to do is engage a contractor such as Leightons, who provide us with the management. They then go to lower tier or trade subcontractors to provide the workforce to the project. Leightons have been doing some work here already in terms of confirming what is available locally for trade support to the project. Mr Moss will be able to provide more detail.

Senator BOYCE: Before you do that, are there any criteria in the project around the percentage of jobs provided locally or is there anything about the procurement policies for local content?

Brig. Naumann : There is no policy as such that says that there must be a minimum for local employment. However, we try to encourage maximum local employment through our procurement methodologies. Leightons, acting on our behalf, are also bound by the Commonwealth procurement guidelines and the responsibilities under the Financial Management and Accountability Act to ensure that we are fair in the way we approach the market for support to the project. So all of the work that is ultimately managed by Leighton's on our behalf will be undertaken by companies that have made their way through a competitive tender process and have demonstrated through that process that they have the ability to undertake that work.

There are a couple of things that we require of our subcontractors for doing work on Commonwealth jobs. The subcontractors must be national code of practice compliant and they also must be registered and certified with the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner. Those are two requirements that apply to all Commonwealth work and they flow through to subcontractors on this project. If you would like some more detail I will ask Mr Moss to talk a little bit about how he plans to approach the market.

CHAIR: Yes, thank you, Mr Moss.

Mr Moss : We have identified a number of local companies in Nowra who have previously done work on the base and who have the capability of doing the work we are doing. There is quite a diverse range of scope elements and a lot of the building works can be sublet to smaller companies, so it can be broken up. We have put together a procurement plan which includes early business and community engagement through the Shoalhaven Business Chamber and organising training sessions and industry briefings on a number of the issues, including: the national code of practice, which is required; the contracts that we have to let for the Commonwealth, so that they have an understanding of what makes up the contracts and why they have to fill out the paperwork they have to do; and also the Fair Work Act requirements.

We are planning to hold a number of industry training sessions to brief the local contractors on what is coming up and on how to tender for it, so they can understand that. In terms of how we assess the tenderers, it is based on demonstrating project understanding, previous experience with similar jobs, managing systems including quality assurance and OH&S, their current workload, their personal experience on other projects and their previous performance—we do strong reference checking—but it is based on a value for money assessment. At the end of the day we will be looking for local contractors to be engaged on this job and we will be seeking their interest for this project.

Senator BOYCE: Following on from that, you have a list of eight stakeholder organisations you have consulted. Could you give me a sense of what the stakeholders you consulted were saying and also about any concerns around your plans for stormwater diversion and the potential for contamination of private property?

Brig. Naumann : I will ask Mr Gagel as the project director to talk to this, but we have undertaken a significant amount of consultation locally. We have held two open forums, one of which was held here in October and the other one was at the ex-servicemen's club in Worrigee, which is over towards the coast from here.

CHAIR: Were they advertised?

Brig. Naumann : They were advertised. We can give you the details; I do not have them immediately to hand. There was not a significant turn-up to those and it is probably worth saying that there were not any significant issues raised with us either, but I will ask Mr Gagel to talk about that.

Mr Gagel : The advertisement was published in the local paper. Those public consultation nights occurred on Wednesday, 12 October 2011, and Monday, 24 October 2011. The first of those meetings was held here at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. We had two local people attend that—actually, three local people: one was a couple who live across from the airfield. The other meeting we had at the Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemen's and Sports Club at Greenwell Point Road, Worrigee, and we just had two people attend that. I am sorry, what was the other component of your question?

Senator BOYCE: It was any concerns raised about run-off from the site or contamination or interference in property use by private landholders in the vicinity.

Mr Gagel : We had no complaints about the quality of the run-off. In fact, the solution will improve the quality of the run-off from the base. There are concerns related quite locally near the Fleet Air Arm Museum just to the north of here. As you may be aware, the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society are looking at a site there, and they were concerned that we were diverting stormwater through that site, as was the Shoalhaven City Council. However, the diversion through there utilises existing stormwater drainage trenches. So we have yet to convey that to them, but they did have a concern about that. We will get back in touch and confirm that to them.

Senator BOYCE: One other in that area: you have also noted that you are continuing to consult with Endeavour Energy. There is a very, very big potential upgrade of the power to the site plan. Could you tell me what has yet to be negotiated or discussed with Endeavour Energy and how you would characterise the stage that those negotiations are at?

Brig. Naumann : As we briefed this morning, you are right, Senator, a lot of our plan does hinge on Endeavour Energy coming to the party in terms of what they have undertaken to do for us. We have been engaging with them for a while now as we have attempted to define the best solution in terms of high voltage supply to the base. A number of different options were explored with Endeavour Energy, and ultimately we have come to a point where we have got an agreement in principle that the approach that we are taking is an approach that will be acceptable to Endeavour Energy and they will then provide us with the level of power that we are after.

Those negotiations have been quite detailed, as you would expect, because we are a large customer of theirs and so there is some significant impact on their network of what it is that we are planning to do here. They were very conscious to ensure that what we were doing here fitted in with their long-term plans for the area. I will ask Mr Moss to talk a little bit about where we got to with those negotiations. We might just need to look at how far we can go in this forum and we might perhaps go into it a little bit further once we go in camera.

Senator BOYCE: Let us start it and see where we end up.

Brig. Naumann : That is fine.

Mr Moss : Endeavour Energy wrote to Defence on 10 July, making a supply offer for the feeds to the base, and the exact extent of those works has been negotiated through. Would you like me to explain the current negotiations and where we are extending?

CHAIR: That would be useful.

Mr Moss : Currently they are offering up a solution, which we have sought and which Pat Gagel previously presented, which is extending two 33 kV feeders. They have agreed that one of them can come from the south Nowra zone substation and the other one can come from a transmission line about halfway along BTU Road. That is quite advanced. They have no problems with where we are bringing the supply from. It is just a matter of formalising that offer. Those works will be contestable works. We are yet to go through negotiations which are being done in conjunction with our IAD.

Brig. Naumann : What Mr Moss is referring to there is that the work will be undertaken by Defence. We will engage designers who are prequalified with Endeavour Energy to undertake the design work. So we will go through a competitive process but from a prequalified panel. For the delivery, we will again go through a procurement process from a prequalified list of contractors who are qualified to do the work for Endeavour Energy. What that does is ensure that what is designed and built meets their requirements in terms of surety of supply. That process is yet to happen. Clearly, we are not in a position to start that tendering process.

Senator BOYCE: You are completely confident that the base will end up with the power supply that it needs as specified in this project?

Brig. Naumann : I believe we will be able to achieve the power supply that we require. Can I say that I am completely confident while it remains unsigned? No, I cannot say that, but at this stage all indications are that we are heading down a path where we need to go to get the outcome that we are expecting. I think it is reasonable to say that there are certainly benefits that would accrue to Endeavour Energy in ensuring that this proceeds, because they have benefits that will arise, as do we. So I think there is mutual benefit that will come out of this. I would not see any particular reason why we would not be able to achieve an agreement that meets our requirements not only now but for the foreseeable future as we brief this morning, out to 2025 and beyond.

Senator BOYCE: Thank you.

Senator GALLACHER: The risk assessment you gave us on the building in relation to fire hazard or bushfire, as I said, really opened my mind to the potential with the fuel store. Is there any detail on your risk mitigation strategy there?

Brig. Naumann : On the fuel farm?

Senator GALLACHER: Yes.

Brig. Naumann : We can talk about that, and I will get Mr—

Senator GALLACHER: Perhaps, rather than delay the hearing, I would just like to see that, because obviously my gauge of the distance is different to what it really is.

Brig. Naumann : I think Mr Clarke might be able to—

Senator GALLACHER: When you are talking about 23 metres and 50 metres, if there is a roaring bushfire and you have a fuel farm there and a building there, I know what I would be protecting.

Brig. Naumann : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: So, if you could just put that in to the secretariat, I would just like to look at that.

Brig. Naumann : Yes, we will take that on notice.

Senator GALLACHER: On the hot refuelling, if your aircraft have a three- or four-hour fuel time limit or flying time, what are you talking about? Are you talking about putting it down, keeping it going and changing the crew as well as the fuel?

Brig. Naumann : I will get Commander Capper to talk about that.

CHAIR: I can see lots of nods.

Cmdr Capper : Absolutely, Senator. When they do a hot refuel, most of the time they will change out the crew as well, so they just keep that aircraft flying. It is not unusual to add two, three or even four sorties with different crews through the day, continually doing a hot refuel between each sortie and changing the crew.

Senator GALLACHER: That is quite a common naval air wing practice?

Cmdr Capper : We have been doing it since I got here in 1980. As far as I know we have always done it.

Senator GALLACHER: Just going to the infrastructure, there is a very good airport that was built on time and under budget but could not open because the underground fuel lines were contaminated for weeks after it was finished. Are there any risks in all of that—having your fuel underground, getting water contamination and not being able to operate?

Brig. Naumann : Yes, that is certainly a risk whenever you put a fuel line underground, but there are design solutions to ensure that you manage that risk. It is probably best if I get Mr Moss to give you a quick summary of what we are doing, but effectively it is a double-skinned pipe. But I will get him to talk to that.

Mr Moss : Yes, there is a double-skinned pipe. It is stainless steel, located within an HDPE plastic pipe which goes a certain distance—I think it is 90 metres—to individual pits. Inside that pipe we have leak detection. In terms of your question on cleaning out the lines, there will be a commissioning and handover procedure where those lines are rinsed before we put fuel down there to go and start operations or start testing on those.

Senator GALLACHER: Yes, I think that is what the problem was in Adelaide. It was the way they cleaned the lines out that caused it to be delayed for four weeks.

Brig. Naumann : Yes. We have built a few fuel farms and fuel reticulation systems around the country, so we do understand what those risks are and we are very conscious of the need to ensure that we get that right.

Senator GALLACHER: You briefed us on the proximity of that building to a potential fire hazard. I did not see a fire station on the base.

Brig. Naumann : There is a fire station on the base. It is down near the flight line. We did drive past it. We did not point it out to you, though.

Senator GALLACHER: So that is all under control?

Brig. Naumann : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: All right. Thanks very much.

Senator URQUHART: Given that we are dealing with quite a significant amount of public money, there was just one thing that I thought is always nice to have, and I can understand why you would want it, but I just wonder why you need to have a hairdressing salon, credit unions and a post office constructed at the base.

Brig. Naumann : I will ask Commander Capper to give the CO's perspective on that in one moment, but I think that ultimately it boils down to the fact that this base is home for a number of our sailors and soldiers, and—as we would out in the broader community—we would expect access to those sorts of services. Some of these service personnel are on courses where they have limited time to be able to leave the base and go to avail themselves of those services. So it is just more efficient for us to have them on the base. But I will ask Commander Capper to—

Senator URQUHART: Just before you do, can I ask you how many people call the base home?

Brig. Naumann : Again I will get Commander Capper to give you that.

Cmdr Capper : We have two types of people that are living on base. We have those who are living on base on a permanent basis, and of those we probably have somewhere between 200 and 250 at this present time. Then we have a similar number, almost, who are here for various courses at any particular time. For example, with courses at the parachute training school we could have up to 100 people at any one time undergoing courses there. There are courses at the aviation training facility. Also we have other people coming through at various times who are here for extended periods—three to four months at a time—although they are not permanently based here. For example, the naval officer year 1s from ADFA will come here. I think we had 25 here, for example. Gap year sailors will do a gap year within Navy and they will be posted here for an extended period as well. So all up we could have anywhere between 300 and 450, sometimes 500, people actually living on base at any particular time. But permanently living on base there are probably somewhere between 200 and 250.

Senator URQUHART: Just to follow on from that, I know that you pointed out that part of the upgrade was sporting facilities and running tracks and things like that. Again, this is public money and it is important that people understand what the need for those is and why there is a need for them within a facility like the base as opposed to out in the general community. Can you explain to me why that is required on the base but also what access the general community may have to utilise some of those facilities?

Brig. Naumann : There are two elements to that. There is the running track and there is also the sporting facility, the change room facility, that we briefed while we were out at the front gate. Again I am going to ask the base CO to provide a little bit of detail around this, but you will recall that while we were out at the front gate Commander Capper talked about the requirement for maintaining a certain level of fitness of ADF personnel. That applies even to the Navy, believe it or not! I am sitting here in Army uniform.

CHAIR: Is that mandatory!

Brig. Naumann : Sorry to be flippant, but there is actually a requirement across the three services to maintain fitness, and we do have a large base population, as we have just discussed. Right now a lot of the personnel do run around the base roads. Commander Capper talked about running under the approach to the runway up at the northern end.

Senator URQUHART: I think we saw some of them there today doing that.

Brig. Naumann : That is right, yes. We timed that perfectly, didn't we!

Senator URQUHART: Oh, okay; it was planned!

Brig. Naumann : I wish I could say that we were that good. There is definitely a requirement for us to provide the facilities for our personnel to maintain their fitness. The gymnasiums are one part of that, but we need to give the ability for them to get out and pound the pavement. That is a requirement, as we have said, for the fitness tests. That is the first bit. The second bit is the sporting facility. Again, team sports are something that we actively encourage in the ADF. It is a way of instilling teamwork in our people, plus it is another way of maintaining that general level of fitness. One of the best ways for a base like Albatross to engage with the local community is to participate in community sports competitions and so on. So the base would have sporting teams that participate in the local sporting competitions. We also would have a requirement on base for activities other than engagement in the local sporting competitions, where our people are playing each other—interunit matches and so on. Again it all goes to instilling the teamwork that we require of our ADF people. I guess broadly that is it. I am not sure whether Commander Capper is able to add too much more to that, but I will see whether he has anything further he would like to add.

Cmdr Capper : I think you covered about 99 per cent of it, sir. You saw the people who were running around the airfield. It has become an issue, particularly with aircraft making approaches to runway 21. People have run across the top of the runway. That in fact is where people conduct their fitness assessments. They actually run around the top of the airfield to a point on the road and then run back. That is directly under the flight path. It is also a single-lane road and a fair amount of traffic transits along that road, particularly towards the town, and there is the military hardstand where PTS operate from when they are doing their jumps. To remove them from that we need to have a dedicated area where people can do their run over a measured distance to do their fitness assessments. It is also about the shape of the ground. It is pretty beaten up. People tend to run off the side of the road and there is oncoming traffic. There is a risk of injury. Having a proper surface to run on is another factor to reduce injuries. It is not just the fitness test. As I said, people are out there running to maintain their general level of fitness at all times and there is remedial for people who need to get up to scratch as well.

Senator URQUHART: I am not sure whether you touched on this—you did on sporting and the teams. Is the general community from the area, other than the Army, the Navy and the Air Force community, able to utilise any of those facilities?

Brig. Naumann : Their utilisation would tend to be when a team from the community is playing one of our teams. I would not expect that it would be made available more broadly, but, again, that call is not something for me to make.

Senator BOYCE: This is a gargantuan work project that you have in place. I think 34 buildings were being demolished, and so forth. If this project goes ahead, one would anticipate that in 20 or 30 years you are going to have another massive project to undertake, because all the buildings will age together. What are your plans, what is in train, so that that does not occur again?

Brig. Naumann : That goes to the way that we would maintain those facilities through their life. Our design life for these facilities is 30 years. We are designing them for 30 years. That means we can expect that they will go that far, provided that we maintain them. There would be an expectation that, at some point, there might be midlife upgrade required. The end of that 30-year period does not necessarily mean that we would need to push the building over. We could potentially do some further work on it to ensure that it continues to provide a serviceable, fit-for-purpose facility. While we are doing an enormous amount of work on this base, if you look at particularly the building component of it, it is not a very large component of the existing assets on the base.

Senator BOYCE: The cost.

Brig. Naumann : Not only the cost but the number. We are building five buildings here. If you recall, as we drove around the base—Pat will shortly be able to give me the number of buildings that we have on the base; it will be on the base fact sheet—there are something like over 200. We are only doing a small component of it.

Senator BOYCE: I think it was mentioned earlier that 34 buildings were being demolished. I appreciate that some of those are the size of someone's garage. It is simply that it seems that a lot of things have needed to be done all at once. Perhaps we can spread that out a bit better in the future.

Brig. Naumann : As I started off, I think the point is that we need to ensure that we maintain them. Once we have them up, we maintain them and invest in ensuring that their value remains through their life. As part of the project, we identify what the costs will be to maintain the facility through its life. We have a process in Defence now where we actually allocate that funding to ensure that the funding is there to maintain the asset as we go forward. Ultimately, yes, there will be another project like this, I would expect, in 15, 20 or 30 years time, when we will probably be looking at something else on the base. There might be new capability that needs to be introduced to the base. Unfortunately, places like this have such a large capital value. I would hesitate to put a number on it, but it would be approaching $1 billion worth of assets sitting out there on the base, in terms of replacement cost, when you look at all the hangars, all the office accommodation, the runways, the engineering services and all that sort of thing. Yes, $192 million is a lot of money—there is no question about that—but it is an amount of money that we need to invest to ensure that that larger asset continues to operate. We need to expect that down the track we are going to have to come back and do something further to ensure that the rest of it continues to operate. There are 265 buildings on the base, so we are knocking over 34 of them and we are building five, so that will still leave 230-odd buildings on the base. It is quite a large base.

Senator BOYCE: I was just thinking about the potential for projects like this for years and years.

Brig. Naumann : Unfortunately that is the case.

Senator GALLACHER: The acoustic analysis training building is going to be replaced, I think. What does that do?

Brig. Naumann : Could we talk about that in camera?

CHAIR: We might deal with that in camera.

Senator GALLACHER: It is confidential?

Brig. Naumann : If that is okay with the committee.

Senator GALLACHER: That is fine. I asked about it at the wrong time—I was so curious about it!

CHAIR: It is actually in the questions we had for you on the public record, but it is fine to do it in camera.

Brig. Naumann : I am more than happy to talk to you more about it there.

Senator URQUHART: You explained about the new entry with the roundabout et cetera. I understand that the Shoalhaven City Council have given you an in-principle agreement but they have not yet given you a formal agreement. When is that likely to be given and what are the ramifications if it does not happen?

Brig. Naumann : I am looking to my colleagues to confirm it, but I understand that we now do have that formal agreement.

Mr Moss : We do not have a formal agreement.

Brig. Naumann : My apologies. They were nodding!

Mr Moss : We have met with the Shoalhaven City Council and they have listed a number of minor amendments to our drawings. We have agreed that, when we finish the design, we will table those drawings with their road planners and they will review those and give their comments. But they have no objections to what we are proposing; they are actually in favour of the works. They do not even understand the history of that road, with the sweeping bend and the T intersection of BTU Road and Albatross Road. Again, they have no issues with it and they are in favour of those works proceeding.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know the likely time frame for them endorsing that?

Mr Moss : It will probably be four weeks or so. It is dependent on us giving them the final design. Then it is just a matter of their engineers reviewing it and commenting. Then we will have a formal meeting and minute that.

Senator URQUHART: I know how quickly some council engineers report. How quickly do their engineers report?

Mr Moss : Fortunately, when we do those works we have to do it over a Christmas shutdown period, so there is a bit of time to do that.

Brig. Naumann : To clarify, the four weeks Mr Moss mentioned is not necessarily four weeks from now; it is four weeks from when we complete the design and submit the drawings.

CHAIR: That is fine. I will close the public hearing. The committee does have more questions that will be provided to you in writing. We are seeking your responses in writing and will treat them as a supplementary submission and hence for the public record. They are questions we would ordinarily ask in a public hearing. We will negotiate the timing of that through the secretariat. I do not have the time frame on it at this stage, so we will negotiate that.

I thank you for your evidence. I particularly thank Commander Capper for hosting us at the base so we could have a look around and get a better understanding. I know every time I visit the base I learn something new, and that helps us. You heard today that there were things we did not know about. I declare this public hearing closed and ask that those not authorised to attend the in camera hearing leave the room.

Resolved (on motion by Senator Gallacher):

That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Evidence was then taken in camera—

Committee adjourned at 14:37