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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 997

(Question No. 949)

Senator Bolkus asked the Minister representing the Special Minister of State, upon notice, on 6 June 1984:

(1) Were allegations made in November 1979 that drugs were illegally entering Australia through an airstrip on the northern island of the Sir Edward Pellew group of islands in the Northern Territory.

(2) Did such allegations claim that there was an airstrip on this island operating without effective radar cover to enable detection of light aircraft and without facilities for recording details of cargo.

(3) What action was taken subsequent to those allegations to ensure that this avenue was not being used for drug smuggling.

(4) Can the Special Minister of State provide a better response than the one provided by Mr Fife when he was Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs in November 1979.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Special Minister of State has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes, see Hansard, 8 November 1979, pages 2768-9.

(2) Yes.

(3) Since the present Government came to office in 1983, the Hon. Kim C. Beazley, in his role as the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, has reviewed Australia's peacetime coastal surveillance and protection arrangements. His recommendations have been considered by Government which took the unprecedented step of ensuring that one organisation has the overall responsibility for the direction and co-ordination of coastal surveillance, response and enforcement by establishing the Coastal Protection Unit within the Australian Federal Police.

To enable the Unit to meet its responsibilities, the Government has allocated $ 3.634m this financial year. The Unit will establish regional co-ordination centres in Darwin, north Queensland and the north-west of Western Australia in the immediate future. These centres will ensure that the minimum of delay is occasioned in future response and enforcement action arising from surveillance reports. They will have the added advantage of ensuring that all interested authorities are fully aware of activities in their particular areas.

The Coastal Protection Unit will research and evaluate new and projected means of enhancing our overall surveillance capabilities.

I am informed that the limited size and usage of the airstrip in question has not in the past warranted the installation of either on-site radar or Customs inspection facilities, nor does the present level of usage indicate the situation will change in the foreseeable future. Light aircraft carrying spare parts and personnel from the mainland for prawn trawlers are the only measurable air traffic. The islands in question are being subjected to frequent air surveillance flights.

(4) I refer the honourable senator to the response in part (3) above.