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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21511

Mrs MOYLAN (4:43 PM) —On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, I present the 11th report for 2003 of the committee relating to RAAF Base Richmond Reinvestment Project, Richmond, NSW.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mrs MOYLAN —by leave—Medium-term investment in facilities at RAAF Base Richmond is required in order to maintain operational capability until 2010, or until the long-term future of the base is decided. The estimated cost of the project is $35 million.

It is proposed that the reinvestment project will address critical shortcomings in the facilities and infrastructure supporting current capability, such as engineering services and working and training accommodation. The proposed works comprise: the construction of a new combined headquarters complex for No. 36 and No. 37 Squadrons; the construction of a new, purpose-designed Mechanical Equipment Operation and Maintenance Section facility; the construction of an extension to the east side of the No. 33 Squadron hangar; an upgrade of works to No. 36 and No. 37 Squadron hangars and workshops; an upgrade and rationalisation of high-voltage electricity reticulation; the construction of new ablution facilities to service the western portion of the base; and an upgrade and repair of the stormwater drainage system. Having inspected the facilities to be addressed under the works proposal, the committee wished to ensure that occupational health and safety issues and, particularly, fire safety measures of an appropriate standard would be met across the entire base. The Department of Defence told the committee that present funding ensures that these standards are met throughout the base.

Members had concerns about the comfort and amenity of personnel. The committee noted that, in some instances, work areas and associated ablutions or meals areas are to be located in separate buildings. The Department of Defence responded that separate ablutions blocks were common throughout the base as co-location can pose contamination risks. The committee recommends that, in order to improve the comfort and amenity of personnel, a covered walkway be provided between the existing fuel-testing laboratory and the office building to be constructed under the reinvestment proposal. Given the ageing facilities at the base, the committee wanted to know whether existing services infrastructure would have the capacity to support the proposed development. The Department of Defence emphasised that the proposed work is intended to replace or refurbish existing facilities and no additional load on services is anticipated.

The committee questioned the Department of Defence on two environmental issues. The Department of Defence submission mentioned that some structures on the base contain asbestos. The committee was concerned that personnel could come into contact with harmful material. The Department of Defence assured the committee that it has a range of procedures in place to prevent contact with any harmful material and conducts regular audits. The committee also inquired if there had been any chemical spillages at the base affecting the local stormwater system. The Department of Defence told the committee that incidents had occurred but were contained by existing procedures.

According to the Australian Heritage Commission, the proposed works will require the demolition of some heritage listed Bellman hangars. The Department of Defence informed the committee that negotiations will continue with the Australian Heritage Commission on this matter. Recognising the base's importance to the local economy, the Department of Defence expressed its commitment to promoting opportunities for business in the Hawkesbury region. This was welcomed by the member for Macquarie, who took a particular interest in the proceedings of this hearing. The department will divide the project into several parts and conduct briefings on the tendering process to assist local enterprises to bid successfully for works packages.

While not within the scope of the current proposal, it was brought to the committee's attention by the member for Macquarie that the living-in accommodation at RAAF Base Richmond requires refurbishment. The committee was therefore interested to learn more about the Department of Defence's plans to address deficiencies in this area. The department explained that, while there are no immediate plans for refurbishment, a current study is investigating priorities for defence accommodation Australia wide. This base has provided a very important service, particularly during difficulties in the Asia-Pacific region in recent times—and further afield.

Finally, several witnesses raised the issue of the future of the RAAF Base Richmond, given its strategic role in recent times. The committee recommends that a decision on the long-term future of RAAF Base Richmond be made as soon as possible to ensure the most effective use of public funds. Having inspected the base, it is apparent to the committee that the upgrade of the facilities at RAAF Base Richmond is essential to maintain operational capability and provide an appropriate working environment for base personnel. The committee therefore recommends that the proposed RAAF Base Richmond Reinvestment Project at Richmond proceed, at an estimated cost of $35 million.

I wish to thank many people, including Wing Commander Knight; the member for Macquarie, for his interest and submission; the Hawkesbury Economic Development Advisory Committee; GROW Employment Council Inc.; and the Mayor of Hawkesbury City Council, all of whom took a particular interest in this project and recognised its importance to the region. I also thank committee members for their cooperation and assistance, and the secretariat and staff. I commend the report to the House.