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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1590


Senator MICHAEL BAUME(10.55) —On 9 October in the debate on the reference to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of the question of Army land, I took issue with the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), on his assertion that there was growing local concern in the Singleton area about the location of the Army camp there. I then tabled a large collection of statements from local organisations and government and semi-government bodies supporting, or at least not opposing, the expansion of the Army base at Singleton. At the bottom of the list that I tabled was a note supplied to me by the Singleton Shire Council saying that no community groups opposed the retention and expansion of the Singleton Army base. I should mention that there were 29 organisations among the community groups and nine among the government and semi-government bodies included in that list of support. I have since received a letter from Mr Geoff Wyatt of 5 Forsyth Lane, Glebe, which is a suburb of Sydney, relating to an organisation in the Wollombi Valley called the Wollombi Valley Landholders Association. I seek leave to have this letter incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

22 October 1985

Geoff Wyatt

5 Forsyth Lane, Glebe, N.S.W. 2037

Ph. 660 6324

Dear Senator Baume:

A member of a group of landholders and residents of the Wollombi Valley who are against expansion of the Singleton Artillery Range, I note Hansard of October 9 which records your support for an inquiry into the location and co-location of Army bases.

Pages 885-6-7 refer to your tabling a summary of letters or submissions received ``in favour or not opposing the retention and expansion of Singleton Army Base'' presumably presented to you by Singleton Council. This summary ends with:

Note: ``No Community Groups opposed the retention and expansion of the Singleton Army Base''.

This is untrue, and we would appreciate your setting the record straight. On August 23 1984 the Wollombi Valley Landholders Association convened a meeting at Broke seeking information from Singleton Council, the Army, and interested parties. This was the first organised opposition by citizens concerned that expansion would lead to unreasonable social disruption including increased noise pollution, compulsory land acquisition and loss of heritage. They were, and are, also concerned that expansion of the artillery range to accommodate the most sophisticated available weapons, now and in the future, would make the Lower Hunter from Williamtown Air Force Base west to Singleton a major military target in the event of war.

Since the Broke meeting in August 1984 the Wollombi Valley Association through its No Base Expansion Group repeatedly voiced its opposition to Singleton Council, both directly at a meeting in March 1985 with a Singleton Council deputation led by the President, and in address by a No Base Expansion Group member to a Singleton Shire Council meeting later in the same month. The Group's protest was well documented in the many newspaper articles written on the issue, in Singleton, Cessnock, Newcastle, Sydney and nationally. Further, Singleton Council refused the Group's request to be represented when the Minister for Defence addressed the people of Singleton in June last.

We state that Singleton Council has made selective use of information to exclude opposition to expansion. Additionally, some groups who originally supported the Council have subsequently withdrawn that approval. The Hunter Region Community Forum representing 37 community organisations, now says it was ``conned'' by Singleton Council. The attached copy of a letter by a leading winemaker in the area should attest to the mood prevalent in that industry.

The No Base Expansion Group protest was made known to the NSW Government and the Defence Department through documentation and representation during the months leading to the June decision not to go ahead with the Singleton proposal.

We are now preparing a submission to the Senate Standing Committee inquiring into the whole matter of Army base location and re-location. Part of this submission will highlight Singleton Council's attempts to stifle and silence opposition to its proposal and its connivance with the No Base Committees representing the Cobar and Central Tablelands people to have the base expanded after the Defence Department decided against it. One matter we would seek the Standing Committee to examine would be Singleton Council's hiring the Sydney co-ordinator of various No Base Committees to promote and publicise its proposal at the rate of $1000 a month for several months. This co-ordinator, John Duff, like a number of No Base members, owns land in the Central Tablelands area.

I attach for your information a document which similarly questions the role of the National Trust in its tacit approval of expansion at Singleton. The signatory to this document also owns land in the Central Tablelands area.

In closing, may I point out that the Wollombi Valley protesters are not anti-Army. At the March 1985 meeting with the Singleton Council deputation we gave our complete support for retention of the existing base and expressed sympathy for the economic hardship Singleton township would necessarily undergo should the Army decide to wind the base down. In that even we however proposed that a government-sponsored body comprising Singleton and neighbouring Cessnock Councils and the Wollombi Valley Association should be set up to identify and where possible implement alternative industries to ensure the survival and prosperity of Singleton township. I offered, and subsequently signed a statutory declaration to this end, the first token $1000 towards such an enterprise. The Singleton Council deputation dismissed our proposal out of hand-but later advocated the same as its own initiative in a communication to the Cobar Shire and local protest group. Our offer-and mine-still stands.

I thank you for your attention on behalf of the aforementioned landholders and residents of the Wollombi Valley.

Yours Sincerely,

GEOFF WYATT


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I thank the Senate. I will not keep the Senate long on this matter except to say that nothing in that letter appears to me to diminish in any way the point that I made at that time. It suggests that the area would become a military target, for example, if Singleton were expanded while at the same time asserting that the Wollombi Valley protesters are not anti-Army. I think the general proposition in the letter-I concede that it is true-is that there is a group of people who apprised the Singleton Shire Council of their opposition. I think it would have been proper for the Council to include them in the list as a dissenting group. However, I think the thrust of what I said remains totally unassailed by the small group whose major objection, as I understand it, is to the extension of the Army base south into the Wollombi Valley. As I understand it, the Council itself does not support its extension in that direction. As I understand it, the Council wants Crown land that is not in the valley although it is in a southerly direction from the existing base.

The organisation cites a leading wine maker in the area as someone who opposes the expansion of the base and says that this should attest to the mood prevalent in the wine industry. I think I should mention that the Hunter Valley Vineyards Association, making up all the wine growers in that area, support or certainly do not oppose that extension of the Army base. The Hunter Region Community Forum, representing 37 community organisations, now says it was `conned' by Singleton Council on this matter. I should mention that the association is not listed in my group of submissions. As I understand it, it is a leftish group which does not represent any of the substantial organisations in the area affected or likely to be affected by the Army base. As I said, I maintain the proposition I put before. There is no evidence of any significant concern in the area whatsoever. In fact, the enormous volume of attitude in the region is for the expansion of that Army base in the Singleton area.