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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3248

Mr SINCLAIR —I ask a question of the Minister for Defence. In light of his decision to scrap the Skyhawk fighters and the Tracker aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm and the announcement this week that the Wessex helicopters are to be grounded as a result of the tragic accident in Bass Strait, will he ensure that every possible priority is given to the replacement of the Wessex to ensure that the Fleet Air Arm under his administration does not suffer yet another aircraft shortfall because of his own inactivities?

Mr SCHOLES —It is an interesting question. The Wessex are 21 years old. They were 14 years old when the former Government came into office which would seem to indicate that some progress ought to have been made by now towards their replacement. Certainly the tragic accident involving the Wessex helicopter in Bass Strait has necessitated the grounding of all our Wessex helicopters. This is normal procedure after an accident, pending investigation of the cause. Since the Wessex helicopters came into service ten have been lost, eight of those through various forms of engine failure. This rate of attrition is partly due to the fact that they are single engined helicopters. If they are over water and suffer a serious engine problem it is obvious that they will end up in the water . However, this is the first occasion on which there has been loss of life.

The former Minister will be well aware that the Royal Australian Navy currently has helicopter programs under consideration. The program for acquisition of a helicopter for the FFG is at the stage of final definition, with two helicopters having recently been announced as short listed contenders. It is anticipated that the choice of helicopter will be made in the very near future and contract negotiations will then start. This Government, on coming to office, was faced with the sharp reality that a good deal of the equipment which the Australian defence forces are operating is well beyond its reasonable life and that little progress has been made towards its replacement. This Government will move towards replacement of obsolete equipment as soon as is practicable and within the funds available.

Mr Sinclair —That is why you cut it back by $160m!

Mr SCHOLES —The honourable gentleman may say what he wishes. The facts are that whilst honourable gentlemen opposite are great at talking about defence, they have a very poor record of performance.