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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21457

Senator Greig asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 6 February 2004:

(1) Is the Minister aware of concerns expressed by City of Wanneroo residents about the disused Defence firing range, particularly as to the safety of the area bounded by the coast at Two Rocks, south for 2kms, east for 9kms, and north for 4kms.

(2) Can the Minister confirm that: (a) between August 1984 and August 1989, 17 pieces of ordnance were found in this area and, of those, ten could have been dangerous; (b) before this time, some 16 pieces of ordnance were found, of which 11 could have been dangerous.

(3) Can the Minister advise why the Federal Government provided financial and other support to the State Emergency Service to assist it to clean up a similar area of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Warnbro, south of Perth, but not at this location.

(4) Will the Minister provide details of any inspection or clean up that occurred in this area subsequent to 1989, or instances of further discovery of UXO.

(5) Given the considerable urban development in the Yanchep area since 1989, if no such inspection or clean up has occurred, will the Minister now ensure that a full safety and security review of this region is undertaken.

(6) Is the Minister satisfied that the safety of new and incoming residents in the region, especially in the proposed and extensive housing development atop the old firing range, can be guaranteed.

Senator Hill (Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Yes. The concerns of local residents have been brought to my notice and that of my predecessors on a number of occasions. On 15 May 2001, the then-Parliamentary Secretary, the Hon Brendan Nelson MP, met with members of the Yanchep/Two Rocks Progress and Ratepayers Association and similar concerns expressed by residents were addressed at that time.

(2) I cannot confirm that the items of unexploded and malfunctioned explosive ordnance and explosive ordnance wastes were recovered specifically from the area described in question (1). However, I am aware that Defence technical personnel occasionally attend the former Yanchep/Two Rocks range area at the request of the Western Australian Police and either render safe or remove ordnance items.

(3) While decisions to provide Commonwealth funding and personnel support to such operations as that at Warnbro is taken on the merits of each individual case, the Warnbro operation commenced prior to 1989. In that year, the then Prime Minister, the Hon Bob Hawke MP, promulgated the Commonwealth Policy on the Management of Land Affected by Unexploded Ordnance to State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers. The Policy required the Commonwealth to undertake assessment of land known or suspected to be unexploded ordnance-affected and to provide the resulting information to the appropriate State or Territory Government. The assessment of the Yanchep/Two Rocks area identified the likely boundaries of the affected land and also those that were potentially significantly contaminated.

(4) A number of UXO assessment surveys have occurred within the former range area. In 1993-1994, Commonwealth-funded assessment searches were conducted by the Western Australia Fire and Emergency Services Unexploded Ordnance Service (FESA UXO Service) over a proposed development area of between 30-40 hectares to the South of Yanchep township. While no hazardous items were recovered, evidence of ordnance impact was detected. In mid-2000, Western Power Corporation engaged a commercial unexploded ordnance contractor to conduct an assessment of a proposed transmission line from Pinjar Power Station in the southeast to the northern boundary of the former range. The assessment of the 60 metre-wide corridor identified evidence of 25-pounder high explosive ordnance impact on the Eastern slopes of Wabling Hill. A subsequent remediation operation, contracted by Western Power to the FESA UXO Service confirmed the assessment findings, but no items of unexploded ordnance were recovered.

(5) The Commonwealth, in conjunction with the State Government, has taken and will continue to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of the residents and occupants of land in the Yanchep and other similarly affected districts. In accordance with the terms of the Commonwealth Unexploded Ordnance Policy, the Commonwealth is not considered to be responsible for the ongoing effects of unexploded ordnance on land in which it has never had or has disposed of a legal interest. Consequently, the day-to-day management of unexploded ordnance contamination is a matter for State and local authorities. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth will provide ongoing assistance where appropriate. At Yanchep, such assistance includes the provision of advice to the State on likely areas, natures and types of contamination and in the provision of public advice and education initiatives on the hazards posed by unexploded ordnance. It also includes the appropriate action to be taken in the event that an item suspected of being hazardous is found. The Commonwealth, through the Department of Defence, will also remove or render safe such items on discovery. There is no charge for any of these services.

(6) Experts in the field of unexploded ordnance remediation, including the Department of Defence, acknowledge that, regardless of the application of world's best practice, no guarantee can be given that 100% of hazardous items will be detected. Given the measures in place at Yanchep and in other similarly affected areas, I am satisfied that all reasonable measures have been and will continue to be taken to ensure the safety of residents and occupiers of land in such areas.