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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 876


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(11.18) —The Senate has before it a proposal to make a reference to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence regarding the proposed acquisition of land by the Department of Defence for an Army base. The reference seeks to discover the facts on three particular lines of inquiry. The first is the need for an area of land for the purposes of relocation and co-location of three matters: First, the Army School of Infantry; secondly, the Artillery Training Centre; and thirdly, a manoeuvre area. Secondly, the reference seeks to inquire as to the availability of sites existing as Army training areas throughout Australia, and in particular whether Crown land is available which could be of use. Finally, it looks to the adequacy and appropriateness of procedures for protecting individual rights.

Senator Gareth Evans has said that there is no justification for such an inquiry. If one were looking for justification, one would have taken his speech and compared it with the very many statements which have been made by the Government, and governments of other States, and promises made to the people of Australia. The very need for this is based upon the confusion of information that has been presented to the people. I propose to demonstrate that very clearly.

Fundamentally, we are looking at three matters. We are looking at the need, or otherwise, for a relocation of the Infantry Training Centre. That centre is presently at Singleton. What is needed to be asked is: Is it inadequate? Is it geographically the wrong place? Are the nature and the contours of the ground around it wrong for infantry training? Senator Evans says that the evidence is clear. However, there are on record statements by senior Army officers, who have been engaged in this very training, that the Singleton area is an ideal area for infantry training. That seems to suggest that there might be a need for an inquiry and some disputation of facts on this matter. Secondly, it has been said that the infrastructure that exists in Singleton is of such a massive nature and is such a massive investment that one would have to have very good reason indeed to want to move to a completely virginal area and set up a new infantry training area.

Where have I heard the Minister refer to the fact that there in Singleton exists the whole infrastructure, the whole area of sewerage, drainage, electricity supply, plumbing to the area, and some 200 houses for the Army? Is it suggested that it is a light thing that one should put those all aside and go and seek somewhere else? Where is there evidence to prove that it is wrong to look to the capital value of all the access roads and bridges that are in Singleton? These would have to be built, in their tens of millions of dollars, elsewhere. I include also protection of the flood plain which separates the civilian community from the Army and gives a desirable environment.

I did not hear Senator Evans refer to some very significant things. He was the Minister who was present at the recent hearings of Senate Estimates Committee E. He will recall that he supplied evidence that the estimates for the Defence Department this year would contain between $350m and $400m-they are his figures-for devaluation and, therefore, the overall money for defence this year showed not a 10 per cent nominal increase but only a 3 per cent increase and, taking inflation into account, a decrease. He will recall that there was a very elaborate and lengthy discussion on why the Army could not afford to bring about the Waler project to provide new armoured personnel carriers for the protection of the soldiers of this country and that we have to look to the dilapidated and, indeed, dangerous carriers that the Auditor- General spent a great deal of time discussing. It seems to be a matter of no importance at all that we are willing to spend enormous sums of money relocating at the whim of some politician whilst we have not enough money to do the essential things to protect our soldiers and to give our soldiers mobility. If ever there were justification for testing how much this new proposal will cost, it is that it has been said that we cannot afford the Waler project-we cannot afford to equip our soldiers with mobility which is, first of all, safe and weapon-proof and, secondly, much better than the deficient APCs that the Auditor-General has seen fit to criticise and that he says may well be of no use.

No justification has been given for picking up the huge infrastructure at Singleton. The integration of the community and the Army has been described in sociological terms as very important not just for commercial purposes but for the whole social structure of the area. Indeed, lest anyone has any doubts about this matter, in the Estimates Committee I asked the Defence Department whether there had been an estimate of the cost of rebuilding Singleton. The response, which is not in Hansard yet, was:

A detailed estimate has not been made of the cost of rehabilitating facilities at Singleton for the infantry centre. However, a broad assessment had put the cost in the order of $30m.

That is not hundreds of millions of dollars, but $30m-not even the value of building those 200 houses elsewhere, because they would cost more than $30m to relocate. Now we know a very important thing indeed, and Senator Evans has the gall here today to say that there is no justification at all for an inquiry into this matter to try to save money that perhaps we could use to build better armoured personnel carriers for our soldiers.

It will be recalled that in the Estimates Committee one of the defences made was that Singleton had to go because there was a coal seam under it. I found that very fascinating indeed when I read Premier Wran's Press statement of 12 March this year. Premier Wran is, of course, the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, the Party in government. What did Mr Wran say? Knowing of coal seams, he said:

The State Government strongly believes that the schools complex should go to an enlarged Army base at Singleton.

There was no question of coal seams. Yet that was raised here in the Senate as a reason for shifting. The Premier of the State, negating that, went on to say:

This is because the Singleton site already has an Army base. It would involve mainly Crown land and conditional use of 19 properties to the south-west of the base. No properties in the vineyard, agriculturally productive or coal areas would be affected.

It is said that there is no justification for an inquiry. Yet the evidence given here by the Defence Department was that one of the reasons was the coal areas. If there were a need for justification, we found it in Senator Evans's speech.

I happen to have had some little experience of the Singleton camp. I know of the nature of its geography. Having crawled over a fair bit of it, I know that it is ideally suitable as an infantry training area. I am aware that its barracks and living quarters need upgrading. That in itself is a minor thing. Bear in mind what the Defence Department said after we put it under pressure: We could upgrade Singleton to a modern infantry training area for $30m, whereas to relocate elsewhere would cost at least $200m, $300m or $400m, quite apart from the disruption caused. Again it is said that there is no justification. Senator Evans cannot have escaped the fact that there have been widely circulated some 10 or 12 copies of statutory declarations made by people of the central west of New South Wales, the Bathurst-Orange-Dubbo area, saying that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) had given them an unequivocal promise that there would be no Army base in the Bathurst-Orange area. Yet is there no justification for an inquiry? The facts are there. After all, Senator Evans says that we have already got the expert details on this situation.


Senator Peter Baume —Who promised?


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —The Prime Minister of this country is documented in some 10 or 12 statutory declarations-I take it that nobody is doubting their veracity; if so, why does he not challenge them?-as saying emphatically that there would be no base in Bathurst-Orange. Everybody knows the reason for this sudden change. Senator Evans said: `All the technical details were there. It was to have been 120,000 hectares but we chopped it down to 70,000 because it fitted the bill'. What nonsense.

The only reason Bathurst-Orange is now put forward, it being the least desirable area according to the impact studies and the one that was rejected previously, is that in the 1970s the Whitlam Government, under one more of its misconceived and misbegotten plans, set up a Bathurst-Orange development corporation that now has around its neck a debt of $90m. What is happening is very simple. This Government is using the Army base to bail out the debts of the Whitlam Government. No decision has been made in terms of what Senator Evans says are precise military means. When I asked the Army whether it was a fact that this proposed site was under a regular flight path and whether there would therefore be any danger from an artillery range, the Army said: `We must ask the environmental study people about that'-not the technical experts, not the artillerymen and not the defence people, because of course they know that it could not be more wrongly sited. Is there no reason, no justification, for an inquiry into this matter?

When I asked the Defence Department where its land was around Australia, I got a list. The Minister, having seen it, has agreed to its incorporation in Hansard. It shows that in Australia there is 1,082,700 hectares of Army land in 23 major locations. For example, in Shoalwater Bay in Queensland, there are 274,000 hectares. In Yampi in Western Australia there are 556,000 hectares. I seek leave to have the list incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The list read as follows-

MAJOR ARMY LAND HOLDINGS

Location

Size

Nature

Use

(Ha)

Queensland

Canungra...

6,000

Training Area...

Continuous

Greenbank...

4,700

Range and Training Area...

Frequent

Shoalwater Bay...

274,000

Training Area...

Frequent

Townsville, (High Range)...

49,000

Field Firing Area...

Frequent

Townsville (Mt Stuart)...

7,700

Military Camp and Close Training Area...

Continuous

Tully...

1,700

Tropical Trials Area...

Frequent

Wide Bay...

20,000

Training Area...

Frequent

New South Wales

Bogan Gate...

1,000

Ammunition Depot...

Continuous

Holsworthy, Sydney...

20,000

Military Camp and Range...

Continuous

Kapooka...

1,300

Military Camp...

Continuous

Marrangaroo...

1,200

Ammunition Depot...

Continuous

Myambat, Denman...

1,000

Ammunition Depot...

Continuous

Singleton...

13,200

Military Camp and Range...

Continuous

Victoria

Graytown...

2,700

Proof and Experimental Establishment...

Continuous

Puckapunyal...

40,000

Military Camp and Range...

Continuous

South Australia

Cultana...

38,000

Range Area...

Less frequent,

mainly Reserve

Lincoln Park...

12,000

Range Area...

Less frequent,

mainly Reserve

Murray Bridge...

4,200

Range Area...

Frequent

Port Wakefield...

1,000

Proof and Experimental Establishment...

Continuous

Western Australia

Bindoon...

20,000

Training Area...

Frequent

Yampi...

556,000

Training Area...

Less frequent

Tasmania

Buckland...

3,000

Training Area...

Less frequent,

mainly Reserve

Northern Territory

Kangaroo Flats...

5,000

Training Area...

Less frequent,

mainly Reserve


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I thank the Senate. The point has been made abundantly clear that the volume of land involved, by comparison with land available in every other nation, is enormous. I was told-I did not need to be told-that the Army needed a variety of land on which to train its men and that was why Bathurst-Orange was selected. Having had something to do with warfare in the tropics and having experienced living in encampments in such delightful places as Sunny Corner and Dark Corner, I was old fashioned enough to wonder, with the chilblains one gets in Bathurst-Orange in winter, how one could experience a sub- tropical or tropical environment there.

There is no joy in the nonsense that is being given to us as a justification for this proposal. We have not been told why there is a need for a co-location of the artillery and the infantry. Over the decades, they got on pretty well when separated from each other. As one who trained as a gunner, I did not see any great disability in that separation. It did not appear that the artillery needed multi-thousand hectares of tracts of land when it was poised at the end of North Head, with only the waves to seduce it. So what is this nonsense? Anybody who has been trained in artillery knows that it is a highly technical science, with ordnance and contour maps being used as the basics to establish co-ordinates to hit a target.

More than one million hectares of land is already in the Army's possession. Has anyone said that none of this land is suitable for relocation or co-location? Senator Evans said: `We have all the information before us'. Where is this information? Has it been stated that such relocation is not possible? We were told by the Army that it needed all sorts of land. Where should it train for tropical and sub-tropical situations? Should it be in Bathurst-Orange? The proposal becomes more preposterous as we put things together. I rely on Senator Evans because his streaker's defence remains immaculate. He always thinks things are a good idea at the time. This time he thought it was a good idea to say that we do not need an inquiry because all the facts are before us. Let me simply say that like all the facts that have come before us in the past from him, all the confusion of facts and all the conflict are now before us. The Army is suggesting that it has to leave Singleton because of the presence of a coal seam. The Premier of New South Wales is saying: `Come to Singleton and no coal seam will be affected'.

We have been told there is no justification for any inquiry. The Department of Defence is saying: `We are pathetically short of money. We cannot pay our fellows more money. We cannot build new armoured personnel carriers. The Auditor-General is wrong and we will have to modify our plans to the year 2000. We cannot do those things, but we propose to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the Bathurst-Orange proposal, compared with the $30m that we would need to spend on the modernisation of Singleton'. We now know that is what it would cost, but how did we get to know that fact? Senator Evans did not tell us but it became known through a sort of dental extraction-pulling the teeth bit by bit to try to find out the real situation.

What we are saying is this: The Senate should objectively inquire into the matter and say what is needed for an infantry training camp and centre which a modernised Singleton could not provide. That is of tremendous importance. If something else is needed the Senate must ask what is the alternative and how much it would cost compared with modernising Singleton. It must ask what is needed for an artillery training centre and what are the needs in terms of length of firing range. Do we really need an area of countryside, in association with an infantry training centre, which is large enough for shooting the new long range howitzers? Why do we need it? Where in the world are such centres combined? Where in the world is a long range for howitzers combined with an infantry training centre? Why do we need it?

I come to the question of productive land. I noticed that Senator Evans said that the Government justified technically the acquisition of 70,000 hectares of land in Bathurst-Orange because it was poor agricultural land. Did honourable senators hear those words? Senator Evans was a poor Attorney-General, but he is a poorer argiculturist because that land produces some of the finest quality wool in the world. He said that it was okay to take this land out of production because it was poor quality agricultural land. Honourable senators heard the Minister for Resources and Energy say that. He wishes the land to become non-productive. He told us not to worry that it is in the flight path of aircraft. We should not worry about those kinds of things. We have only to keep in mind that the Hawke Government has an albatross around its neck of a $90m debt for the Bathurst-Orange Development Corporation and it has to do something about it.

Why choose New South Wales? We know why it was chosen, because an Army officer said that it was the most convenient area to pull together. Is not Puckapunyal convenient, for example? Would not parts of Queensland be convenient? If we combined the two there will be a need for a wide range of terrain, including sub-tropical and tropical and the last place on earth one would choose would be Bathurst-Orange.

What are the needs of an infantry training centre? What is wrong with bringing up to date the existing facilities at Singleton to create an infantry training centre? What costs would be involved in taking a new area, building on it barracks and houses for Army families to live in, connecting electricity and water and building drains on the site? Heavy access roads would have to be built. It must be borne in mind that those roads would have to carry Army vehicles. New bridges would have to be built and millions and millions of dollars would be spent on this kind of structure. No doubt new schools would have to be built. Children from the Singleton area would be uprooted to go to new schools. What would that cost? Senator Evans says: `Ah! We have all the expert knowledge'. Where is the expert knowledge? Where is this precise knowledge to be found? Where is the plan which shows us where the access roads, water, sewerage, drainage and power lines will go? Where are they? We hear echoing from the Minister: `There is no need for an inquiry'. I refer to the third paragraph of Senator Mason's motion, which refers to:

(c) the adequacy and appropriateness of current procedures in protecting the rights of individual landholders and communities in areas where acquisition is contemplated, in providing for fair and prompt compensation, and in providing for appeal procedures.

That statement ought to have been written as a post mortem for the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Wran. If one great crime has been committed against democracy, it is the grossly unfair approach by the Wran Government to the acquisition of land in New South Wales, particularly land with coal seams. There is no justification for that Government's action. I do not doubt that there is a need to defend the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, but people have rights. I refer to the rights of families, who, for three, four or five generations, have worked productive land and have produced fine wool. Those people have given to Australia an immense benefit in their contribution to the export industries. What nonsense that at this moment Australia is in dire circumstances because of its huge deficit, largely because of over-borrowing. What a nonsense situation it is that the devaluation of the Australian dollar is reflecting the danger of this huge deficit and the need for Australia to go out and seek every export dollar that it can. The proposal is that we should destroy areas that are producing export dollar earnings. What information do we have on this? None at all, except that this is poor agricultural country. Honourable senators should remember that-it is poor agricultural country in a fine wool growing area. There is no mention of dollar losses.

When we pull it together we see that the Government is asking the people of Australia to go into a venture that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no argument about that. Even accepting the lowest government base on this it will cost several hundred million dollars and probably much more. The Government is asking us to go into such a venture and it is not suggesting that there will be a special appropriation in the Budget on top of everything that there is now to finance this. Therefore, there is some robbery in the Budget; some reduction in other services in order to compensate for this. The military reserve has made its value judgment of the Government. Numbers have reduced from 30,000-odd to a bare 20,000-odd and the Government is now scrambling to try to get back to 26,000. The Government cannot maintain reserve soldiers in the field; it does not have the money to apply to it, except for an advertisement showing the Prime Minister hopping out of a helicopter and urging Australians into bigger and better defence. What a joke. What an abject insult to the people of Australia that a Prime Minister who has brought in a policy to tax the earnings of reservists and the militia soldiers, and therefore showed them contempt, should see himself as a public relations exhibit hopping out of a helicopter urging people to join the Reserve. What has happened? The number of people in the Reserve has fallen by almost one-third and the Government cannot get it up again.

Against this background the Minister, Senator Gareth Evans, comes into this chamber and says that there is no need for an inquiry. He is not concerned that the Waler project has been put on the shelf and scrapped. He is not concerned about the evidence that, if our soldiers have to go into action, they will use at the most, dangerously inefficient carriers that will not provide the armoured protection that the Waler project would. These carriers have had troubles with their guns. In fact, there has been trouble with the whole system of armoured personnel carriers. The Government says that it does not have money for the Waler project but presumably we have $200m or $300m for a relocated Army base. My goodness! The very purpose of the Senate is to look into these matters and inquire into them to find out what is right. What are the needs of the Army for infantry, artillery and manoeuvre? This Government cannot tell us. In any case, why is this one million-odd hectares not sufficient to meet the needs? Where would the existing facilities be capable of use? Is there any evidence that anybody, including the Minister, has said to us that these facilities are of no use at all? How do we protect people?

Let me come back to my main point. We have a defence budget with $350m to $400m worth of devaluation cut right out of it because of the poor economic performance of the Government. The defence budget for this year is a negative budget and it is now to be overloaded as it was with such misbegotten things as frigates and other inventions of the Whitlam Government in the past. It is to be overloaded with this misbegotten idea of spending hundreds of millions of dollars instead of spending them wisely on protecting Australian soldiers in the field. I support the motion.