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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4994

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:01 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence. Can the minister confirm that Lockheed Martin are proposing that a single support centre be established in the Pacific, possibly in Japan, which would be responsible for servicing all joint strike fighters in the region? Was the minister aware of this proposal when he announced that Australia would join the JSF program? Won't this proposal mean Australia's own joint strike fighters would have to go overseas for their deep maintenance and upgrades? Can the minister guarantee that we will not buy an aircraft that requires its servicing to be done overseas?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I am certainly not expecting Australia's joint strike fighters, if in the event we purchase them, to be serviced overseas. It is important that we are able to service and maintain our own aircraft.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I would appreciate it if the minister could actually take the substance of that on notice and get back to me, because he did not seem to be aware of it. That is certainly a proposal that has been put to me. I would also ask: is the minister aware of recent reports that the JSF may be delayed by two years because of a $2.5 billion cost blow-out in the budget for the project? What does that mean in respect of the implications for Australia with its current fleet of F111s and F18s struggling to remain in operation until 2012? Doesn't that also raise serious concerns about the cost of the aircraft? Has the minister got any idea what the cost of this project will be to the Australian taxpayer?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —As a matter of interest, Japan is not even a partner in the design and development phase of the JSF, so it is not in a position to tender for work at this time. Apart from that, this is an aircraft that has been costed, I would fairly say, more carefully than others in the past because it is so important to the US Air Force, apart from others. They are going to have to acquire a very large number of these aircraft and they are going to have to acquire them within a very strict time frame. That gives us significant confidence that the pricing will be controlled and also that the aircraft will be available within the delivery period as is currently envisaged.