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Tuesday, 6 June 1989
Page: 3427

Senator RICHARDSON —In addition to the answer I gave yesterday to a question by Senator Haines I said that I intended to seek further advice. On the question of Aboriginal concerns, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs advised that it has no knowledge of the suggestion of 200 sites of Aboriginal significance on the Beecroft Peninsula. Defence is aware of 25 sites on the peninsula, 90 per cent of which are middens. Of those sites 70 per cent have already been disturbed and the environmental impact study on relocation of the facilities to Jervis Bay will extensively address Aboriginal concerns. The only Aboriginal site in the impact area of the exercise under question is called the drum and drumsticks-some rocks which are out to sea. They have not been used as a target since 1986 when the Aboriginal community notified the Department of their significance as a sacred site. There are no other sites of which the Department has knowledge in the impact area.

In regard to the history of the Beecroft Range, it has been used as a bombardment range for 50 years. The range was in use as recently as over the last couple of weeks for naval gunfire training. HMAS Torrens on 29 May, 31 May and 1 June 1989, and HMAS Brisbane on 30 May 1989 fired a total of 100 five-inch shells. No complaints were received on the occasion of those firings. In terms of regular use, 70 naval gun support serials per year are held over 60 days. That amounts to a total of 930 rounds into the impact area over the year. There are 100 serials per year by the Royal Australian Air Force. That will be increased as the F18 comes into service. Most of those use cannons although there are some bombs. The Army's involvement includes rapier surface to air firings and artillery firings as required.

Between January 1986 and the end of March 1988 the Beecroft Peninsula was closed to the public for these purposes for 193 days. The peninsula is used about seven days a month. This exercise is hardly a great shock or different from the way in which these exercises have been conducted in the past. In terms of community consultation, a public meeting was held in Currarong-the settlement closest to the range-on 10 May 1989 to provide local residents with information about the exercise. Aspects of the exercise such as night firings have been tailored to minimise public inconvenience. A media release was issued before the commencement of the exercise, a copy of which I will table. I would also like to table a copy of the draft land management plan for the Beecroft Peninsula. That plan which has been in the public arena for a couple of years has been extensively discussed with the Aboriginal community, the south coast environment group, the Vincentia Progress Association, the Shoalhaven Combined Progress Associations, the Currarong Progress Association and the Callala Beach Progress Association. There has been extensive community consultation on that plan.

In terms of public safety and demonstrators, which have received so much publicity today, the impact area of the range is surrounded by a large safety area from which the public is excluded when the range is in operation. In total some 12 demonstrators have been found on the range both yesterday and today. It is believed that some demonstrators remain on the range. The Defence Force is giving the Acting Minister for Defence an absolute assurance that the exercise will not commence until it is certain that no persons remain on the range. The search for remaining protesters is continuing.

With regard to the environmental considerations for the firing, the Defence Force management plan for the range requires that any damage to the range as a result of an exercise is repaired. All unexploded ordnance also is cleared from the range. Given the present wet conditions, the scale and nature of the exercise have been modified to minimise any potential damage. None of the heavier 155-millimetre guns will be used. All guns are being airlifted into and out of the range to avoid the need to tow them over wet ground. The guns will be fired from a prepared hard standing area.

One other thing to mention about Aboriginal concerns is that Mr John Zakharov of the Australian National University is currently conducting a study of Aboriginal law on the peninsula; that will be made available as soon as it comes to hand.