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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2256


Senator MacGIBBON(5.03) —I move:

That the Senate condemns the Hawke socialist Government for its negligence in opening up the north of Australia to drug runners, illegal migrants, clam poachers and other illegal fishermen, foot and mouth and other exotic animal diseases, and persons and agents with interests contrary to the national well being, by the significant downgrading of capabilities inherent in their new surveillance programs.

I have moved that motion because of the significant downgrading inherent in the proposed new arrangements for coastal surveillance. Across the whole of the north of Australia-in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and particularly the northern half of Queensland-this is a matter of acute political interest. People there realise that we have neither the defence capability that we need from the Services nor the surveillance the country must have to provide the protection from a civilian point of view. They are also aware that the new Beazley report of the Labor Government makes a poor position significantly worse . If this is the way the Government is going to interpret the needs of the north of Australia and as a result the need for protection of the whole of Australia, we face a very bleak future. It is time someone spoke up about the shortcomings and the wilful neglect that is apparent in the present scheme.

The history of all this turns on a document called 'A Review of Australia's Peacetime Coastal Surveillance and Protection Arrangements', commissioned by the Minister for Aviation, Mr Kim Beazley. That report was presented some months ago , and I want to quote one of the significant points it makes right at the outset of the recommendations. The point that concerns me, probably above all else, is drug entry and the way that the new recommendations effectively do nothing at all to control drug entry through the north of Australia. Towards the end of paragraph 3 of the recommendations, the Minister says:

Although it is not possible to be conclusive, I judge that operations to counter drug smuggling will in the future need to concentrate more effort in northern Australia.

Paragraph 4 states:

I recommend that the national surveillance effort in future give more attention to assisting in activities relating to the prevention of the illegal entry of narcotics.

There is no doubt in the Minister's mind, because of the prominence and pre- eminence of the drug entry business, that that is his principal concern-not his only concern, but the major one-expressed in the report. When the report was tabled in the Parliament by the Special Minister of State, Mr Young, he said, in the leading part of his tabling statement:

In particular, the review also found that greater efforts probably need to be made in northern Australian to counter drug smuggling.

So there was no doubt in the mind of the Special Minister of State that the drug problem was a major one. A couple of weeks ago Mr Young was in Cairns and I happened to be there at the same time. I was driving around town and I repeatedly heard radio interviews with Mr Young. He was telling the story that the Australian Federal Police were getting better and better at the major points of entry of drugs in the south of Australia, such as the airports of Sydney and Melbourne. He said that in recent weeks they had had a lot of success and that people had been arrested carrying a total of 40 kilograms of heroin. That is very praiseworthy and commendable. He went on to say that as the Federal Police got better and better at the main points of entry in the south, the importance of the alternative entry for drug runners through northern Queensland and northern Australia would increase. I accept the logic of that; I think everyone does. But if the Government believed in that, how can it come up with a report such as this which does nothing to control the entry of drugs-narcotics-through the northern part of Australia.

Traditionally it has been easier for drugs to come in with a passenger on an aircraft, and to the best of our knowledge most of the drug traffic coming into Australia does come in principally through Sydney and also Melbourne, Adelaide and our other international airports. Some drugs come in by sea, but we are led to believe that the majority comes in through the south because of its large volume of passenger and freight traffic, which provides an effective camouflage. However, entry through the north is easy and at present is unpoliced. Obviously drugs coming in through the north will come in mainly by air. It is possible to bring drugs in by sea but the sea trade lacks flexibility and is far more restricted than air traffic. Passenger ships or freighters follow set routes, which means that they do not have the frequency and variability that are available to air traffic. Private ships and launches do not have the speed, range or flexibility that an aircraft has. So in considering the entry of drugs through the north of Australia we are mainly looking at aircraft as the vector to bring them in.

The only way we will find aircraft coming in to northern Australia, or coming in anywhere where there are vast distances and we cannot have people visually observing them, is through the use of radar. This report does nothing at all to address this fundamental defect in respect of the drug trade. Ground radar is no good because it has a radius of only about 20 nautical miles at sea level for a low flying aircraft. As we have about 2,000 miles of coastline, it is financially beyond us to dot every part of the coast with ground-borne radar. So the only way we can look at what is going on in that area is through the use of airborne early warning aircraft. This is a matter involving not only protection from drugs but also the protection of the nation from a defence point of view.

Let us consider briefly the history of surveillance in the north. In 1975 there was the first specific tasking on surveillance of the Australian defence forces through one of their arms. That was in relation to the flights out of Broome to survey the Indonesian fishermen fishing the trochus. The first regular flights were introduced through the 1970s by the previous Government. Several points ought to be made about the schemes introduced by the former Government. The first is that they were experimental and introductory. We never believed that they were the final word. We believed that they had to be refined and developed in the light of the experience we gained from operating those schemes.

The second point to be made is that because they were introductory schemes they were plagued by delays with respect to equipment and getting some of the contractors who were awarded tender contracts actually into the air. But the point is that it is no argument for the Labor Party to say that the previous schemes were ineffective, as some members of it do, although to give credit to the Minister, he recognises in his report that the surveillance schemes we put in place were of value and needed to be improved. The tragedy is that his report degrades them, and does so significantly.

From an intelligence gathering point of view, surveillance tasks have three broad components. There is the survey of the water, the survey of the beach and the survey of the air space. Since we have an extended economic zone which goes out for 200 nautical miles from the beach, we have the consequence that fishing fleets operate legally under licence in it. Because we are charging them licence fees we have an obligation to know who is there and to know that there are no illegal fishermen there. Of course, the popular illegal fishermen from a publicity point of view have been the Taiwanese clam fishers taking resources from the reef. The way we monitor the 200-mile nautical zone has been through the Royal Australian Air Force with the long range maritime patrol squadrons 10 and 11 operating with P3 Orions. The operational experience we have had from those over what now must be close to eight years, is excellent. They have performed a great task.

The problem is that the maritime reconnaissance squadrons have to fulfil other tasks. They are responsible for maritime surveillance in association with our ANZUS partners for quite a large part of this part of the world. Last year, they flew nearly 1,500 hours on fishery patrols. In the report that has come before us the Department has requested a tasking of 2,000 hours from the Air Force. The Air Force has said that it cannot provide more than 1,200 hours. The reason it cannot provide more than 1,200 hours is interesting. It cannot do so because the Royal Australian Navy has lost its fixed wing component so the Air Force has to take over their roles from a training point of view and from an exercise point of view.

With the Budget cuts that this Government has introduced, even though it has increased the amount of money allocated to defence, it is a cynical exercise for it to say that that has led to a net increase for the Services because we are locked into increasing capital expenditure for some years to come. The actual money that can be put to operations and training is restricted. This is no more glaringly demonstrated than with the Orions. We have two squadrons each of 12 aircraft, yet we have six crews in each squadron. This is a very anomalous situation. We should have something like 14 or 16 crews in each squadron in a peacetime situation. Due to the lack of funds there is not much hope of increasing the numbers of those crews. May be we will get them up to 7 crews per squadron in the next 12 to 18 months, but that is inadequate. The Air Force or the Defence Department needs more money to fulfil that maritime surveillance role.

In association with the Air Force on the maritime surveillance part of the fishing zone the RAN provide a very valuable service with patrol boats. The patrol boats are doing two things: Surveillance and the actual apprehension of illegal fishermen and poachers in the area. But there again they are caught by a shortage of defence funds in a variety of ways. The charting system for the north of Australia is hopelessly inadequate. At the present rate of progress it will be something like 50 years before the charts are brought up to an adequate standard. They are caught because there are not enough funds for boats. We need at least twice the number of patrol boats we have stationed at Cairns and Darwin to patrol that sector which is about 2,000 miles. Above all, we need something to increase the manpower of the Navy. I was in Darwin with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in the earlier part of this year. I forget the exact figure we were given there, but the crews of those patrol boats, some of whom are married men, spend something in excess of 40 weekends a year at sea. The task that they are performing for the country is enormous if we consider the effect of that on their personal lives. That could be ameliorated if we had slip crews and some more money to put people in the Navy. The solution to the maritime patrol of the 200-mile zone is not, as the Minister says, to cut down the Air Force flights and keep the Navy as it is; it is to give the Air Force and the Navy more money so that they can carry out that essential task.

The second component of surveillance is the actual beach itself-I refer to the littoral patrols. The beach is important to us because it is over the beach that people come, fishermen and other illegal migrants, bringing exotic diseases that will have a major impact. Such diseases include foot and mouth disease which would affect our cattle industry, screw-worm fly from New Guinea, the whole range of pig diseases and swine diseases that we do not have but that would be disastrous for primary industry in this country if they were introduced and, of course, rabies. Rabies is endemic in Indonesia. If it came into Australia we would have an enormous problem. It would spread through the feral population and then the domestic population.

Secondary, of course, to these exotic animal diseases is the problem of illegal migration. In my view, the system that operated previously of civil contractors flying the littoral patrols was a poor system, but it was better than none at all. It essentially turned on light twin aircraft flying up and down the beach with an observer looking out the window. The aircraft flew on predicted tracks at predicted times and sometimes the observers were not too well trained and were not too observant. One of the shortcomings of it was that there was no night surveillance and, of course, there was no all weather surveillance. If I was coming into this country as an illegal migrant I would make it my business to come in at night, not in broad daylight.

One of the odd things of Australian parliamentary ministerial arrangements is that the Department of Health has responsibility for quarantine. Therefore, control measures against exotic diseases reside with the Department of Health. As part of the Beazley report the Department of Health was asked to report on the effectiveness of the littoral flights. Strange to say, although the report is a very voluminous report, about an inch thick, and many of the contributors to the inquiry are listed in the appendices, the report of the Department of Health does not appear. We do not know what was said in that Department of Health report. We know that its conclusions were that the littoral flights should be reduced, but the reasons why they should be reduced are not attributed . I think it is a pretty fair assumption that the Department of Health, which also looks after hospitals and medical care in general, being in a very embarrassed position over funds, was told by the Minister to chop all extraneous expenses. On that basis the littoral flights were cancelled.

There is no definition in the report as to what level of patrol activity will be done on littoral flying. We are led to the belief that it will be a very irregular exercise. Without being humorous about it the point has been made that we will not be able to predict when they will operate up the beach because they will probably never be there. The solution to that is to upgrade the equipment beyond the standard of that which was used before so that it would have an all weather capability and could operate in bad weather and at night. The upgrading would require an adequate range of sensors in the aircraft and a higher level of professionalism in the crews.

Finally, we come to the third component which is surveillance against airborne entry. This country must buy as a matter of urgency some airborne early warning aircraft. We have about 2,000 miles of coastline to survey and we have no way of knowing who is flying into or out of the country. I have been flying for over 20 years now. Over that period I have heard stories of the illegal entry of aircraft and unidentified aircraft. Other pilots have seen them. Those stories are legion and I am still hearing them. I believe some of them are exaggerated, but there is no doubt at all in my mind that both civilian and military traffic overfly the Australian coastline and the authorities know nothing about it. I think that is a very dangerous situation. It goes far beyond the control of drug entry. It relates to the effectiveness of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. We can have the best Services in the world, but if we do not know what is going on we cannot concentrate our forces against the threat.

Any airborne early warning capability is extremely expensive. The ideal aircraft for this is the Boeing E3A, but to buy four, which would be the minimal number required, and to set the whole thing up would probably cost in the order of $1.2m. The only other aircraft that is available at present is the Grumman E2C which is an old United States Navy aircraft. The problem from our point of view is that it is a short range aircraft. It has an endurance of about three or four hours. There are proposals in hand that Lockheed will put the Grumman electronics into a P3C, which is a very attractive option for Australia if it ever comes on the market. We already have those aircraft in our inventory and the maintenance of them would be no new burden to us. The capital cost would be very much less than the bigger Boeings. We must have this airborne early warning capability because without it we simply do not know who is coming and going in the Australian air space. Those are the three primary tasks with respect to surveillance.

Before I go on to consider how we control and regulate the system, I want to deal with a peripheral matter which came up-I will be talking on it later-before the Estimates committees, that is, the peculiar business of the sole remaining contractor in coastal surveillance-the operation of Shrike Commanders by Skywest Airlines Pty Ltd with sidelooking radar. This has been a matter of considerable interest and some obscurity to me. Eventually I managed to get the paper on which the Department formed some of its views. It turns out that an Ericsson SLAR radar will go into these aircraft. This is a very odd procedure. In Australia we developed the Litton radar Search master in the Nomad. That was an excellent radar surveillance system for the type of low level surveillance carried out on coastal waters of the Great Barrier Reef and around the Gulf. It is probably the best system in the world. It is an expensive system. Three aircraft in Australia have been fitted, developed and qualified with this system . Because Skywest operates Shrike Commanders we have the proposition that the Ericsson sideways looking radar is the fit that will go into them.

Maritime radar is different from land radar. The basic difference is that maritime radar deals with a moving background. The returns of the radar signal vary according to the state of the sea. The trick of getting the thing to work properly is having a computer on board with a well developed software program so that one can filter out the returns from the sea state. Since the sea state is variable, depending on the weather, a very sophisticated software program is necessary to filter it out so that the target on the water can be found. That is really what it is all about. In relation to the operation on the Barrier Reef we operate at relatively low levels, 1,500 to 2,000 feet. We do not need a powerful radar set. It is no good having something that will put out a signal and get a return from 200 nautical miles. We are looking at a radar horizon of probably about 50 to 60 nautical miles. The set can be quite simple from a signal point of view. It is the signal processing that is the key to it. The Litton 360 radar scanned the whole horizon so one knew what was going on all around. The sideways looking radar means that one will be able only to survey either side of the track of the aircraft. One will not know what is ahead and what is underneath. How narrow is the path underneath depends on the antenna design but obviously there will be a neutral zone underneath when no one will know what is going on.

Why are we doing this? Why cannot Skywest acquire the aircraft that are fitted up which we know will do the job? I must say, having read the Ericsson technical paper on it, that it is very deficient on performance details. One has no idea how effective this set is. There is no real description of centres of discrimination-in other words, what size object can be picked up with reference to sea states that might exist. The presumption one makes is that it is not a very good radar at all. I do not think that it would be anywhere near comparable with the Litton set that we had. I will deal with another problem concerning the radar set later on tonight when the Senate considers the Estimates.

The major point, apart from that of intelligence gathering, is the matter of command and control. The Government is to be commended on its report in that at last it has put one centralised command structure in place. We had a variety of people in on the act before and that was very unsatisfactory. The general command and control situation proposed here is excellent with respect to centralised command and regional coastal protection units. I wish to challenge the report on its finding that there was no place for Services control of coastal surveillance. We are dependent on intelligence inputs and they come from many sources. We have to have an assessment of that intelligence and we require apprehension of transgressors. There is a function in that clearly for both the civil and Services sectors. I would put the case that the Services sector should predominate. The problems from a Services point of view rest on two factors: Firstly, the money to enable the Services to fulfil this function and, secondly, the problem of the powers of arrest. I want to develop those two things in some detail.

Unless the Services get into a dominant role in coastal surveillance there will be horrendously expensive duplication. The Services must know what is going on on the water and in the airspace of the coast. Therefore, money will be required in any case. The Services have not been too keen to take on this coastal surveillance function. Their recommendations have reflected this. The true reason is that they see themselves as being assigned to this task without getting money for the extra functions involved. If we provide that money-we will have to provide it in any case-I think we will get over that problem.

The Services require the right sort of equipment for both marine and air tasks. They need something less sophisticated than the P3C Orion, but they do need something that is useful in all weathers. They need something to fulfil this task in a wartime role, because if we are at war the Services will still have to fulfil this surveillance function. The level of equipment they need will be above what is presently used by the civilian contractors, but that can be a dimension less than a P3C and still be more operationally effective than what we are using at present. The advantages the Services offer are: A higher level of professional skill and training and a higher level of security than we can get from civil contractors.

I have never heard a whisper let alone known of a case about the civilian crews being got at in any way at all, but obviously the opportunity is greater for civilian crews than it is for service crews. The advantages for the service personnel are: Firstly, they gain knowledge of an area in which they may have to work in a time of threat and war-they would know the northern approaches to Australia-and, secondly, it is good on-the-job training not only in sea time and flying time but also in command experience for junior leaders.

I believe that the predominant role in coastal surveillance should be vested in the Services, with the civilian assets, both from the surveillance point of view and in some cases with powers of arrest, added in a minor way. I find the argument in the report against the Services case is totally unconvincing.

The final point I want to talk about here is the matter of arrest, which seems to get out of all proportion when we discuss it. I know the legislation is a little obscure with respect to aid to a civil power, but let us just look at the practical circumstances. With respect to the Air Force, the final arrest can never be made by the Air Force crew flying an aircraft; it must always be made by the civil police when the aircraft has landed. With respect to ships in a maritime environment, there may well be a case where the RAN may be involved, but there is also a case there where the civilian elements through fisheries patrol vessels could be the arresting authorities.

Land parties-people coming over the beaches-would almost be a matter for the civilian police. So I do not see that the question of the power of arrest is a relevant let alone a dominant factor against the Services being involved in the primary role of intelligence gathering, communication, the assessment of that intelligence and, in the relevant cases, the apprehension.

The proposed system of the Labor Government is a marked regression on the capabilities we had before. I believe the dangers Australia is exposed to as a result of this half-baked scheme are enormous. Without being unkind, this is a cynical exercise that was set up purely to save the Government money. The Government is not concerned about knowing what is going on off the north coast of Australia. The Government is not concerned about the illegal entry of migrants. The Government is not concerned about drug runners. I find the statements of the Ministers involved, principally the Minister for Aviation and the Special Minister of State, are a gross misrepresentation of the true position, and this is why I raised this matter today as a matter of great importance.

Debate (on motion by Senator Robertson) adjourned.