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Monday, 6 December 1976
Page: 3292

Mr E G Whitlam (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask the Minister for Defence a question. What is the best estimate he can give of the cost of replenishing the Fleet Air Arm with Grumman Tracker aircraft in as good condition and with as good equipment as those lost in the fire at Nowra on Saturday night? I remind the Minister that after the fire at Nowra at Christmas 1967 the Navy reported the destruction of a hut valued at $8,000 but failed to report the destruction of an adjacent trailer with equipment valued at $ 1.6m, and that as a consequence the Fire Board gave inaccurate information to its Minister and the Minister gave the Prime Minister inaccurate information for me. I also ask about operation Trochus which was introduced last year by my Government to counter intrusions by foreign fishing boats in the north-west and the possible introduction of foot and mouth disease and which depended on Grumman Tracker aircraft operating from Broome. I ask how, when the fishing season recommences in the New Year, it is proposed to replace the contribution made by the Trackers destroyed at Nowra.

Mr KILLEN (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Defence) - I put my honourable friend's polemics to one side and I begin by observing that nothing will be hidden from public view or from public scrutiny and any information that is given to me which is ill founded will be given in peril, but I stand in complete expectation that no information will be withheld. May I take the honourable gentleman's questions seriatim? The first question relates to replacement of the aircraft. The honourable gentleman will be aware of the fact that the White Paper discloses that 6 Tracker aircraft- that is 6 aircraft in addition to those which we had- were to be delivered in June or July of this year. I am under heavy obligation to His Excellency the United States Ambassador who rang this morning to say that the United States Administration would do whatever it could with all possible haste to replace the aircraft. I observe in passing that the aircraft is a type of aircraft which is now being phased out by the United States authorities. My last inquiry indicates that some seventy or eighty of those aircraft were available some time ago. Whether they are available today I just do not know. But -

Mr Keating - The price will be higher.

Mr KILLEN -The cost of the replacement aircraft was $73,000. As to the second question 3292 REPRESENTATIVES 6 December 1976 Questions Without Notice asked by my honourable friend, the sur.Veilance -

Mr E G Whitlam (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -There is the cost of the equipment, too.

Mr KILLEN - I am informed that the cost was $73,000 for the aircraft. It is a second hand aircraft. That figure includes all of the equipment. Nevertheless I will double check. I asked the simple question and I got the simple reply, $73,000 for a second hand aircraft- one that had been used. Nevertheless, to put my honourable friend's mind at rest I will make a further inquiry. I accepted, the information on the basis on which it was given to me.

I assure the House that surveillance of Australian waters will continue. Regrettably, long range maritime patrol aircraft, the P3C Orion, will have to be used as well as the Neptune aircraft. This is not a role for which either aircraft is peculiarly designed. They are anti-submarine aircraft and not surveillance aircraft simplicita It may be appropriate if I were to take leave of the House for a moment to announce that a Board of Inquiry has been convened. Its president will be Commodore Rourke, the General Manager of the Garden Island Dockyard. Its members will be Captain Wickett Commander Callins and Lieutenant-Commander Home. The Board will be assisted by a Royal Australian Air Force officer, Wing Commander Brazier, who has special experience in this field. The terms of reference are:

To hold a full and careful investigation into the circumstances attending the fire in H hangar at the naval air station, Nowra, at approximately 11.30 p.m. on 4 December with particular reference to:

(a)   Security arrangements for the hangar and aircraft prior to the fire;

(   b ) Fire prevention measures in being prior to the fire;

(c)   Conduct of fire fighting operations;

(d)   Steps taken to minimise loss after the fire started; and

(e)   Recommendations to prevent recurrence.

I observe that the Naval Police, Commonwealth Police and the New South Wales Arson Squad have already investigated the fire. Finally, I observe that the findings of the Board will be made public subject to one condition: If any disciplinary action or criminal proceedings are predicated by the findings of the Board, it would be totally improper for those findings to be made available until such action or proceeding had been taken.

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