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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 12779

Mr Edwards asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 23 September 1999:

(1) What has been the cost of the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) since its inception.

(2) How many Special Air Services Regiment (SASR) soldiers have been killed or injured maintaining the unit's operational readiness.

(3) What sum has the Government spent on rehabilitating and deprogramming SASR soldiers as a result of physical or mental disability.

(4) Has the use of gas and pyrotechnics changed since the early operations of the Counter Terrorist Unit; if so, is it due to a high casualty rate.

(5) Was the work considered hazardous; if so, what were the hazards.

(6) Is the CTU considered to be non-operational; if so (a) is the rate of death and serious injury acceptable for a non-operational CTU, and (b) will injured soldiers be eligible to receive appropriate benefits, including a service pension.

Mr Moore (Defence) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

The content of the following response does not include any reference to sensitive classified information. Should the honourable member wish to obtain any further information, a private briefing by Headquarters Special Operations can be arranged through my office.

(1) Costing information regarding the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) is sensitive and cannot be made public.

(2) Since 1980, 20 deaths and approximately 35 serious personal injuries have occurred. Headquarters Special Operations is unable to determine the number of minor injuries or stress related injuries. It is estimated that there are significant numbers of unreported (mostly minor) injuries and stress related illness and injuries that are of a prolonged nature and which are not manifested until middle age or after retirement from the Army.

(3) Under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 the Government provides rehabilitation services to those members of the Australian Defence Force who are injured in compensable circumstances. In 1998/99 $4.05 million was spent on rehabilitation. Information on how much of this amount was spent on SASR soldiers is not available. Systems are being developed which, in the future, will enable attribution of compensation and rehabilitation costs to unit level.

(4) Yes. The use of CS gas and smoke pyrotechnics has been substantially reduced since the early 90's. The reduction in the use of CS gas has been due to a greater awareness of the dangers posed by these substances and as a result of some reported injury/illness.

(5) Yes. Duties in the CTU were considered to be hazardous (along with most other facets of SASR training) and this still remains an area of employment where there is potential for death or injury.

(6) CTU was and still remains categorised as non operational duty. Nevertheless, the capability has always been maintained at an extremely short notice to move. This drives the requirement to incorporate a high level of simulated realism into training activities against potentially hazardous skill sets.

(a) There is no acceptable `rate' of deaths or serious injuries; every effort is made to minimise risks in training.

(b) SASR soldiers receive the same level of benefits and entitlements as other members of the Australian Defence Force.