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Friday, 30 October 1970

Mr BARNARD (Bass) - This report provides the first outline of what the Government intends for the naval support facility at Cockburn Sound. Ministers have been very wary in the past over conveying other than the most cursory information about the proposed base. We now know from this report that it is planned to establish a facility for the berthing and logistic support of ships and submarines. According to the report the facility could be in operation in 1975. Major Befitting and docking facilities are not planned in the initial stages. This is much more information than has ever been given to this House by the Government. in his election policy speech last year the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) did say that naval facilities would be installed over a period. The only elaboration he has made since was at a Press conference in Brisbane last year and I quote from the Australian' of 20th October 1969, which reports the Prime Minister as having said that the base would have an initial capacity for 3 submarines and 4 frigates in 6 or 7 years' time. He was quoted further as saying that he had no doubt that as Australia grew, the facilities would be expanded. He said also that there was no possibility of having a significant twoocean capacity within 10 years, though Australia would have one eventually. This is the only account I have been able to find of what the Prime Minister envisages for Cockburn Sound.

The Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen) have been less than enlightening. In his defence statement on 10th March the Minister for Defence stressed the need for a greater maritime capability in the waters around Australia. He said that the whole range of requirements of naval dockyards was under review and with the withdrawal of the Royal Navy from the Indian Ocean, some shifts of resources from the eastern States was necessary. On 14th May in this House the late Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes moved a motion calling for urgent priority to be given Cockburn Sound on the defence programme. In his response the Minister for the Navy said only that there was a design study then being made on the causeway. This study produced the report now before the House.

There was no reference to the project in the Budget although other construction work for the defence Services was outlined. It is a very great pity that a comprehensive statement on Cockburn Sound has not been made to the House by either the Minister for Defence or the Minister for the Navy. At the very least, the feasibility study made by Maunsell and Partners and given to the Government on 18th April 1968, should have been tabled in the House. Nor has the House had the benefit of the interdepartmental study of Australian dockyard facilities.

In the absence of all this information it has been impossible to make an informed assessment of the project or to debate it. Now, on the last day of the sitting, the House is given a report which sets out for the first time some of the specifics of the Government's proposals for Cockburn Sound. Undoubtedly, this has been done with an eye to the Senate elections. I do not complain of this; it is a legitimate political tactic to use such a report in this way. What is wrong is that the House will not be able to debate this issue with the benefit of the first concrete set of proposals and background information that has been given to it on Cockburn Sound. This concerns members of the Opposition.

Apart from the defence aspects of the issue there are environmental aspects which are important. The House will note that 2 Opposition members of the Public Works Committee, the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) and the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), drew attention to the impairment of the environment and moved an amendment that was defeated. There is very little reference to this side of the issue in the report, although I understand a considerable amount of scientific evidence was given to the Committee. I know that several members of the Opposition are concerned about the impact on the environment of the proposals and they should have been able to discuss these matters in the House. As it turns out, a full-scale debate on Cockburn Sound will not be possible before the next session.

There was little need for Australia to think of an Indian Ocean capability in the years of the great British bases in Singapore, Ceylon and the Middle Bast. Those days are gone forever and it is now a matter of urgency that the two-ocean capability of our defence forces be given teeth. Certainly the development of Cockburn Sound solely as a naval base seems beyond Australia's resources. Of course the Navy has not the capacity to use a major base in the west at anything like full capacity. This is why the Australian Labor Party's policy, as outlined by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), has centred on development of general maritime facilities at Cockburn Sound.

For some years the Western Australian Government has been interested in using Cockburn Sound to relieve the pressure on

Fremantle inner harbour. There is scope for a development scheme initiated by the Commonwealth and supported by the State covering the provision of naval, maritime and commercial facilities at Cockburn Sound. The Navy's part in the development could be concentrated on providing a support role for a modest Indian Ocean capability. This is the way the Opposition has seen the Cockburn Sound development over the years.

In summary, it is regrettable that the first account of the Cockburn Sound project should have to be conveyed to the House by way of the Public Works Committee. It is even more regrettable that a full-scale debate on all aspects of the project has not been held and now cannot be held before March next year. With these serious reservations, the Opposition welcomes the report and the valuable information it contains.

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