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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2390

Senator MacGIBBON(4.08) — I think we can understand only that the Department has decided to discount completely, or almost completely, the value of radar surveillance and go back to visual observation of the Great Barrier Reef and other other areas where they wish to use these aircraft. The advantage of radar equipment is that one can see in all weather and one can see beyond visual range, even operating at low altitudes, as is done on the Reef, of 1,500 to 2,000 feet. Looking at the paper of Ericsson's on the particular SLAR kit that is proposed here, I would imagine that there is probably a radar horizon out to about 60 nautical miles either side of the track flown by the aircraft at 2,000 feet. Even with the brilliant facilities the Attorney-General has, I do not think his eyeballs would run out to 60 nautical miles either side of the track. The other important thing is that this is a sideways-looking radar. There is no surveillance of what is ahead.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Chairman, I take a point of order. I do not want to interrupt the flow. However, we can have these sorts of comparative discussions about the value of different kinds of equipment supplied in different ways, but might I suggest that this kind of discussion, largely philosophical in character , is not strictly pertinent to what an Estimates discussion ought to be about. There are questions as to the appropriateness of expenditure, I acknowledge, and it might be argued that some expenditure is more cost effective than others, but this sort of endless argument about matters of detail in circumstances where there does not appear to be any challenge any longer to the Government's bona fides in reaching the decision that it did seems to me to be beyond the proper scope of this kind of debate.

The CHAIRMAN —Senator MacGibbon is entitled to raise alternative ways of spending the money, and presumably ways of saving it, and I have to rule that he is in order.

Senator MacGIBBON —Mr Chairman, I have a very genuine interest in whether this equipment is going to work at all. Secondarily to that, I want to know whether it is the most cost effective use of the taxpayers' funds. I will move away from the technical performance of that radar and-

Senator Durack —I think we need to know more about it.

Senator MacGIBBON —I just want to go on to a different point, other than the operational performance. I want to know what assessment the Department has made of the performance of the Shrike Commander aircraft when the Ericsson radar set is installed and the crews and the rest of the supporting equipment are installed. I do that because the Shrike Commander in Australia is a very odd aircraft. In the whole of the world the Shrike Commander is certified to operate at a maximum take-off weight of 6,750 lbs. Through an aberration that I do not understand, years ago, when the Shrike Commander was introduced into Australia, it was certified for Australian use at 7,150 lbs under instrument flight rules conditions for a maximum take-off weight and 7,400 lbs in the visual flight rules role. That is a difference of about 650 lbs, which is a very big increment in the maximum take-off weight for a light twin-engined aircraft of that nature. I would like to know, when this aircraft is fitted out with this Ericsson set, with a crew on board and with the adequate fuel reserves and instrumentation, whether it will attain the climb gradient in the single engined operation phase that is demanded by the Department of Aviation, and whether the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) took steps to establish that that was so. Unless that is so we are going to lose the aircraft when it loses an engine. I remind the Attorney that some while ago a Nomad B Searchmaster of Air Queensland lost an engine at low level while investigating a trawler at near maximum all-up weight. It climbed back to a safe altitude and returned to its base without any problem at all. I have a genuine concern that this aeroplane will not perform in the role that is intended in the engine-out situation.