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Tuesday, 23 May 1989
Page: 2443


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Defence to reported comments that the Department of Defence will scrap the Chinook helicopter in favour of the Black Hawk. Is the Minister aware that in recent flooding in south-west Queensland, and during fierce storms off the Queensland coast, the Chinook was used to provide invaluable service to the community, that this helicopter was the only one capable of withstanding the gale force winds in order to rescue people stranded at sea, and that almost 1,000 bales of fodder were dropped daily by the helicopter for livestock trapped in the floods? Although I accept that this is not the primary role of the Chinook helicopter, I ask the Minister: What consideration was given to its effectiveness in supporting the community during such times when the decision was made to scrap the helicopter?


Senator RICHARDSON —This question is very similar to a question I took on notice from Senator Sheil in the last couple of days of the previous two-week sitting. I hope that in answering Senator Bjelke-Petersen's question I shall cover Senator Sheil's concerns. There are presently 11 Chinooks in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and they are based at Amberley in Queensland. While the Chinook has performed creditably during its 16 years of service, it has reached a stage in its service life where operating costs are increasing dramatically, and to maintain the helicopter in service would require a major upgrade. The Department of Defence has considered all of the options involved in retaining the Chinook in service but, on balance, and in considering the capability of the Army's new Black Hawk helicopter, the ADF decided that it can neither afford nor justify the retention of the Chinook.

The majority of the Chinook's tasks can be performed by the Black Hawk or by other elements of the force in being. Obviously it is a difficult decision but, in view of the need for the defence forces to exercise financial restraint to allow the development of other higher priorities, the retention of the Chinook can be neither afforded nor justified. The Chinook costs about $7,080 per hour to operate, and the serviceability rates, despite the best efforts of the RAAF, have been very low. Australia's new battlefield helicopter, the Black Hawk, which will provide improved troop mobility, costs only $2,390 per hour to operate, which is a greatly reduced cost in terms of what the Chinook does now. Of course, any upgrade on the Chinook from a C model to a D model-that is what we are talking about here-would cost of the order of $200m. That just cannot sensibly be done.

Senator Bjelke-Petersen raised the question of rescues and Senator Sheil referred to a particular rescue at sea. Obviously, the Chinook's rescue capability could not possibly be the main consideration in the minds of the defence forces when making a decision of this nature. Nonetheless, I will endeavour to discover what the Department intends to do to replace that capability.