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Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Page: 104

Senator Allison asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 28 July 2004:

With reference to the use of live munitions in military exercises and the effects this may have on the marine environment:

(1) Does the Minister consult with the Minister for the Environment and Heritage on plans for military activities and strategic exercises where live munitions are to be used in the Australian marine environment.

(2) What assessment has been made of the effects of explosive ordnance on marine wildlife.

(3) Can details be provided of the safety margins required (that is, distance in relation to size of explosives) for marine mammals, turtles, fish and seabed ecosystems including coral reefs and seagrass beds.

(4) Will military exercises using explosive ordnance be conducted within the range that is unsafe for marine mammals, turtles, fish and seabed ecosystems: (a) in areas of the Australian marine environment recognised for natural heritage values on the Commonwealth Heritage List; and (b) all other areas of the Australian marine environment.

(5) To what degree do Australia's domestic laws, especially those intended to protect the environment, extend to foreign nationals who participate in military exercises and operations within Australian territories.

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

(1) In accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Defence consults with the Minister for the Environment and Heritage on any activities that have the potential to have a significant impact on the environment.

(2) Defence has developed an environmental management plan for maritime exercise areas, which includes an environmental impact assessment of all Defence activities in the marine environment.

(3) Safety margins vary depending upon the activity and equipment being employed and the sensitivity of the resident species. Any risks to important environmental values, plants or animals have been considered in risk assessments undertaken during the development of the Maritime Exercise Area Environmental Management Plan.

(4) (a) and (b) No. There are no circumstances, except incidentally when engaged in armed conflict, where the Australian Defence Force would deliberately detonate explosive ordnance in a way that intentionally caused harm to marine animals or caused a significant adverse impact on the environment.

(5) Australian domestic law applies to all military exercises within Australian territory including the territorial sea. Accordingly, foreign nationals who participate in such activities must do so in accordance with Australian domestic law.