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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 632


Senator WATSON —by leave-After hearing the remarks of Senator Georges in relation to the parents of Kenneth Dax one can understand the reason why he spoke with such emotion yesterday, with the expectation that Mrs Dax would be listening to the parliamentary broadcast. The forms of this place are such that it is unfortunate that situations like that have to occur. I support the remarks that were made by my colleague Senator Georges, who is Chairman of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and who guided what was at times a highly technical investigation. Seldom has the Public Accounts Committee come up with such a concentration of criticism of a matter under review. The building of HMAS Tobruk has reflected very poorly on sections of the defence forces, on their project management, on the lack of communication between the personnel at the shipyard and the central co-ordinating authorities. It is a matter of some concern that when the matter was earlier under investigation by the Committee, the naval authorities did not draw to the Committee's attention the death of naval reserve cadet Kenneth Dax. In fact the existence of many significant events and documents was not readily brought to the attention of the Committee. They were revealed only after prolonged investigation and inquiry. This is tragic and reflects poorly on the Department.

It should be emphasised that the Committee does not question the concept of or the need for a ship such as HMAS Tobruk, nor does it wish that its 223rd report be used to prejudice shipbuilding in Australia. The Committee recognises the valuable contribution to the Australian economy made by the Australian shipbuilding companies and their employees, but there is a need for an overhaul of project management and shipbuilding techniques be applied within Australian defence establishments. It is unfortunate that because of the low level of shipbuilding activity in Australia much of the expertise has been lost through personnel resignations, retirement and transfer. There are now serious deficiencies in the adequacy of skills needed to build a large vessel in Australia. It is regrettable that a country with such a large coastline as Australia's has to defend itself with so few vessels which are so poorly equipped.

Although not covered by the report, on the information gained by me through my participation in this investigation, I would like to express the view that the Tobruk in the event of war would have to rely very heavily on other ships and aircraft for protection since it has so few capabilities for protecting itself. A vessel of this kind is a number one priority for an enemy attack. I believe that many needless lives could be lost because of the defence forces' decision to try to save money. I also wish to take this opportunity of thanking Commander Moreton for his help to the Committee while some members sailed off the Queensland coast aboard HMAS Tobruk. None of the criticisms should be taken as criticism of the crew, which certainly while we were aboard showed professional seamanship and dedication to the job.

I now think it is relevant that I list to the Senate some of the shortcomings which are outlined in the report in the hope that others may be induced to read it and note the seriousness of the matter. I also hope it will lead to a thorough reappraisal of many of the current policies and practices, which the Committee thinks should be radically overhauled. There is the question of the Department not allocating sufficient resources to develop such things as quality assurance programs for monitoring, particularly matters of weight control procedures. An unauthorised weight increase was due to the Department not ensuring that the correct specifications were met, something pretty fundamental and elementary to most people. The Department did not give adequate consideration to the commercial practicalities of converting a particular specification from an imperial old design to metric measurements. The Department did not realise the consequences of what might be termed soft or appropriate conversions when dealing with very narrow tolerances. Given the magnitude and obvious implications of converting the ship's design from imperial to metric measurements, the Department should have monitored more closely the contractor's conversion processes and material acquisitions. In this respect the Department was derelict in carrying out its contract supervisory role.

There is little purpose in building a specialised beaching design vessel such as Tobruk if the resulting ship can use the specified design only in a secondary role and then under restricted circumstances. The number of on-site departmental representatives at the ship yard, at practically all times, was grossly inadequate. The level of on-site departmental expertise and experience was inadequate given the task in hand. The Department's tender specifications were deficient and not correctly oversighted. As these matters are quite extensive and because of the pressure of time, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard my other remarks.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

the Department has been dilatory in devising a remedy for HMAS Tobruk's contaminated hydraulic system;

continuing problems with HMAS Tobruk's devid hydraulic system, point to a lack of expertise with hydraulics in the Department or inefficient systems in the Department to rectify defects in well known engineering technology;

the problems experienced by HMAS Tobruk since commissioning are not minor teething problems;

many of the major problems HMAS Tobruk has suffered since its commissioning stem from design related causes;

the ship's existing air conditioning system is unsatisfactory and in need of replacement in the long term;

problems with the ship's engine control system, partly attributable to the use of a mixture of ferrous and non-ferrous pipes, contravene the contract specifications on dissimilar metals;

the problem of HMAS Tobruk's excessive vibration has not been resolved;

the ship's excessive vibration may constitute a long term health hazard to the crew;

there is little doubt that HMAS Tobruk's excessive vibration will increase the ship's maintenance costs and reduce its life;

problems with HMAS Tobruk's auxiliary boilers typify the difficulties of producing spare parts from overseas manufacturers;

HMAS Tobruk's sewerage system was not adequately understood by the Department's designers, the contractor's designers and installation staff, the ship's company and the Department's maintenance personnel during the building of the ship;

HMAS Tobruk's poorly designed kit locker spaces have led to the development of a potential safety hazard in the form of congested troop passage ways when troops are on board;

the Department proceed as a matter of urgency to thoroughly research questions surrounding HMAS Tobruk's potential for lack of watertight integrity and initiate corrective action as soon as possible if needed;

the Department research the risks associated with HMAS Tobruk's external PVC Piping;

the amount of $3550 is not an adequate amount to be paid for compensation to Mr and Mrs Dax given the circumstances;

a more adequate act of grace payment should be made to Mr and Mrs Dax.

From the evidence of poor project management manifested throughout the inquiry into HMAS Tobruk, the Committee is embarking on a new reference-Project Management in the Department of Defence.