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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1578

Mr TAYLOR(6.02 p.m.) —-I want to begin my contribution to this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) by reiterating one comment that the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) made in relation to the Ready Reserve. Irrespective of what the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) had to say in this place this afternoon in all the rhetoric that was generated by him, let there be no doubt that the Ready Reserve concept is a public relations con job. I cannot see how the operational capability of the Defence Force cannot be adversely affected as the result of that Ready Reserve concept.

In the very short time available to me this evening I would like to concentrate on one other issue--a potential defence scandal. That scandal involves an aeroplane, and that aeroplane is the Australian Defence Force Nomad. I quote from a letter to the editor in the Northern Territory News a couple of days ago, as follows:

The NT News recently gave coverage on the Tenterfield air disaster involving an army Nomad and the loss of four lives.

Seventeen months before this, another pilot, Flying Officer Glenn Donovan, was killed when his RAAF Nomad crashed in Adelaide.

The RAAF report concluded this was the result of an aircraft malfunction.

I inform the House that that aircraft malfunction was simply that the tail fell off. The letter goes on to say:

In Tindal last week another Nomad malfunction caused a near-fatal incident for two RAAF pilots.

There is a modification developed for the Nomad aircraft to rectify one of the structural problems of the aircraft's tailplane.

A question I would like answered is why was this modification done to seven Nomads sold to the United States Coast Guard to make their planes safe but the same modification not done to Nomads in Australia?

We now have five people dead and Tindal's near-disastrous event made it a possible seven dead.

How many more dead pilots and passengers before something is done?

The letter is signed by David Silva, who happens to be the brother-in-law of the deceased RAAF pilot. Really, the Nomad aircraft has been a series of physical and financial disasters since it first flew in October 1974. For example, there was a crash in Sabah in 1976; the Australian test pilot of the lengthened version, the N24, was killed in a crash in Australia in 1976; and there was an Indonesian crash in 1979, the details and circumstances of which were never very clearly explained.

I now bring the House closer to recent events. Last March, as I said earlier, an RAAF Nomad crashed near Adelaide killing the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Donovan, whose wife happens to be one of my constituents. As a result of that crash I took up the matter with the Ministers concerned. I have to say that the responses from the two Ministers were clearly very unsatisfactory.

I quote in brief from what the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel (Mr Bilney), representing the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray), said on 7 November of last year in reply to my question on notice of 20 September last year:

Recent advice from the Coroner indicates that the Coronial Inquiry into the death of Flight Lieutenant Donovan will be held in February 1991.

That coronial inquiry has never been held, and I am informed as late as this afternoon, only a couple of hours ago, that decisions have been taken in Adelaide so that in fact that coronial inquiry will not take place. I have to ask why the coroner in South Australia could decide 18 months after that crash, on the basis of the facts that he had before him at the time, that a coronial inquiry should not take place. The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel went on to say in this reply to me:

The Board of Inquiry found that there were some deficiencies in the performance of personnel involved in the maintenance of the aircraft and in the engineering management of the introduction of the aircraft into service. However, the nature of the deficiencies, coupled with mitigating circumstances, led the Board--

that is, the board of inquiry--

to conclude that those deficiencies did not amount to negligence. The convening authority and the Chief of the Air Staff have concurred with that judgement and have accepted the Board's recommendation that disciplinary action was not justified.

He went on to say:

There were some servicing deficiencies; however, these were not related to the causal factors involved in the failure of the tailplane structure.

In my view that is a lot of ministerial gobbledegook. In fact, it was reiterated in a reply of 22 January of this year to a further question upon notice that I placed. The Minister then said:

During the conduct of the Inquiry some servicing deficiencies were discovered and in the statement by the Board the observation was made that if an acceptance servicing or a S17 anti-corrosion servicing had been carried out the cracks would likely have been found, hence the accident avoided.

He went on to say:

It should be understood that these servicings were only indirect opportunities. The tailplane could have failed just as easily during one of the last ASTA flights.

ASTA, of course, is Aerospace Technologies of Australia, which originally owned the aircraft. The Minister finished his reply to that question by saying:

The circumstances surrounding the crash of Nomad A18-401 has been extensively examined both by the Board of Inquiry and the review process. There is no requirement for a re-examination of the matter.

I say to both Ministers, in the light of what happened in Tenterfield last month, that the results of that board of inquiry into the circumstances giving rise to that crash are still awaited, as are those relating to a very serious incident which occurred at RAAF Tindal only two or three weeks ago, which once again places very serious question marks over the longitudinal stability of that particular aircraft.

These aircraft are now grounded, in my view rightly, and should remain grounded. However, I have to ask a couple of basic questions. I go back to the replies to the questions on notice the Minister gave me. It seems to me, from my reading of these two documents--the board of inquiry report and the supplementary engineering report--that there is culpability on the part of the Government Aircraft Factory cum ASTA, the Department of Defence and, in particular, some people within the Department of Defence. I have to ask the question: to what extent is there some sort of cover-up going on in relation to that particular aircraft?

I finish my contribution to this debate by asking the Ministers a number of questions. Can the Ministers confirm that all Australian Defence Force Nomad aircraft are grounded after the two fatal crashes and one recent serious in-flight incident? Can the Ministers assure this House that those aircraft are safe and do not have a design fault which raises questions about their in-flight stability? Furthermore, do the two fatal crashes--one near Adelaide last year and one near Tenterfield last month--and the incident near RAAF Tindal last month have a common link? What investigations are in train in the Department of Defence and with Aerospace Technologies of Australia?

Does the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, in particular, stick with his reply of 22 January this year, which was in response to my question on notice, that `there is no requirement for a re-examination of this matter'? What can be done, as far as the Ministers are concerned, to make sure that the coronial inquest is held? Finally, what budgetary provision exists in the 1991-92 budgetary coverage to ensure that some of these modifications, particularly to the tail, are carried out? Senator Ray spoke informally to me on the night of the Tenterfield crash. I understand that a substantial amount of money is in the Budget. It is about time we did something else before somebody else is killed. (Time expired)