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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3222

(Question No. 775)

Senator Kilgariff asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 30 March 1984:

(1) Has the Minister for Defence's attention been drawn to an article in the Australian on 28 March 1984 in which the Auditor-General states that no-one can firmly state what defence capabilities are required by the nation.

(2) What is the future of air surveillance, particularly in the north in the light of the removal of the Tracker aircraft from northern surveillance and Navy service, together with the removal of the Skyhawkes and the aircraft carrier Melbourne, and some crews from these aircraft now being dissipated and joining other nations' navy arms.

(3) Is the report correct in stating that surveillance activities are still being further reduced, if so, what effect will this have on the already stretched quarantine and customs services along Australia's northern coast.

(4) Is it the intention of the Government to arm Australia's Navy patrol boats and to upgrade their surveillance equipment so that they would be able to stand up to an attack in the event of being involved in a hostile incident with, for example, other hostile vessels and/or aircraft.

(5) Are Australia's navy steaming fuel supplies being allowed to run down as an economic measure.

(6) What would be the effect on Australia's defence forces if overseas fuel supplies were cut off, for example through tankers being restricted from leaving the Middle East or for elsewhere.

(7) Does Australia hold sufficient fuel reserves to enable its forces to operate through an oil crisis or through any other crisis.

(8) Are defence force numbers and training programs being reduced to such a degree that the Nation's defence capabilities could now be aptly described as negligible.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes.

(2) This question confuses two separate requirements and types of operations. One is peacetime coastal surveillance for civil purposes including quarantine, customs and fisheries control. The other is military surveillance against the forces of a potentially hostile military power. This distinction was addressed in detail in Mr Beazley's recent review of Australia's coastal surveillance and protection arrangements. I refer the honourable senator to that report. The future arrangements for air surveillance of Australia's northern coastline for civil law enforcement purposes were announced by the Special Minister of State on 30 March. Royal Australian Navy Tracker aircraft have not been used in that role since December 1980 when they were replaced by civil charter aircraft. Royal Australian Air Force P3 long rang maritime patrol aircraft continue to conduct surveillance operations in our northern waters, primarily to assist in the regulation of foreign fishing vessels within the Australian Fishing Zone.

(3) Peacetime civil coastal surveillance and protection are the responsibility of my colleague the Special Minister of State. As he announced on 30 March, the new arrangements being introduced following Mr Beazley's review are designed to make civil surveillance more effective and attuned to national priorities. Increased emphasis in civil surveillance operations is being given to countering drug smuggling while maintaining effective levels of surveillance against breaches of quarantine, fisheries, environmental and immigration regulations.

(4)The Fremantle class patrol boats are fitted with 40 millimetre and 0.5 inch calibre guns, an 81 millimetre mortar and radar. These weapons and surveillance equipment are adequate for current tasks, and the Government has no plans in the short term for improvements. If Australia's strategic circumstances were to deteriorate, more capable systems could be installed within a relatively short time.

(5) Navy steaming fuel supplies are sufficient to meet programmed requirements. Naval fuel stocks have however been reduced in recent years, in part for economic reasons but also as a result of changed fuel management decisions, in light of present strategic circumstances.

(6) and (7) Australia is substantially self sufficient in oil supplies and Defence Force usage of fuel represents a very small proportion of national consumption. Moreover, the Defence Force's dependence on imported supplies- notably furnace fuel oil-has been significantly reduced by the entry into service in recent years of ships which use dieso and replace other vessels dependent on furnace fuel oil. Furthermore, Defence is recognised as an essential user of fuel oils by the Commonwealth and State emergency fuel allocation organisations. Arrangements with these organisations have been made to ensure that a continued supply of fuel would be available for Defence purposes in emergency circumstances. Should an international oil crisis occur, the International Energy Agency of which Australia is a member would arrange distribution of available oil supplies between member nations. In view of this, the effect on Australia's defence forces of interruption to Australia's overseas oil supplies would not be great, even if oil supplies were to be cut off totally and for an extended period.

(8) No.