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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2125

Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:30): My question is to the Minister for Defence. I ask the minister if she could please update the Senate on the recent community engagement in Central and North Queensland in relation to the comprehensive strategic partnership agreements between Australia and the Singaporean government.

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:31): I thank Senator Macdonald for his continuing interest in this area of Defence activity in North Queensland. I advised the Senate of the signing of the memorandum of understanding concerning military training and training area development in Australia in the last sitting week. Last week, with my colleague the federal member for Capricornia, I had a valuable visit to Rockhampton with Michelle Landry. We met with local government and business leaders to discuss the very significant opportunities stemming from the Singapore military training agreement under the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This is an agreement which will see Singapore invest up to $1 billion in the Rockhampton region for the development of the Shoalwater Bay training area between 2016 and 2026.

Last week we held a forum, which over 100 business leaders from the local community attended, where I emphasise that priority will, in fact, be given to local businesses in support of the phases of both the development of the training area and the training activities themselves. The provision to prioritise local business is contained in the MOU and will ensure that the benefits of this investment flow through to the local community, boosting both jobs and growth into the future.

I had also accompanied my colleague the Singaporean Minister of Defence, Dr Ng, to the Townsville community immediately after the MOU was signed. We received a briefing on plans to accommodate the increased training activity at the Townsville field training area, and we met with Townsville business and local leaders to discuss those benefits and the implementation of those key initiatives. We discussed the opportunities for construction, for supply, for maintenance and for tourism and the potential in the retail and hospitality sectors over what is a 25-year agreement. The government is very committed to continuing to work with both Queensland communities throughout the implementation of this historic training agreement to build on the strong links that have already been established between Singapore and Australia.

The PRESIDENT: Senate Macdonald, your supplementary question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:33): I thank the minister for that good news answer. Could the minister now, perhaps, tell the Senate about the potential expansion of the high-range training area in Townsville and the Shoalwater Bay training area in Rockhampton, and how that expansion will benefit both the Singapore Armed Forces and, indeed, the Australian armed forces?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:33): Indeed, a key element of the agreement is upgrading the training areas near both Townsville and Rockhampton, which will potentially include the expansion of each training area. This expansion will also enable the Australian Defence Force to conduct complex training activities. Implementing this initiative will also give our servicemen and servicewomen access to better training facilities and training options, growing our own capability.

I understand that any potential expansion of the training area does interest local communities, so I am ensuring that Defence adopts a proactive and transparent process. Defence will be directly contacting landowners and will continue to conduct extensive engagement and consultation. Defence will finalise its land acquisition strategy for government consideration in 2017. In the first instance, Defence will look to purchase land on the open market. All land acquired under this initiative will be owned by the Australian government.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, final supplementary question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:34): Again, thanks, Minister, and thanks for your efforts in Central and North Queensland. Minister, could you perhaps now tell us of the next steps in the planning and implementation of the agreement between the two countries.

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:34): This is a very important aspect of Defence's engagement which began with community groups and stakeholders in October, and we will continue to strengthen these important relationships over the coming weeks, months and years ahead. A community liaison officer will be appointed and based locally in Queensland to provide businesses and the community with a local contact as the initiative progresses.

The scale of investment by Singapore in our defence training areas is substantial. We heard Prime Minister Lee say that he wants it to be state of the art. The detailed business planning for facilities development will occur early in 2017, concurrent with a master planning activity for both sites. That will include a socioeconomic study and environmental impact assessments. Defence will provide an initial business case to government in 2017 on the upgrades, and construction will commence in 2019.

We will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to implement this very important initiative that will have significant long-term benefits for the ADF, the Singapore Armed Forces and the people of Central and North Queensland.