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Tuesday, 6 September 1983
Page: 444

Question No. 262

Mr Gayler asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 26 May 1983:

What proportion of overall operations of each of the armed forces has been carried out between the area bounded by Cairns, Port Hedland, and Australia's northern frontier, excluding operations associated with overseas flights and sailings by the RAAF and the RAN.

Mr Scholes —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

The statistics sought are not readily available. Although very substantial data is held in the Department of Defence and each of the arms of the Defence Force on the activities of elements of the Defence Force, such data is for on-going purposes and does not lend itself readily to compilation into the form sought by the honourable member.

From a broad analysis of Defence Force exercise activities in northern Australia, that is north of the Tropic of Capricorn, over the period July 1979 to July 1983, my Department has concluded that the proportion of overall activities of each of the arms of the Defence Force held in that area was about: RAN-35 per cent, Army-25 per cent, RAAF-25 per cent. These proportions vary year by year. They do not include day-to-day activities by units based in the area. As well, cognizance must also be taken of the significant operational activity undertaken in the form of surveillance of the Australian Fishing Zone by RAN patrol boats and RAAF Orion maritime patrol aircraft. In any one year, approximately 70 per cent of patrol boat operations and 50 per cent of Orion operations are conducted north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

There is no doubt that the proportion of defence activity in northern Australia has increased substantially over the past decade. This reflects a recognition of the strategic significance of northern Australia in any credible circumstance of armed attack on Australia. That recognition is endorsed by the present government.