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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2273

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(9.15) —I think we can gather from all that that Senator Kilgariff did not like very much the person who was answering on behalf of the Royal Australian Air Force.

Senator Kilgariff —I think he should be given the arse.

Senator GRIMES —That is not very nice. He did not like very much the person who was giving the answers on behalf of the RAAF at the Estimates Committee. I do not think we can get much more from it because in all that we have just heard from Senator Kilgariff in the last 12 minutes we got no facts, no figures and no assertions backed by facts, although they were probably fuelled by something like avgas. What happened was that Senator Kilgariff apparently asked some questions and did not like the demeanour of the fellow, the way he combed his hair, or something like that. For the last 12 minutes he made assertions about the RAAF and about the person who gave the answers. He has produced no facts, no figures, nothing. He has talked about Cam Ranh Bay and what he saw when he was there. He talked about what he thinks are the problems in the north. We even went back to the Japanese raids on Darwin, but we had no facts and no figures. This is supposed to be an examination of the Estimates. All right, I will give the honourable senator some facts.

A quorum having been called and the bells being rung-

Senator Grimes —Senator Jessop, why don't you go back and represent your friends in Pretoria?

Senator MacGibbon —Withdraw that.

Senator Grimes —I will talk about whom you represent. You would never pass a security check in this country. (Quorum formed)

Senator GRIMES —I thank Senator Jessop for calling the quorum.

Senator Townley —Mr Chairman, I raise a point of order. When the bells were ringing the Minister made statements about a couple of my colleagues that I think should be withdrawn. The fact that they were made during a quorum call has nothing to do with the matter. I think both comments were below the dignity of this place and should be withdrawn. One was about Senator Jessop and one was about Senator MacGibbon.

The CHAIRMAN —I think the Minister should expedite things and withdraw both remarks.

Senator GRIMES —I withdraw. I thank Senator Jessop for calling the quorum because I have now managed to look at the section of Hansard that Senator Kilgariff complains about. It is not hard to read as it is only about half a page. It is on page 221 of the Senate Estimates Committee E Hansard of 18 April 1985. I suggest that everyone read that. In fact I might suggest that it be incorporated because I cannot remember reading less benign or more respectful answers in any Senate Estimates Committee. I think Senator Kilgariff is having difficulty with his memory. I point out to him that all those answers are very sober and grave answers and display nothing like the sort of performance we have had here tonight.

Let us deal with some facts. The average age of fighter pilots in the RAAF is 26 1/2 years. I assure Senator Kilgariff that he is right on one thing: Every day those pilots are getting older. Every hour of the day they are getting older, but the average age is 26 1/2 years. If that is a geriatric fighter pilot force I am surprised.

Senator Kilgariff —No, Minister, you are wrong.

Senator GRIMES —Do not tell me I am wrong. That is a fact. If you have any evidence to show that those statements are wrong you should say so. Tonight you have not produced one drop of evidence.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! Senator Grimes should speak through the Chair.

Senator GRIMES —Mr Chairman, I am sorry, I should speak through the Chair. If Senator Kilgariff has any evidence for the assertions he has made he should produce it. Like people do so often in this place, he has made assertions without producing one skerrick of evidence.

I have some other facts. For a number of reasons there was a slight reduction in the number of pilots in fighter squadrons at the time of which Senator Kilgariff was talking. One reason was the training requirements associated with the introduction of the FA18s. Since July 1984 seven pilots have been in the United States of America undergoing flying training in the FA18s. I understand from what Senator MacGibbon said yesterday-he is always an expert on this matter-they did pretty well. This effectively reduced the manning level of the Mirage squadrons. At the time steps were taken to correct this deficiency by increasing the training rates of fighter pilots. Flying hours in the financial year 1984-85 were increased above the level of flying hours approved in 1983-84. This allocation was sufficient for Mirage pilots to maintain operational currency. Compared to 1983-84, total flying hours in 1984-85 have increased by an average of about 8 per cent. While there has been some variation in the rate of those increased hours for individual categories of aircraft, hours for all categories of aircraft have been increased.

I urge honourable senators to read the Hansard that Senator Kilgariff complains about. I urge them to look at the dead straight answers he was given. I urge them to look at the Hansard of his speech tonight, particularly when he said that the replies were all gobbledegook. I ask honourable senators to compare those answers with the speech Senator Kilgariff made tonight. I ask them to search through Senator Kilgariff's 12-minute speech tonight, when he made assertions about the RAAF and its our pilots, to find out whether in that speech there was one skerrick of evidence to back up his assertions.

I said earlier tonight in response to Senator Rae that Minister, whether they are Labor Ministers or whether, in those terrible days in the past, they were Liberal-National Party Ministers, have to back the assertions they make. They have to produce evidence in writing from the Department. People like Senator Kilgariff, and Senator MacGibbon for that matter, can talk about pilot's ages increasing incredibly, planes being non-operational or a lack of defence in the north; they can make assertions about whether our Orions are flying and whether our pilots are getting enough flying hours; but they never produce any evidence. I suggest that most of Senator Kilgariff's evidence comes from what happens after 9 o'clock in the local Returned Services League Club in Alice Springs. That is where he gets all his evidence. That is the sort of evidence he gets. It is fuelled, as I said, by something akin to avgas. Do we have to put up with this sort of nonsense?

Senator Jessop —Mr Chairman, I take a point of order. I think the Minister is getting carried away with the debate. He cast aspersions, not only on Senator Kilgariff, my colleague, but also on the ex-servicemen who inhabit the Northern Territory.

Senator GRIMES —No, no, no.

Senator Jessop —The Minister should explain himself and I may be tolerant with him.

Senator GRIMES —I said that I suspect that most of Senator Kilgariff's evidence comes from the RSL Club in Alice Springs, not from active servicemen. I was referring to the old diggers in the RSL Club about whom we all know. They go into the Alice Springs equivalent of the non-members bar. They have great stories.

Senator Jessop —Mr Chairman, I find those remarks offensive. When the Minister refers to the RSL in the way he has I think he casts aspersions on soldiers who have served Australia well in the past. It was an undignified statement by the Minister and I ask him to withdraw it.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The remark may have been undignified but it was not against the Standing Orders.

Senator GRIMES —I have answer Senator Kilgariff's assertions as much as I could understand them. I notice that he has disappeared from this chamber. He is obviously not interested in answers; he was just interested in making assertions. I have done my darg with the Department of Defence tonight, and the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), who represents the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley), has arrived from his pressing appointment. I have done the best by Senator Kilgariff. I hope he does the best by the Senate. If he wishes to seek further information I think his questions should be put on notice. I hand over to my colleage, Senator Evans.