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Thursday, 5 April 1984
Page: 1305


Senator ROBERTSON(3.25) —It is interesting to hear Senator Kilgariff being critical of coastal surveillance under the present Government as I was in the last four or five years of the Liberal Government. However, it is very pleasing to note that he does see a move towards an improvement of the situation.

In essence, the Federal Government's new coastal surveillance arrangements offer a well co-ordinated and effective approach to safeguarding our nation against breaches of quarantine, fisheries, Customs, environmental, immigration and health regulations. I do not think there is any doubt that the report of the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley) on Australia's peacetime coastal surveillance and protection arrangements is by far the most complete and thorough set of recommendations we have ever had. I commend also the establishment of the coastal protection unit within the Australian Federal Police. This means that officers will be readily available not only to detect offenders but also to apprehend them when they are detected. Honourable senators will recall that under the old system offenders could only be detected and reported. This certainly was not a satisfactory situation.

In response to this unsatisfactory situation, a major review was undertaken of how our nation's surveillance needs could not be met. I think it is worth noting that the Beazley review worked in very close consultation with the surveillance needs expressed by Federal government departments and both State and Territory government departments. In line with their well considered needs, it was decided to rationalise contract aerial surveillance arrangements. The existing 21,000 hours per annum were cut to 14,600. But I make the point that these reductions were achieved after discussions with all government departments which make use of the coastal surveillance facilities. As has been mentioned by my colleague, previous arrangements were that surveillance flights occurred regularly and along the coast. New arrangements mean that flights will be random and will be out from the coast to detect offences before the offenders reach the shore.

Much has been made of the detrimental effects of the system's rationalisation in terms of lost jobs and terminated contracts. This is no more so than in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory News had a field day over recent events. Monday's editorial is a scathing criticism of the new policy. It says:

That--

That is, the coastline from Karratha in Western Australia to the Great Barrier Reef--

is an enormous area to patrol, the business of providing effective surveillance, complicated.

But we must note that Skywest Airlines Pty Ltd currently provides civil surveillance along the Western Australian and Queensland north coasts and the addition of the Northern Territory sector will not be a difficult management task. Skywest has 11 sophisticated Rockwell Shrike Commander aircraft in service every day on coast watch duties from Broome in Western Australia to Townsville, plus three back-up Shrike Commanders located at Townsville, Bamaga and Broome. Some of these aircraft and the personnel from them will be redeployed into Darwin as a result of the changes.

Skywest is a rapidly expanding company which has only recently taken over East- West Airlines and H.C. Sleigh Ltd. It is well on its way to being the third biggest airline in Australia. The company's expansion in the Northern Territory will, I am sure, have significant benefits for the Territory. I hope the Northern Territory Government gives every assistance to the new contractor. There was a reason why the contract did not go to tender. Skywest's existing contract runs until March 1986 and with the reduction in requirements by the Government, that firm can meet all the existing work load. Furthermore, the assessment of the Department of Transport in the light of its experience in the field of coastal surveillance since 1978 was that no other firm would be able to redeploy its resources with the necessary expertise in the time available. I should point out that the Federal Government took note of the benefits and economies of the current private contract coastal surveillance system. Had the Government not upheld the principle of the contract system, the loss to the private aviation industry would have been substantial.

In another article, the Northern Territory News claims that the report gave scant attention to the frequency of aerial surveillance for the detection of quarantine breaches. The report in fact recommended the retention of the user pays principle. The Department of Health, relying on experience of many years, judged that it could maintain a safe level of surveillance with a reduced number of flights. That internal review was undertaken by the Department of Health in 1983. There are many other matters that I would like to deal with in respect of this report but I think it appropriate that I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.