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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6442

Mr LINDSAY (4:22 PM) —I have four questions for the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support, but first I would like to pay tribute to the men and women of the ADF in the garrison city of Townsville. It will not surprise you that I would want to do that, and we are mighty proud of our people and what they do for our country. Parliamentary Secretary, you were referring to Amberley—and the member for Blair may be interested in this question. This week an issue surfaced in Adelaide where Jetstar were on the public record as saying that the landing charges at Adelaide Airport were the highest in the country, and it was mentioned as well that they wanted access to RAAF Edinburgh and Amberley.

As you know, there are a number of military airfields that are used already by commercial operations but only in locations where there is no alternative airfield. What is the government’s view on commercial access to Amberley or Adelaide? In an attempt to assist the parliamentary secretary, particularly with those two airports which are very important operationally to the Defence Force, I for one find myself quite opposed to allowing the Defence Force to be used as a mechanism by a commercial operator to reduce landing charges at another airport, and that is effectively what it is. When you allow commercial operations into major military bases you get competition for who should be able to land. The commercials want priority, they break curfews and it becomes an entirely unsatisfactory situation. You get the situation, too, where there are very sensitive operations going on in these places.

Parliamentary Secretary, does the government have a view on that? The white paper, the centrepiece of the 2009 defence budget, identifies $245 billion of new capability, as you are aware. Can you please advise me of the break-up of this commitment? On the rationalisation of the defence estate, which is mentioned in the budget, what criteria are being used to identify which property should be disposed of? What properties, if any, have been identified? What is the time frame for disposal?

Parliamentary Secretary—and this is something a little out of Army’s purview—the current submarine fleet is not being used to its full capability, as we all know. On a very good day, Navy probably has two out of its six submarines at sea to help defend Australia and its interests. The numbers of unit ready days for the submarine fleet has fallen by a worrying 17 per cent this year alone. HMAS Sheean and HMAS Rankin are in full docking cycle all year, and HMAS Dechaineux was completing a full docking cycle late in the year. Of the others, Collins will be tied up in a training role from late 2009 and the remaining two, Farncomb and Waller, are scheduled for short maintenance periods in the coming year. The budget papers are optimistically claiming that the unit ready days will rise in 2009-10 to 916 but they will then decline by 10 per cent the following year and by a staggering 20 per cent in 2011-12. My question is: what does the government plan to do about this dramatic decline in submarine capability, particularly in light of the fact that the white paper has outlined, in very general terms, plans for 12 new submarines by 2030?