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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1922

Senator TAMBLING (6.50 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the report.

This document, by the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal L. B. Fisher, is entitled Report on DCAS investigation into allegations against US pilots during Exercise Southern Frontier. I am very pleased with the acknowledgment by Defence in this investigation of the need for a two-way flow of information between the government and the Department of Defence, and the community that is affected by military exercises, in this case with regard to military exercises involving aircraft and noise abatement procedures, particularly in northern Australia.

  This has been a very vexed question in Darwin and northern Australia for some months now. The particular exercise that is referred to in this report was ongoing from February to May and involved the United States marine corps operating a very substantial number of personnel and aircraft in Darwin. In fact, I believe there were 400 marines operating in Darwin at the height of this exercise.

  The issues arose because noise abatement is really a town planning issue in any community and when there is a large number of aircraft the impact of noise abatement has to be acknowledged. This report highlights a number of incidents in which the guidelines were broken or frustrated. The Department of Defence has acknowledged that and has set out a number of procedures that are very important to mitigate and correct that situation in the future.

  I believe there has been no camouflage or any attempt in any way to hide any of the problems that have arisen. Several incidents needed corrective action by Defence mechanisms as did the very general problem of the noise abatement procedures that must be adopted in an important community such as Darwin. The report acknowledges this and gives a series of recommendations that are very important for the future.

  In particular, there is an important acknowledgment of the role that the defence department must play in making information available to the community. That role is important whether it is a public relations exercise associated with a military exercise, or whether it is an ongoing process of informing the community about important economic, social and defence issues.

  My only disappointment is that the report does not acknowledge a number of community issues that I raised in a Senate estimates committee in April and May. The issues that Air Vice Marshal Fisher has picked up through his inquiries and investigations in the community and discussions with politicians and community leaders are acknowledged in the report. But I raised a series of questions in Senate Estimates Committee B which were taken on notice and which also provided important information, some of which is commented on in the report and some of which is not. I seek leave to incorporate those questions and answers.

  Leave granted.

  The questions and answers read as follows




Question 1.

Senator Tambling

In the past five years what studies have been conducted in the Northern Territory under the provisions of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 or other arrangements in respect of:

(a)  Mount Bundey Army Field Training Area;

(b)  RAAF Base Tindal;

(c)  RAAF Base Darwin;

(d)  Delamere Range;

(e)  Waler Barracks;

(f)Combined Forces Exercises (ie Kangaroo Exercises);

(g)  Air exercises;

(h)Other significant projects?


(a)An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) were prepared for the Mt Bundey Training Area and completed in 1992 and 1993 respectively.

(b)An EIS and an EMP were prepared for RAAF Tindal and completed in 1984 and 1987 respectively.

(c)The environmental impact was assessed for the acquisition of a 70 hectare buffer zone known as Marrara Swamp in 1989 and for the replacement of the Airmen's Mess in 1990 at RAAF Base Darwin. The 1987 Noise Exposure Forecast is currently under review.

(d)Delamere Range was addressed in the EIS and EMP prepared for RAAF Tindal.

(e)Waler Barracks is a component of the APIN project (Army Presence in the North). A socio-economic study was conducted and a Notice of Intention (NOI) has been prepared for both Stages 1 and 2 of the APIN project. The Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency did not require further environmental assessment, though EMPs were required for the barracks area incorporating Waler Barracks.

(f)A NOI was prepared for the Kangaroo Exercise 92. No further assessment was required though a post-exercise report was submitted to the then Department of Arts, Sport, Tourism and Territories.

(g)Other than for Kangaroo Exercise 92, no studies have been conducted for air exercises.

(h)Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin were re-developed in 1992. Environmental assessment conducted by Defence determined that the environmental impact was insignificant and no further studies were undertaken.



Question 2

Senator Tambling

Are copies of any EIS, PER or other studies publicly available. If not, what are the reasons for confidentiality?


Except for exemptions provided under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, all Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Management Plans are public documents. Strictly speaking, Notices of Intention are not public documents though they may receive wide review during their preparation.


Question 3.

Senator Tambling

What arrangements, agreements or contracts have been concluded between Australia and any overseas country for the conduct of air exercises in the NT or use of associated defence facilities in the NT? Who has operational control over numbers of aircraft and/or movements, flight paths and breaches of any regulations for noise abatement or other procedures?


Ministerial approval is obtained on a case by case basis for any foreign Military aircraft visiting Australia to participate in exercises with the ADF.

The only concluded arrangement, agreement or contract specifically relating to Darwin is the Third Person Note of 11 March 1982 permitting United States Air Force B52 aircraft and associated tanker aircraft to stage through Darwin airport.

However, Australia has a number of agreements and arrangements of general application which permit, in accordance with their terms, the conduct of air exercises in the Northern Territory or use of associated Defence facilities. These are the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) between the Government of Australia and the Governments of the United States of America and the Republic of Singapore; the Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Australian Air Force and the Republic of Singapore Air Force concerning the Deployment of Republic of Singapore Air Force and Personnel in Australia, which came into effect on 22 October 1992, and the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand concerning Royal New Zealand Air Force M Skyhawk Aircraft Involvement in Australian Defence Force Air Defence Support Flying, entered into force on 13 July 1990.

Numbers of aircraft and movements are negotiated by representatives of the Air Commander Australia and the relevant foreign forces based on the requirements of the exercise.

Comprehensive briefings on local air traffic procedures, including flight paths and noise abatement procedures, are provided by Australian air traffic control authorities prior to commencement of foreign forces operations in Australia.

Any reported breach of agreed air traffic procedures, including noise abatement, is directed to the foreign forces detachment commander.

The detachment commander is responsible for conducting an investigation into any breach, taking corrective or disciplinary action as required and providing reports on significant breaches, through the local Air Headquarters Commander, to the Air Commander Australia.



Question 4.

Senator Tambling

What are the anticipated budgetary items of income and/or expenditure in 1993-94 and 1994-95 for foreign forces air exercises?


Estimated Air Force Program income and expenditure related to foreign forces 1993-94


Air Force Program income received to date during FY 1993-94 at the following RAAF bases was:


Darwin  7.022

Pearce  2.722

Richmond  1.567

Amberley  0.396

Townsville  0.391

Williamtown  0.203

Tindal  0.064

Glenbrook  0.048

Total  12.413

Anticipated additional income during FY 1993-94 is expected to be approximately $3.6m. This includes $2.1m for costs incurred during the recent US Marine Corps deployments and approximately $1.5m for RSAF flying training at Pearce. This will bring total income from foreign forces in Australia to approximately $16.0m for 1993-94.


Air Force Program expenditure incurred to date during FY 1993-94 on behalf of foreign forces is directly related to the income received. The income received from foreign forces is used to pay local suppliers of goods and services under RAAF contracts, to replenish RAAF stores such as fuel which are issued to foreign forces and to offset associated capital equipment purchase and/or lease costs. Expenditure related to foreign forces exercising and training in Australia is expected to be approximately $16.0m in 1993-94.

Estimated Air Force Program income and expenditure related to foreign forces 1994-95

Estimates of the extent of foreign forces exercising in Australia in 1994-95 are not yet complete but are expected to be in the order of that outlined above for 1993-94 i.e. approximately $16.0m.

Senate Estimates Committee B

Pre-Hearing Question Taken on Notice

Question 5

Senator Tambling

What capital works and recurrent expenditure has been undertaken in 1993/94 or is proposed in respect of defence facilities for uses associated with other (non-Australian) forces?


There have been no capital works undertaken in the Northern Territory in 1993-94 nor are any proposed in respect of Defence facilities for uses specifically associated with non-Australian forces.

Works have been undertaken for the establishment of a Flying Training School for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to be located at RAAF Base Pearce in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian and Singaporean Governments. The project is being fully funded by the Government of Singapore.

The Naval Communications Station (NAVCOMSTA) Harold E. Holt at Exmouth, WA is a joint RAN/USN facility managed by the RAN with the operating and maintenance carried out by a contractor, Australian Defence Industries (ADI). Payment of the contract is shared on a user pays basis of approximately 25% RAN/75% USN on the grounds that the RAN uses one, and the USN three, of the four VLF communications channels installed. The projected cost for 1993-94 is split approximately $3.0m RAN/$11.6m USN.

While there are no other capital works specifically for use by non-Australian forces most Defence facilities are available for use by non-Australian forces in accordance with established Defence arrangements.

Senate Estimates Committee B

Questions Taken on Notice

Question 6.

Senator Tambling

What are the anticipated economic and social advantages to the Northern Territory community by continuing air exercises and other associated activities?


Firstly, it should be noted that the advantages for the Northern Territory community—and for all Australians—from continuing air exercises with foreign forces relate primarily to enhancing ADF capabilities to defend Australia and to promoting regional security. Exercises with foreign forces are an integral part of our policies of providing our national defence and fostering regional engagement. They help strengthen bilateral defence cooperation with allies and friends, assist in the mutual development of effective self-defence capabilities, and improve interoperability with other countries' defence forces.

While foreign forces may provide their own stores while on deployment in Australia, it is more cost effective for them to procure stores locally than transport them from home countries. In general, the only stores imported by visiting forces are spare parts and munitions which are not available in Australia.

Goods and services acquired by foreign forces in Australia are either purchased directly by those forces or provided by RAAF through existing contracts with suppliers.

Wherever practical, RAAF contracts for goods and services are placed on suppliers in the geographic region in which the supplies are consumed. Where foreign forces are provided with goods and services through RAAF contracts, the cost of those goods and services are recovered from those forces.

Total costs to be recovered by Air Force in 1993-94 from foreign forces deployed to the Northern Territory is expected to be some $9.2m. These recoveries relate predominantly to fuel, but also reflect stores, accommodation costs (power, water and rations), and charges for depreciation on capital assets.

In addition to the expenditure either through RAAF contracts or directly by foreign forces on fuel, stores and accommodation costs, the presence of these forces in the Northern Territory provides additional income to the local economy, particularly in the tourism, accommodation, restaurant and entertainment sectors.

1994-95 Budget Estimates Senate Estimates Committee B

Pre-Hearing Questions on Notice

Question 7

Senator Tambling

What consultation has been conducted, and is proposed with

    (a)  NT Government;

    (b)  Darwin City Council;

    (c)  Katherine Town Council;

    (d)Community organisations (eg Aircraft Noise Abatement Group);

    (e)  Pastoralists;

    (f)Aircraft and helicopter owners/operators

in respect of safety and noise abatement issues for air exercises?


The RAAF regularly consults with the Federal and local government, as well as local community groups regarding joint, combined and RAAF exercises in the Darwin/Katherine area.

All major exercises are publicised using the local media several weeks before their commencement.

When planning, and before conducting air exercises, the local regional airspace users committee is consulted on airspace usage and safety issues.

In addition to conducting public briefings, local politicians and Aircraft Noise Abatement Group representatives are often individually briefed on local air activities. Submissions by these groups are considered when developing local noise abatement procedures.

The RAAF provides details of low jet routes and notice of route activation to all aircraft users. Correspondingly, local civilian aircraft operators have been requested to provide RAAF operations at Darwin or Tindal with details of their activities to enable safe aircraft separation.

Additionally, discussions have been and will continue to be held between local operators and RAAF commanders to minimise air traffic conflicts and to maintain satisfactory safety procedures.

Additional Information

The Regional Airspace Users Committee is a Civil Aviation Authority body open to all airspace users and includes representatives from helimuster operators and pastoralists.

Low Jet Routes are activated using the Civil Aviation Authority Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system. Additionally, a local 008 number has been established to enable aircraft operators to obtain the latest information on military aircraft movements in the Tindal/Katherine area.

RAAF personnel are represented, in either official or a volunteer positions, on a number of local community based organisations. These organisations include the Katherine Regional Economic Development Committee, the Chamber of Commerce, the Katherine Hospital Board, Katherine public radio, aboriginal liaison bodies, local emergency services, Katherine Regional Tourist Association and local school councils. These forums provide opportunities to discuss the impact of RAAF development at Tindal and frequently resolve issues at local level.

A Noise Exposure Forecast for Darwin airfield will be completed by Defence by the end of July this year. A consultant hired by the Northern Territory Government is liaising with the appropriate officers in Defence conducting the Forecast.

The National Acoustic Laboratory will measure aircraft noise in Darwin during Exercise PITCH BLACK in August this year. The Northern Territory's consultant and the Darwin Noise Abatement Group have been invited to participate.

Senate Estimate Committee B

Questions on Notice

Department of Defence

Question 8.

Senator Tambling

Will the Defence Department participate and co-operate with noise exposure and testing studies and consultancies engaged by the Northern Territory Government?


Yes. The Department of Defence understands that the Northern Territory Government has engaged Airplan (Aviation, Transport and Tourism Consultants) to participate as the Territory representative in studies and assessments undertaken by the Department of Defence with regard to aircraft noise at Darwin. Officers from the Department of Defence have made contact with the Manager of Airplan, Mr David Cohney. It was agreed with Mr Cohney that regular meetings would be held with appropriate specialist Defence officers to enable him to monitor and advise on the production of the updated RAAF Darwin Australian Noise Exposure

Forecast and the conduct of noise monitoring to be conducted during Exercise Pitch Black in August 1994.

Senator TAMBLING —Drawing attention to these important issues in the questions also highlights and complements much of the reporting that comes about as a result of the inquiries by Air Vice Marshal Fisher. But there are still a number of questions that need to be asked and to which the defence department must turn its attention. They relate to the impacts on the economy, in particular on tourism and the movement of people; the impact on future defence, particularly the memorandums of understanding between Singaporean and United States air forces; and also the important health impacts on the Aboriginal communities of Bagot, Kulaluk and Berrimah in the Darwin community. All of those areas need further work and I look forward to openness and reporting in that regard. (Time expired)

  Question resolved in the affirmative.