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Thursday, 20 June 1996
Page: 1960


Senator WOODS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services) —I present the government's response to the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on the visit of the defence subcommittee to Exercise Kangaroo 95. I seek leave to incorporate the document in Hansard and to move a motion.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT ON THE VISIT OF THE DEFENCE SUB-COMMITTEE OF THE JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE TO EXERCISE KANGAROO 95

At the completion of each Kangaroo series exercise Defence undertakes a comprehensive review and assessment of all aspects of the exercise. The final Kangaroo 95 (K95) Post Exercise Report was considered during April 1996 and resulted in over two hundred recommendations being referred to the Services for comment and action.

The Report of the Defence Sub-Committee's visit to K95 in August 1995 included a number of recommendations and remarks. The government response is as follows:

Recommendation 1 (page 2)

The Committee considers that an overall briefing of this nature should be provided to the Committee at the start of any future visits to military exercises.

It is agreed that it is preferable to provide an overall briefing at the beginning of an exercise visit. For this particular exercise, the Committee requested to visit the Amphibious Task Group in Weipa. Due to air transport options and exercise activity, the visit to the Task Group was scheduled prior to commencing the formal itinerary in Darwin where the Committee was provided with an overall briefing on K95.

Recommendation 2 (page 3)

The Committee was concerned about this lack of air mobility for the Blue Force in this Exercise scenario especially given the recent grounding of the Nomad aircraft.

The K95 Post Exercise Report reflects the fact that battalion air mobile operations were not sufficiently practised due to insufficient numbers of Black Hawks. Nevertheless, K95 incorporated some 19 complex tasks associated with exercising elements of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in the conduct of joint operations. Of those 19, all but three were completely or substantially achieved. The exceptions were a Battalion air mobile operation, a Brigade cordon and search, and a Company night parachute operation.

The recent grounding of the Nomad aircraft did not impact on K95 (See also response to Final Remarks).

Recommendation 3 (page 4)

The Committee recommends that an Australian Federal Police presence be established on Thursday Island.

The question of establishing an AFP presence on Thursday Island has been under consideration for some time, but has previously been deferred due to the costs and competing priorities. However, as part of the recent review and restructuring of the AFP, it is proposed to outpost an officer to Thursday Island between May and October 1996 to determine the need for a permanent AFP presence in the region.

Recommendation 4 (page 6)

The Committee recommends that the effectiveness of present arrangements be investigated to determine whether additional ARA personnel should be recruited to support the 51 FNQR Q Stores.

A review conducted in September 1995 by Army identified the need for an increase of ARA posi tions at 51 Far North Queensland Regiment (51 FNQR). Army has provided three positions by reallocation from NORFORCE and two of these are to be Quartermaster positions. Further reallocations or additional manpower will not proceed until the completion of the current review into Army and its structure, which includes a review of the employment of Regional Force Surveillance Units attached to NORFORCE, the Pilbara Regiment and 51 FNQR.

Recommendation 5 (page 8)

The Committee is concerned that the operational capability of the RAN, both at a military level and in other areas such as cyclone and natural disaster relief work, may be undermined by the paying off of HMAS Tobruk . As a result, the Committee is more inclined to the view that HMAS Tobruk should be retained.

In 1993, the then government approved the acquisition of two ex-United States Navy Newport Class ships to replace HMAS Tobruk and the ageing HMAS Jervis Bay. The two new vessels, HMA Ships Manoora and Kanimbla, when modified will have greater capabilities than the ships they are replacing.

Within the existing Navy manpower ceiling, it was necessary to use the personnel numbers from Jervis Bay and Tobruk as offsets for the crew of the two new ships. Although Jervis Bay paid off in 1994, Tobruk will remain in service until the first amphibious ships enters RAN service, in order to maintain the ADF's amphibious capability. As with other RAN units, the new ships will be available for natural disaster relief.

Recommendation 6 (page 8)

In future, the Committee recommends that an overall briefing take place before an inspection of the Forces involved.

See response to Recommendation 1.

Recommendation 7 (page 9)

The Committee considers this command and control structure to be particularly unwieldy. Its inadequacies were demonstrated by the inability of the Blue Force to coordinate reaction to Exercise events in the Torres Strait. This points to the advantage of a single command and control structure incorporating one Joint Commander in the area of operations.

The K95 Post Exercise Report makes the same point repeatedly regarding the need for improvements in command and control structure. The revised ADF command arrangements announced by the Chief of the Defence Force in January 1996 respond directly to these deficiencies. In particular, the appointment of the Commander Australian Theatre to conduct campaign and operational level planning will alleviate the command and control difficulties noted by the Committee.

Final Remarks (page 13)

In particular, the Committee's visit to K95 raised the following significant issues:

.   the significant impact that a well armed and organised aggressor could inflict in Northern Australia

The Committee observations are accurate but it should be stated that the likelihood of such an occurrence is remote. Any comments of this nature must be viewed in the context of Australia's geo-strategic environment and the government's Defence policy. This government is committed to maintaining and enhancing Australia's security through a policy of defence self-reliance, expanding security cooperation with regional countries and strengthening our alliances. Exercises such as K95 are used to test ADF capabilities relevant to our current strategic circumstances.

.   the lack of air mobility in the Army especially given the recent grounding of the Nomad aircraft and problems with the Black Hawk helicopters

The problems associated with Black Hawk serviceability are well known. Defence has put in place a recovery plan to increase the availability of Black Hawk helicopters and there has already been significant improvement. The availability of aircrafts is expected to further improve in the latter half of this year.

Following the then government's decision to withdraw the Nomad from service with the ADF, interim arrangements were made to lease commercial aircraft. A longer term solution is being examined as part of Defence's ongoing force structure considerations.

.   the future of HMAS Cairns as the only Naval Base in Far North Queensland, particularly when the Fremantle class patrol boats are replaced

HMAS Cairns will continue to function as an operating base for the new Offshore Patrol Combatant and minor fleet units following the withdrawal of the Fremantle Class Patrol Boats from service.

.   the relative strength of Regular and Reserve personnel in 51 FNQR, the regulation of use and the maintenance of equipment in 51 FNQR, and the role played by members of 51 FNQR on behalf of state and Federal agencies

The relative strength of Regular and Reserve personnel in 51 Far North Queensland Regiment is Regulars 37 (7.5%) and Reserves 460 (92.5%). See also response to Recommendation 4.

The Regiment uses a wide range of equipment which is deployed over a vast area.

This does create difficulties but has not unduly hampered the effectiveness of the Regiment. Presently, there is limitation on the ability to leave equipment in remote patrol locations due to the lack of suitable secure facilities and this matter is being addressed.

The authorised role of 51 FNQR includes the requirement to develop a close working relationship with communities and local, state and federal authorities in its area of responsibility. On occasions, state and federal law enforcement agencies have requested support from 51 FNQR. This has been provided in accordance with approved procedures for the provision of Defence support to civil authorities.

.   the personnel problems of the ADF including problems caused by repeated separation within Service families

In relation to the personnel problems of the ADF, a recent Review of Personnel Policy Strategy, entitled `Serving Australia', has comprehensively addressed strategic issues relating to the recruitment, employment and financial conditions of service, family support as well as education and training for members of the ADF. The Report proposes a personnel policy strategy which ensures that people are accorded due weight in the broader framework of Defence business and activities. The Report also reaffirms that family support is an individual and ADF shared responsibility.

In the preparation of this Review, there was extensive consultation with Service members and other agencies and businesses, in Australia and overseas, as well as an examination of social, economic, industrial and organisational trends which would impact upon the ADF.

The aim of the proposed personnel policy strategy is to ensure that the ADF recruits and retains highly professional people from all sectors of the community.

The government acknowledges that military service places special demands on members. Inevitably these demands affect their families who are confronted with a range of difficulties not generally encountered in the civilian community. The positive contribution that families make to the morale, performance and retention of its personnel is acknowledged. Consequently, the government will ensure that ADF members and their families are not disadvantaged in comparison with the general community.

.   problems caused by staff ceiling in each of the Services

The government is firmly committed to improving the `teeth to tail' ratio in the Defence organisation and bolstering the resources available to operational elements of the ADF.

The Department of Defence and the government regularly monitor and review the personnel numbers of the ADF within the context of the overall Defence budget. However, many of the present difficulties relate to shortfalls in employment categories. Initiatives in recent years have been aimed at redirecting military staff to higher priority tasks, thereby enhancing the capabilities of the ADF. This has included initiatives such as the Commercial Support Program, Defence Regional Support Review and Defence Logistics Redevelopment Project. A major review of the Army and its structure is currently under way and will be submitted to the government shortly for consideration.

.   the wisdom of the paying off of HMAS Tobruk given the impact of this decision on the RAN's operational capability and the gap its paying off will create

See response to Recommendation 5.

.   the adequacy of the present limit to existing Reserve paid training days

The Reserve forces have adequate training days to meet objectives, although there are a number of administrative limits imposed for Reserve service. Under current policy, Reservists can serve for no more than 100 days per year. To maximise the training benefit of Reserve training days, Reservists may only complete 70 days training without permission of a formation commander. However, these administrative limits do not compromise the effectiveness of the Reserve force where the average attendance is approximately 40 days of service per year.

The government has directed that a broad ranging review be undertaken of Reserve service, training, roles, capabilities and preparedness. This review is likely to lead to significant changes to the nature of Reserve service and its contribution to the overall ADF capability.

.   the importance of the early acquisition of Airborne Early Warning and Patrol Aircraft (AEW&C).

The government has stated that an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) capability is a highly desirable longer term asset for Australia's defence. Project definition studies are being conducted with the aim of identifying an affordable option which meets Australia's needs.

.   the necessity of a single command and control structure incorporating one Joint Commander in the area of operations

See response to Recommendation 7.

.   the integration of women into the ADF and the demonstrable recognition of the positive role they played in the Exercise

Defence has made considerable progress in regard to the integration of women in the ADF. All positions, other than some combat positions, are now open to women.

At the completion of Exercise Kangaroo 95, the following signal was sent by the Chief of the Defence Force to all who had participated in the Exercise:

`This signifies the end of a long and complex activity designed to exercise and test the ADF in its principal role—the defence of Australia. I wish all participants to know that the lessons learned will be carefully derived and thoughtfully applied. The individual and collective contributions of you all—often in stressful and arduous conditions—have been marked by a level of professionalism and dedication which is well appreciated. Well done.'

The ADF acknowledges the positive role all members played in Exercise Kangaroo 95. The women involved were excellent role models for other women in the ADF.

.   the participation of observers from other countries as a bilateral confidence building measure and as a means of improving communication between countries of the region

The Committee's observations are supported. Improving our regional security dialogue at both a bilateral and regional level is one of the key aspects of the government's defence policy.


Senator WOODS —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.