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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3219
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Senator Walsh —On 28 March 1984 (Hansard, page 785-6) Senator Archer asked me, as Minister representing the Treasurer, a question without notice concerning arson.

The Treasurer has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator's question:

The Government is aware of reports on United States legislation relating to immunity in regard to arson reporting and to claims that the legislation has contributed to an improvement in the prevention of arson.

I understand that a conference on arson was conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology from 26 to 29 April 1983. The conference was attended by representatives of Commonwealth and State departments, fire services and the insurance industry. I understand that, as a result of a recommendation of the conference, a committee consisting of nominees of the conference participants has been established to consider proposals made by the conference.

Responsibility for criminal matters such as arson is primarily a matter for the States, but the Attorney-General is responsible for the administration of criminal laws in the Australian Capital Territory Arrangements will be made for the United States legislation, and any recommendations that might arise from the conference and the work of the committee mentioned above, to be submitted to the Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General for their consideration.

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Senator Walsh —On 31 May 1984 (Hansard, page 2232) Senator Colston asked me a question without notice concerning the flow through to the retail level of the recent $60 a tonne decrease in the wholesale price of LPG.

I undertook to check with the Treasurer to see if the Prices Surveillance Authority was monitoring retail prices of LPG.

The Prices Surveillance Authority does not maintain surveillance of retail prices of petroleum products including LPG.

The Authority is currently conducting an inquiry into petroleum prices. As part of this inquiry, consideration is being given to the appropriate extent of surveillance of petroleum prices. The Authority is to complete its final report by 25 July 1984.

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Senator Gareth Evans —On 31 May 1984 (Hansard, page 2231) Senator Coleman asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, without notice:

Whether he is aware of recent newspaper reports in the West Australian of the sudden appearance of two groups of three unmarked black helicopters in the skies over Perth?

Is he also aware of the concern expressed some days earlier at the sudden appearance of a Galaxy aircraft, unmarked and in camouflage colours, which appeared to lose power while flying low over the city?

Is it true that the helicopters and the Galaxy belong to the United States Air Force which was participating in a joint Australian-American exercise?

Were the helicopters brought into Australia in the Galaxy and was the Department aware that they would enter the country in this way?

Is it normal practice for the Department to authorise the use of unmarked aircraft on such exercise?

Was there at any time, any danger to the people of Perth?

Would the Minister not agree that a simple press statement to the effect that such an exercise was to take place would have allayed the fears of a number of residents of the Perth and metropolitan area?

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

The aircraft activity referred to related to a combined Australian/United States special forces exercise which was approved by the Minister in January 1984. Although the nature of the training required the use of several US helicopters, the exercise itself was of limited size and scope. It involved only 70 US personnel, including support staff, and elements of the Special Air Service Regiment. Training was restricted to Defence facilities in Western Australia.

The bringing of the US Army helicopters to Australia in a US Air Force Galaxy aircraft was authorised in accordance with the normal procedures for such exercises. The aircraft were not unmarked as stated in the honourable senator's question. Although camouflaged, they carried the normal US military identification markings. All aircraft movements, including transiting, were undertaken in accordance with the appropriate military and civil regulations. Reports that the Galaxy appeared to lose power when over Perth were refuted by a Defence spokesman at the time. The aircraft was on normal approach to RAAF base, Pearce.

By itself, the nature of the exercise was not such that it was considered likely to cause any concern to the people of Perth or to place them in any danger.

A Press release prior to the exercise may have satisfied public curiosity about additional military flying activity in the Perth area.

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Senator Gareth Evans —On 1 June 1984 (Hansard, page 2376) Senator Bolkus asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, without notice:

Has the Minister who represents the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence seen the reports in today's National Times which state that the facilities at Nurrungar and Pine Gap support the United States strategic policy of limited or controlled nuclear war fighting? Is this information accurately based on advice given to the United States Congress by the Pentagon? Does this information contradict the official Australian Government position that the joint facilities are purely defensive, as is evidenced by the advice from the Department of Defence to Prime Minister Whitlam in March 1973? Will the Minister investigate this matter to ascertain who is misleading whom and so that the Australian people can be fully and accurately advised of the functions of these facilities?

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

The honourable senator's attention is drawn to the statement by the Prime Minister tabled in the Senate on 6 June 1984 concerning the general purpose and functions of the Australian/United States joint defence facilities. As the Prime Minister stated, the Government does not intend to comment further upon speculation or assertions about the joint facilities at Pine Gap and Nurrungar

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Senator Gareth Evans —On 12 June 1984 (Hansard, page 2799) Senator Macklin asked me, in my capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, the following question without notice:

My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence concerns a response given by the Minister to my question of 30 May concerning the upgrading of the United States base at Nurrungar. Did the Minister not mislead the Senate by suggesting that my question would be answered by the Prime Minister's statement on United States bases, a statement which in fact contained not one shred of information concerning the upgrading of the Nurrungar base? Can the Minister now answer whether the United States in keeping with a specific obligation, has informed the Australian Government of the $126m upgrading of Nurrungar? If so, has the Government accepted the upgrading and the implications that flow from it? If the United States has not informed Australia, why has it not?

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

In his statement of 6 June 1984 the Prime Minister said of the joint facilities 'All functions and activities require, and have, the full knowledge and concurrence of the Australian Government'. This naturally includes plans for changes at these facilities.

The Government is kept informed and properly consulted about US plans for Nurrungar. Any proposals for changes affecting the functions or purposes of the joint facilities, or any proposals for new construction, would require our prior agreement. It is the Government's policy to publicly announce any significant new construction at joint facilities, normally at the time of the calling of tenders. It is our intention to continue that practice.

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