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Review of the Defence Annual Report 2009-2010

CHAIR —I now welcome representatives from Defence to today’s hearing. Although the subcommittee does not require you to give evidence on oath, I should advise you that these hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and therefore have the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard. Do you wish to make any opening statements?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —No.

CHAIR —Just so people are aware, this next passage of matters will be mental health reforms, military justice systems, security of vital national assets in the north-west of Australia, Border Protection Command, and base security. We will start with mental health reforms.

Dr STONE —At page 105 of the Defence Annual Report, you refer to the fact that ‘noteworthy achievements have been made in the areas of mental health and rehabilitation, enhancement of our resilience in suicide awareness’, and so on. Obviously the Dunt report is now two years old. It recommended a significant number of changes. It was quite unambiguous about these. It said that this and that must happen. Do we still have, for example, actual rehabilitation platoons operating?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I do not think I am across whether we have rehabilitation platoons, but I can describe for you in general terms what Defence has done as a result of Professor Dunt’s study.

Dr STONE —Perhaps I could guide you a bit more rather than a very broad response. For example, the Dunt report stressed that there had to be better integration between the medical side of a person’s support and mental health. It talked about the fact that there had to be better training of people like the chaplains and the COs in understanding mental health. It talked about abolishing the rehabilitation platoons, which were stigmatising and, as we know, have led to some suicides in Defence. They are some of the areas that they stressed, as well as integration of family in the post-operative rehabilitation process or assessment of whether or not there was an issue and a problem, and better transition management. Some of those issues were stressed by Dunt as needing to be urgently addressed. Can you perhaps focus on some of those?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I certainly can. We have come a long way since Dr Dunt’s review, with an implementation program under the mental health strategy. It is a four-year program and has 10 major goals. Many of those subjects that you have just identified are part and parcel of those goals. We can go through some of those in a little bit of detail if you wish, but they include many of the aspects that you were talking about. An enhancement of the workforce that deals with mental health issues within Defence, improvement in the governance—

Dr STONE —By ‘enhancement’, do you mean additional staff?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —Yes, additional staff.

Dr STONE —Is that significantly additional, given the problems of recruitment into psychology and social work and so on?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —A combination of that, yes. An additional 82 positions were identified to go into the health workforce. At the moment we have filled 45 of those and 37 are still to be achieved. The remaining initiatives would be new policy directives and some of those the Chief of Defence Force briefly explained during the earlier session; an improvement into mental health training; strategic alliance with the Australian and General Practice network; looking at a number of prevention policies as some tools that start from the recruitment level all the way through to using those tools to help build up a level of resistance in our workforce, and particularly those who are deploying into operational theatres; improvement in collaboration with our Department of Veterans’ Affairs in research; addressing mental health rehabilitation, some of which were discussed by CDF a little earlier. It is our aim to, as best we can, rehabilitate people back into our workforce if not to the area that they have directly been employed previously to perhaps other areas. Our last line of resort we would be looking to go down the discharge path. Further initiatives would be improvement in transitioning, perhaps if that is the path that we need to take, and helping someone move more smoothly to a civilian workforce or employment after their time in the Defence Force. That would include helping families cope with perhaps the disability in their family or mental health issues. And looking at improving the facilities, many of which are based around our facilities within Australia.

Dr STONE —Given the problem at the moment where it is a stigmatising, career limiting thing to identify that you are having what I will call broadly mental health issues, how is the Army working to overcome that with both the privacy of the individual being paramount but also the need to have a CO informed and for this person to be somehow reassured that identifying mental health related concerns will not in fact be a career limiting move for them?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I think that would come to some of the changed policies that I briefly described. What we are trying to do is break down the stigma, to have people talk and reassure our members that if mental health issues surfaced we will do our best to rehabilitate them and that discharge would be the last option. A recent initiative has been the development of a DVD on post traumatic stress, and to have soldiers talking about their experiences.

Dr STONE —If a person had been diagnosed as having depression or anxiety, and therefore, amongst other things, were given medication to help them with that condition, would they be able to be deployed back into active service on that medication?

Mr Morton —It is an area that has been looked at in terms of policy right at the moment. Essentially the requirement is to make sure that we have a level of stability for the person in terms of the deployment. We have best practice guidelines for both the clinicians and also the advice for commanders to be able to recognise that a person who has been placed on such medications would have a period that would be acceptable in terms of looking at their stability, in terms of their condition, and if there is going to be a deployment we would also be looking at the potential to make sure that commanders are informed about the needs that might occur on deployment so that, should further treatment be required, if that was necessary, there would be a more immediate, appropriate and relevant response. At the moment that policy is in fact under review. Our intent is to progress along the basis that, where evidence shows that medication can have a stabilising effect, we would want to have that demonstrated before commanders are able to make a decision about deployment opportunities.

Dr STONE —With respect to what we call decompression, have you had an evaluation of Australia’s strategies comparing them with other like nations, such as the UK or the US, to determine whether we do have best practice, and whether in fact those other nations have better outcomes in terms of posttraumatic stress or family marital issues, and so on, given that what we do is significantly different from what, for example, the Dutch were doing in bringing their troops out of active service in Afghanistan?

Mr Morton —In relation to decompression, Defence has had quite a robust program of predeployment and post-deployment debriefings and screenings that form part of the overall approach to handling the question of decompression. However, prior to people returning to Australia, there is a program of decompression that occurs at the moment where they will be screened through a process that is called the Return to Australia Psychological Screen. That occurs prior to their returning to Australia. There is also then three to six months after the return a further post-operational screen. Defence is about to trial an enhancement of the existing decompression which in fact will include both some psycho-educational material during that decompression period before they return to Australia as well as an enhancement around the screening processes and the reintegration information that is provided. In addition, the trial we are about to run and evaluate will also be delivered at the same time that in Australia the families of those people who are returning will be offered the opportunity to participate in a program that we call Family Smart. That will be an opportunity for them to receive information about the adjustments that might occur for them and for the person coming back. That trial will be taking place in the coming months.

In regard to your question around comparison with other countries, we have been lots of consultation for some time now with our colleagues in the UK, America, Canada and New Zealand. With regard to the Canadian and the UK experience in relation to decompression prior to the person returning, there is not a great deal of evaluation beyond the satisfaction levels around that at the moment. There is further research being done on that by our colleagues overseas. Our approach to that is to have a look at an evaluation of the trial that we are running so that we can demonstrate that the combination of the mental health screening we are running as well as the reintegration we are giving gives some good outcomes for people when they return. That trial will take place now and we look forward to being able to evaluate that.

Dr STONE —The Dunt report was fairly critical of what I will call the immediate debriefing following coming out of deployment and then the three to six months later post-operative analysis, or debriefing, and they suggest you just simply have a group debrief when people first come out and then the second to involve families. A lot of that was based on the fact that there were not enough trained personnel or resources to do the job properly with the one-on-one. Have you dealt with those problems? I noticed that you talked about more family engagement. That seems obvious and critical, but have you taken on Dunt’s recommendations and really looked at the best deployment of resources, the actual best use, best timing, and long-term evaluation of all of this in terms of even years later what the impacts might be?

Mr Morton —We have taken on the recommendations of Professor Dunt. In the course of doing the work on the development of the trial on decompression, we are at the same time reviewing the RTAPS and POPS processes. We are undertaking a fairly significant study at the moment—one of four studies in MilHOP, the Military Health Outcomes Program, and in the health and wellbeing study of that the results of the mental health questionnaires or surveys we are using will allow us to establish whether we have set the right thresholds in our screens that we used in the RTAPS and the POPS process. We will be strengthening the robustness of those screens.

In terms of the capacity to conduct those screens and the workforce required, part of our review of that is to recognise that, in terms of the RTAPS process, there is good reason why we continue to have that done at the moment by the people who are doing it, and that is the psychologists who are in the theatre of operations. In terms of when it is done in Australia, we are looking at how that can be done by the new and enhanced workforce that we have brought on. We have brought on more mental health nurses. We have brought on more social workers. Our approach will be to have a look at how those POPS screenings can be conducted by our enhanced workforce rather than just the psychologists who were doing it before. As a result of reviewing that process, we are also looking at including some programs that are more structured programs between that return to Australia and the three and six months mark—so a coming home readjustment program and the family debriefings that are occurring—and we will be presenting that as essentially a comprehensive program of reintegration. We are evaluating those steps as we are progressing with them.

Dr STONE —You now having your individual personnel medical records shared between the mental health and the medical services area?

Mr Morton —We are certainly progressing in that area. That is our ultimate aim. The ultimate aim is that we would have a health record in which the physical health records as well as the mental health records are there.

Dr STONE —And brought together?

Mr Morton —They are brought together in the one file. More broadly in terms of health records, Defence is essentially establishing electronic health records, which will make that much easier in fact. At present, because we have progressed with the enhanced workforce, we are doing that on a hard copy basis at the moment, prior to getting an eHealth record that will happen down the track. We are certainly now encouraging our providers to use a health record. It will take us a period of time to move those health records together, of course. That is just the nature of the amount of information. But our focus is that if you are seeing somebody for a mental health reason you would be looking at their health file.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Do your activities show any correlation between long hours of work and mental health problems?

Mr Morton —There is no specific piece of work within the Joint Health Command area at the moment. However, previous research has looked at the issues of the impact of fatigue. Certainly in terms of the outcomes of that sort of research, which was done a few years ago now, that has been taken into account into that decompression process that I was talking about. One of the goals of the decompression process is in fact to look at the issue of supporting people to recognise fatigue levels and how they go about in fact recovering from the issues of fatigue during decompression.

In terms of the busyness of people, there is no specific research under way at the moment that is doing that. Our MilHOP and our health and wellbeing survey will pick up the broader lifestyle and life-work balances that people experience, and we are hoping that might help inform us in terms of how to better target some of our health programs in early intervention and prevention mechanisms around those sorts of issues.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I have been in and out of this meeting and lost the opportunity to inquire into the actual facts of the strength, but it has been suggested to me—not at a senior level, but via a bit of pub gossip almost—that there is a difficulty in manning naval assets across the top of Australia. To do this effectively you do need reserves, many of whom work in the marine area in their daytime job and then leave that, go home, have a shower and go out and man one of our naval assets. There is a suggestion that the availability of reserves, for one reason or another, is not quite there, and as a result people in that area of the Navy are working longer hours than would normally be expected, and that is causing some real health problems. As I say, I do not say that with any authority, but has anything I have said come to your attention? Have you seen any evidence of that sort of scenario?

Mr Morton —I cannot speak to the veracity of the evidence, but I can suggest that Chief of Navy has directed, with the support of Joint Health Command, that we will be trialling mental health screening for those who are participating in patrol boat activity and Operation Resolute. In the coming months we will be running the initial trials of those. That mental health screening activity will also include information that talks about things like stress levels, fatigue—those sorts of areas. I do not have any information about it at the moment, but I do recognise that, under Chief of Navy’s direction, Joint Health Command will be working with Navy to in fact look at some mental health screening processes that might help identify those sorts of issues.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —This is obviously not your area, but if it is a problem that the naval assets are very busy up the north of Australia now, dealing with quite difficult issues—border protection and boat people, plus other issues—the assets have to be out there doing things, and if there are not sufficient staff, which is something I cannot comment on except to repeat pub gossip, it means people have to work longer hours. Your program might well identify those and perhaps might even stop it, but that may well mean that we do not have the protection that the Navy very professionally gives to this community. Perhaps on notice could I ask you to let me know whether your statistics show any problem there? You might sort of interrelate that to the Chief of Navy’s mental health screening program. Perhaps in a wider area of the department, you might indicate to me that, if there is a problem, and if the Navy Chief’s program identifies it, what can we do about it? Someone else in the department might answer that last bit.

Air Vice Marshal Paule —You might have missed an earlier conversation, but I would not be trying to say to you that the assets or the people are not busy, but under the flexible crewing arrangements that the Navy has at the moment it is not to say that the same crew is on the same ship all the time. They move the crews around. If the asset is busy and they have gone through a particular cycle, the details of which I do not have with me here, we can move those crews around. We can move people on and off those vessels to support those particular activities. It is not just the case of the same people doing the same job on the same ship all the time. Of course, we do rotate the ships through those operations as well.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I did hear you say that, but you can only rotate them to as many as you have. If you do not have sufficient rotations and the boats have to be out there, it just means those who are there have to work more than would normally be the case just to get them manned. It is very important work that they do. It is work that really cannot stop.

CHAIR —I know the committee has in its schedule for later in the year to go up to Border Protection Command. I have done the program myself and I know that that will be an eye opener for a lot of us. It will be worth while to get the knowledge of that to the rest of the committee. That brings us to the next stage, Military Justice System Reforms, which will take us through to 11.45.

Dr STONE —There was a question that I asked that did not get answered. Do we still have rehabilitation platoons? Perhaps that could be put on notice.

Mr ROBERT —Also on notice, could we have an update on initial outcomes of the ADF family healthcare trial? I believe it is finishing next year, but I would suggest you probably have initial outcomes now as to how it is going?

CHAIR —We turn now to Military Justice System Reforms.

Mr ROBERT —With respect to the lack of establishment of the Australian Military Court, has that had any detriment to where military justice is going or has it not? If it has, would you comment, please?

Mr Cunliffe —The current interim system is operating and functioning as it was expected that it would, because in large measure it is returning to a system that had worked in the past. The other side of that is that the initiative that had been announced and adopted over time of moving to a chapter 3 court has not occurred, but there is a functioning military justice system, which is a fully functioning system.

Mr ROBERT —Putting aside a chapter 3 appeals court, why do we need something like a chapter 3 Australian Military Court and why will a court martial system that has stood the military in good stead for hundreds of years not suffice going forward, considering that, in your own words, the current system is actually working quite well?

Mr Cunliffe —I am conscious that, as a member of the Public Service, my role here is not to advocate policy but to seek to explain it in accordance with the guidelines to government witnesses and to witnesses before committees. Consistent with those approaches, I would only answer in terms of the history of this matter.

Mr ROBERT —Let me rephrase it. Does a court martial system provide all the necessary outlets and outcomes for military justice? That question allows you to be factual.

Mr Cunliffe —If I can put it in these terms, I do not think it is a simple question of fact at that point, because it is an argument of a policy nature ultimately about the value of alternative systems. Progressively the joint standing committee of 2005 advocated a chapter 3 court. You will know that the course that was ultimately adopted at that point was not to move to a chapter 3 court but to move to a court outside chapter 3.

Mr ROBERT —Let me rephrase it to allow you to provide a professional opinion. Is there any indication that people are not receiving fair justice under the current system of court martials?

Mr Cunliffe —I would not certainly suggest that for one moment. Indeed, notwithstanding the High Court in the Lane v. Morrison decision found the military court system to be constitutionally invalid, there was no criticism either of the quality of justice under that system. I suppose I could say whichever system we have had the indications are that the matters have been dealt with. However, I should comment that the joint standing committee did consider that it was not an ideal system, and that was why they recommended to government a chapter 3 outcome. My recollection is that was a unanimous view of that committee.

Dr JENSEN —This answer will have to be provided on notice, because I do not expect you to know every single case.

Mr Cunliffe —I am relieved to hear that.

Dr JENSEN —Some of it will have to go to CDF as well. Why did CDF say some years ago that all outstanding redresses of grievance matters had been satisfactorily addressed? With respect to the issue of Air Commodore Gary Bates, why were this matter and other matters still outstanding at the time? Why have both this and other matters taken so long to address? What happened with the redress of grievance submitted by Air Commodore Bates years ago?

Mr Cunliffe —I understand that you have had some experience of working in Defence, so you would understand the wonders and complexities of our organisation. The redress of grievance system does not actually sit under the Defence legal coverage, although we become involved in a range of them for various reasons when legal issues are raised. The responsibility for operating the redress of grievance system of course in large measure derives from the service’s responsibilities, but also sits elsewhere within the agency. I am afraid that your original observation was correct; I will need to take those on notice to answer you usefully at all.

Dr JENSEN —It was just that this was, I thought, the most appropriate part of these hearings.

Mr Cunliffe —I do not disagree with that assessment. It is merely that the organisation does not necessarily reflect it.

Dr JENSEN —If I can put those questions on notice and receive a reply to that?

Mr Cunliffe —Certainly.

CHAIR —If there are no further questions on this area, we will move to the next area. We are now ahead of schedule. We turn now to the Security of Vital National Assets in the North West of Australia. Do you have an opening statement?

Mr Jennings —No.

Dr JENSEN —This is something that obviously as a Western Australian is of critical importance to our state and indeed the nation. We have a lot of strategic assets up in the north-west, both energy assets and other mining assets. However, it is an area where basically we have sparse Defence resources. What infrastructure and equipment capabilities do we have up there at present and what capabilities and infrastructure, in the department’s view, do we require in that area to ensure adequate security in the area, not only as far as illegal boat arrivals are concerned but in actually protecting those resources, such as oil and gas rigs and so on?

Mr Jennings —It is a deceptively complex question.

Dr JENSEN —I realise that.

Mr Jennings —I guess the way to start is by going back to the fundamentals which, in our case, is the 2009 Defence White Paper. That document makes the judgment that the Indian Ocean region of which this is a part is one which will become of increasing strategic importance to Australia over the next 20 years or so. I think we begin at least on the same page, which is an acknowledgment of the importance of that strategic part of the world and, indeed, a judgment that it is very much the case that that will become more important to Australian security over the next 20 years. That may or may not have an impact on basing infrastructure in the longer term around the country, which is something that I guess will continue to be assessed by us annually through our Defence planning guidance process, which is really a classified annual look at the policy settings that are put out in White Papers, and every five years or so through the production of a new Defence White Paper. That is the first part of my answer.

On current strategic settings, though, we do not identify a direct threat to Australia in the near or medium term. Therefore, as such, we are not in the business of posturing the Defence Force as though it is likely that a direct attack against the country will manifest itself any time soon. That is part of our existing strategic guidance.

To go to the issue of the assets that we have in terms of the north-west part of the country, we have the Pilbara regiment which is based at Karratha. That is a force engaged in the business of patrolling and undertaking remote surveillance activities. There is also the so-called bare bases of RAAF, Learmonth and Curtin, and in terms of operational activities the most regular presence that Defence manifests is through the support that we provide to Border Protection Command.

Dr JENSEN —Just on Learmonth and Curtin, how long would it take for those bare bases to become operational? Let us say an emergency situation evolved and it was evident that those bases were going to have to become operational as soon as possible. What time period are we looking at?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can you add in Scherger as well to the other two?

Mr Jennings —Scherger is the north-east, though, isn’t it?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —They could help out the north-west. We help you over in the west from the east all the time. But I am interested in Scherger, too, for other reasons.

Mr Jennings —The precise detail of that takes me a little out of my lane. I am not a person who is involved in planning the conduct of operations. What I can say is that the bases are used regularly in exercises in order to demonstrate their capability. They can be brought up to operational capability at relatively short notice, depending on the rate of effort that the Defence Force wants to put into that. In large part it would relate to the nature of the operation being considered, but it can happen very quickly. It should be said that these are facilities that can be and are used relatively frequently.

Dr JENSEN —Are they fuelled up all the time?

Mr Jennings —They are not there to sustain high tempo operations right now, and in fact it would not be wise to make those sorts of investments at times when you do not anticipate that they are likely to be used. You would appreciate, I am sure, Dr Jensen, with your background that high levels of operational readiness are actually expensive. Therefore, you have to make sensible strategy based decisions about the relative cost versus the relative priority of undertaking these activities.

Dr JENSEN —With respect to counterterrorism capabilities, we can talk about large-scale conventional threats, which I guess is what we are talking about at the moment, but there is also the issue of terrorism. As I mentioned initially, these are high-value strategic assets. In your view, is the concentration of anti-terrorist capability adequate in the area? What sorts of complementary capability do we have in that area as far as anti-terrorism activity is concerned?

Mr Jennings —It obviously takes us into sensitive territory fairly quickly, because making judgments about terrorist threats is largely driven by our understanding from intelligence of the nature of the threat that we face. One really cannot talk in depth about that here. What I can say is that, across the country, I think we are very well positioned with our capacity for quick response to potential terrorist threat, both in the west and on the east, based around the Special Air Services Regiment in the west in particular. The point there is not so much about the base from which those forces might be called upon to deploy but rather the speed at which they can be moved into a particular theatre. I think we are very well practised indeed in terms of being able quickly to mount responses to terrorist threats based on those and other capabilities, from their existing locations which, in the case of the SASR, is in Perth.

Dr JENSEN —We saw the tragedy at Christmas Island. In terms of detection of the boats coming in, actually knowing they are coming is critical. In terms of the aspect that we were just discussing with terrorism and the potential to use some small vessel to infiltrate, the detection of those boats is a critical capability. What percentage of these boats would we be able to detect well ahead of time before they get to, say, Christmas Island or the Australian mainland?

Mr Jennings —Even if I knew that figure I do not know that it would really be appropriate for me to answer it.

CHAIR —It might be better to ask the next witness when we move into Border Protection Command.

Mr Jennings —What I can say is that we have a system in place designed to give us early warning from the very earliest stages of those movements of vessels. One constantly works to increase the amount of information that we have to give us earlier warning about the movements of those vessels. Within the limits of the technology physically available to us we manage to run a fairly effective system.

Ms BRODTMANN —We touched on the issue of energy security earlier, and you say that it gets captured in the White Paper planning and strategic planning process. Has Defence considered doing a separate assessment of this issue? I do not want to pose the whole Mad Max scenario, but there will be increased pressures over the coming decades on energy, particularly oil and gas, and I am interested to know whether you have done any planning on the identification of those pressures and also security planning around that?

Mr Jennings —We certainly do say in the White Paper that the potential for conflict to arise in our region as a result of disputes over access to energy is something that is likely to become more strategically significant over the next few years. The locus of that is the Indian Ocean, because so many countries in the broader Asia Pacific really rely on energy from sources that take vessels from the Middle East through the Indian Ocean and through the Straits of Malacca. I think that does give rise to the potential for points of instability, which may indeed impact on Australia. It is a separate matter again about the ADF’s holdings of petrol, oils and lubricants and our capacity to have access to that during times of high operational tempo. Significant work is going on in the department to keep that under review.

Ms BRODTMANN —Is cyber security in your area?

Mr Jennings —There are many players in the cyber security space. I have particular interest in the broader policy settings with regard to cyber security. My colleague, Mr Merchant, would be able to speak with greater authority about operational aspects of cyber safety.

Ms BRODTMANN —I have heard some say we are a bit underdone on cyber security in terms of the work and the planning we are doing, as well as future funding. What is happening in this space, realising this is a highly sensitive area and so you will need to give a relatively unclassified answer?

Mr Merchant —I am happy to address that, though. Governments have made quite substantial investment in Australia’s cyber capability in recent years, both through the Attorney-General’s Department with its eSecurity initiatives but also in our case through the Defence White Paper in 2009. In particular the focus of Defence’s capability here is in the Defence Signals Directorate, the national cryptologic agency. Its capabilities in terms of cyber security have developed quite significantly in the last two years in particular. I think a major milestone, which many members would be aware of, was the opening of the cyber security operations centre at the beginning of last year by then Minister John Faulkner. That is actually a multiagency centre, not simply staffed by officers from the Department of Defence; it also includes officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General’s Department. It works in very close cooperation with the Attorney-General’s computer emergency response team. I think it is somewhat of a misapprehension that our capabilities here are developing only slowly. In my view, we have made significant strides. The cyber threat is real and it continues to evolve. There is a continual sort of action and reaction at play here. Certainly governments give this a very high priority. Consequently, it has been at the top of our list and, as I say, I think we have made significant progress in recent years.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Bearing in mind that I am told in other work that this committee is doing that Africa is becoming more important, and it is the other side of the ocean to Australia—and of course India and some of the smaller states in the Indian Ocean could be important—what is our best form of security in that area? We cannot afford aircraft carriers, but should we have aircraft carriers or just more patrol boats or frigates? What is the role of Cocos Island which, as I understand it, back in the Second World War was our sort of fixed aircraft carrier? In a strategic sense, what are our best thoughts on what we can afford for our role in the Indian Ocean, as you mentioned, bearing in mind that apart from India we are perhaps the biggest and most stable country bordering the Indian Ocean?

Mr Jennings —I think there is a multilayer answer to the question. Firstly, the government is working to increase the range of its bilateral and multilateral connections into the Indian Ocean region. That impacts on Defence in a number of ways. For example, in increases in Defence cooperation, which we have undertaken with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to some extent, with the posting of an Australian Defence attaché to the African Union and Addis Ababa in order to give a stronger Defence presence into Africa and to increase our understanding of the security situation there. That is one part of it, increased multilateral and bilateral cooperation. I think some significant progress has been made against those objectives in the last few years.

Then more broadly, if you look at the Defence White Paper 2009, you see the articulation of a maritime strategy for Australia that will increase significantly maritime capabilities as we move towards 2030. Submarines are often mentioned, but there is also significant investment projected in air warfare destroyers, ultimately in a replacement for the Anzac frigate, in the acquisition of an offshore combatant vessel. A significant part of this investment will ultimately find itself in the Indian Ocean area maintaining an Australian presence and I hope working with the countries of the region to develop closer cooperation.

Cocos Island is still relevant to us today in terms of the location it provides us for operating maritime surveillance assets that use the airfield there. I think that is likely to continue to be an important location for us. What we have in train right now is a sensible strategy of increasing our cooperation with the countries of the region, certainly increasing our focus and our attempts to understand the strategic dynamics of the region, and building closer relations with the major powers there. At the same time, we are also looking to increase the air and navy assets in particular that will operate into the Indian Ocean.

CHAIR —We move now to the next area of Border Protection Command.

Dr JENSEN —In terms of border protection, you spoke about the limitations of the technologies and capabilities that we have in place. What is your view on getting a capability such as BAMS to increase significantly our surveillance in the area? The problem with manned assets obviously is they are very expensive and they have fairly short endurance compared with unmanned assets.

Mr Jennings —The White Paper really sets out the current plan for our investment into maritime surveillance, which is in the Force 2030 context built around ultimately the replacement of P3 maritime surveillance aircraft that we have at present. Unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles are likely to form part of that particular process. It is a very expensive area of investment and it needs to be balanced against intelligent judgments about the nature of the threat that might emanate from the region and the best ways to deal with it. That is something which at that point starts to take me outside of my particular lane in terms of the platforms that would be used to—

Dr JENSEN —Even in the current context, where we are not looking at a military threat but simply a threat with boat arrivals, the fact that those people are having to be put up in detention centres and so on is hugely expensive in itself. Ensuring that we detect them early provides potential to get the Indonesians, for example, to intervene and therefore we do not have to house them, and potentially that puts them off coming to Australia because of the certainty of early detection. In that context, there should be a cost-benefit analysis.

Mr Jennings —It needs to be, and is, dealt with very much as a whole-of-government challenge, which goes well beyond Defence to involve Customs. Our involvement with Customs and Border Protection Command, but beyond that, the role of the AFP internationally and diplomatically in order to see the process of illegal people movements as a chain from the point or origination through to ultimately—

Dr JENSEN —Through the policy side, yes.

Mr Jennings —I think where we have made significant gains recently has been our ability to think of this as a pipeline, effectively, and to address every point of that pipeline in terms of our ability so that it is not simply a case of finding boats on the water but actually going back to source to look at the strategies that can be undertaken to prevent them from leaving port in the first place.

Dr JENSEN —But ultimately you do need to find those boats, and simply in terms of a humanitarian position finding them before some of them sink is obviously something that would be a good thing. My concern is that the amount of persistence that we have in the region in surveillance terms is not very high. Certainly with patrol boats, you have patrol boats in the area, and the percentage of time that you would have assets up there in terms of patrol boats would be pretty high, but obviously the area that they can survey is comparatively low. My concern is the actual effectiveness of surveillance of that region.

Mr Jennings —The effectiveness is dramatically improved if their activities are driven by intelligence and other means of detection, which means that the boats are simply not patrolling open space but operating with a high degree of certainty about where they will encounter the vessels that we are talking about. That is really the key to a successful strategy to identifying boats as they move towards our shores.

CHAIR —I did see some exposure of the AP3Cs up there and the assistance through Customs as well. Could you explain to the committee the capabilities that we have up there, which are essentially the eyes for the Border Protection Command in the area?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —It is a whole-of-government aspect, as has just been described. In terms of a Defence commitment, we have a combination of our Navy vessels, mostly the patrol boats, but from time to time we may move other naval assets in and out of that operation under Joint Task Force 639, as well as a number of AP3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. We also use some of our regional force surveillance units, our soldiers who operate in the northern parts of Australia, and that probably largely describes the physical presence in the asset. There is a headquarters that seeks to manage that operation, both in Darwin at headquarters NORCOM or headquarters 639, I suppose, in this context, but also back into headquarters Joint Operations Command sitting outside Canberra in Bungendore. Then, of course, you have the Customs or Border Protection Command assets, a combination of their own Bay class vessels, their Dash 8 surveillance aircraft and a number of helicopters. That largely describes the physical assets. Replicated in the Defence Command system is the Customs headquarters sitting here in Canberra.

Mr ROBERT —My understanding from the budget is that in financial year 2009-10 Op Resolute was $10.3 million. However, can you take on notice and get back to the committee with the real cost of Op Resolute? When I say ‘real’, in the budget papers the cost of all Defence assets, as I understand it, includes P3C Orions, seven patrol boats, RFSU elements, platoon size, transit security elements, with a number of surface and minor and major fleet vessels on standby. Those costs are sunk costs within the Defence budget. If the military was not stumping up under Op Resolute, those assets would need to be provided by Customs. I would like to know the real cost of Op Resolute. If the military were not doing this, if Border Protection Command minus military assets, were required to enforce the government’s policy position, what would it cost? Where would it get its assets from, and what would it cost, to get an overall picture? Take it on notice, because there is no way you could answer it now.

Mr Jennings —We can take that on notice, although I would say that the real cost gives us capabilities that can be used for a wide range of military operations, which would not necessarily be costs that Border Protection Command would seek to invest in if they had one sole task to perform.

Mr ROBERT —Noted. But if the Minister for Defence, in line with cabinet, said: ‘No. Border Protection Command, sort this out’, you would need to get a range of assets and people and so on to achieve your mandate, and it would have a cost. Together that is the real cost of Op Resolute, which at present is actually not shown anywhere.

Mr Jennings —As I say, we will take that on notice, but it would be unlikely for a government to say, no.

Mr ROBERT —But the issue is not about government, it is about real cost. Air Vice Marshal Paule, can you explain the relationship between Border Protection Command and Headquarters NORCOM? My understanding is Headquarters NORCOM in effect is actually doing the job, but Headquarters Border Command is actually responsible for it. I am interested in how that actually works.

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I will try. It is a reasonably complex headquarters structure and combined effort between many agencies.

Mr ROBERT —You are not filling me with confidence so far.

Air Vice Marshal Paule —It is not just Customs and the ADF; there are other departments as well, including the Australian Federal Police, the fisheries management agency, et cetera. The activities of border protection are commanded by Commander, Border Protection Command, in his Customs capacity, but the same officer, who happens to be a senior naval two-star officer, is also commander of Joint Task Force 639, and that is the ADF element. Those two elements come together to provide the surveillance and apprehension assets that we have in the north. Commander, Border Protection Command, through his Customs capacity, has assigned Customs vessels, aircraft and helicopters, and provides direction as to where he would like those to operate on any given day or week. In his capacity as Joint Task Force Commander 639, he has assigned naval assets and P3 Orions and the regional force surveillance units, and he can also direct the positioning of those assets through his Commander, Joint Task Force 639 capacity. He manages all of those assets together to provide the surveillance posture that he needs to maintain awareness but also an ability to apprehend vessels should they appear in his operating area.

Mr ROBERT —Am I correct in saying that JOC has force assigned seven patrol boats? Is that number correct?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I think it is seven, yes.

Mr ROBERT —How many P3Cs?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —Three. They are based out of Darwin.

Mr ROBERT —What other elements does he have force assigned from organisations other than Defence? For example, I gather he has the Triton?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —Yes. I think some of these questions are best answered by Customs, but he does have a range of Customs vessels. There are Bay class ships, there are larger vessels—Triton is one perhaps, yes; Ocean Protector is another.

Mr ROBERT —I am happy for you to take on notice to provide a list of the assets in equipment and manpower that have been force assigned from various agencies to Commander, Protection Command, if you are happy with that?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I think it is probably a fair question to provide an answer to you with what Defence assets are assigned to Border Protection Command.

Mr ROBERT —That is fair enough. I respect that. How does Headquarters NORCOM fit into that relationship? You did not mention it.

Air Vice Marshal Paule —The Deputy Commander of Border Protection Command and the Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force 639—I think I need to correct myself there. Commander NORCOM is the Deputy Commander of JTF 639. In his military capacity he helps the commander do the day-to-day tasking and management of the ADF assets employed in their surveillance area.

Mr ROBERT —Is he Deputy Commander of Border Protection Command as well, or is that a Customs officer?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I am not 100 per cent sure of that. I will have a look at my notes and see if I can come back to you. Otherwise I will have to return.

Mr ROBERT —How much of Headquarters NORCOM’s current tasking comes through JTF 639, and how much is through the normal tasking that comes down to them? In other words, how much of their time is taken up by Operation Resolute?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I do not have that detail with me at the moment. His role as the Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force 639 is one part of his job as Commander NORCOM. He has responsibilities in the northern part of Australia that are not just Operation Resolute. I would have to come back to you with the exact percentage or the rough indications.

Mr ROBERT —If you can come back with the detail for the last five years, looking at each year, with the percentage of his time—and I will not hold you to the one per cent—that has been taken up with Op Resolute, because I suggest it will show a massive spike in the amount of his headquarters’ time and available resources being used up on it. That leads me to the next question: what is the Commander NORCOM, and Headquarters NORCOM as an entity, not now doing because of the substantial requirement for Op Resolute?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I will need to take that detail on notice. I suspect it would just be a matter of prioritising his tasks. There would be spikes throughout the day where he would need to concentrate on Border Protection Command, Deputy Commander JTF 639 issues, but there would be other times in the day where that does not require his precise focus, and there are other folks in his headquarters who would—

Mr ROBERT —I am happy for you to take it on notice. Five years ago there were three boats a year. Now there are three a week. This is not about prioritisation.

CHAIR —I do not know that it is three a week.

Mr ROBERT —It was three this week. This is not about prioritisation; this is about a substantial reorganisation of the function and work of Headquarters NORCOM. I am interested to know in terms of not prioritising his time during the day but as to the complete function of Headquarters NORCOM what is it not now doing that it was, and where have those functions that it was doing gone to? On notice is fine.

Mr Jennings —It is a little difficult to talk about things that are not being done. You are asking us to talk about non-activities. It is a busy operational headquarters and its activities include things like support to our operations in East Timor. As the acting Vice Chief indicates, it really does come down to prioritisation rather than simply saying that tasks fall off a list.

Mr O’DOWD —This might be a little bit out of the square. With respect to the border protection and our fishing grounds, in your day-to-day operations do you notice illegal fishing boats like there used to be around in previous years?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I do not know that I am able to give an indication as to whether the numbers are increasing or decreasing over the years. What we perhaps are seeing is where those vessels are operating. And from our ability to provide an increased level of surveillance in those fishery areas there is an indication that fewer of those fishing vessels are encroaching on the Australian fishing area.

Mr O’DOWD —Is there still a problem?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —There are still lots of fishermen, but there may be fewer illegal ones. They are operating outside the contiguous zone from Australia, the 24-mile limit.

CHAIR —Last June when I was on the program, one of the first boats that came into our surveillance area was an illegal fishing boat. The AP3 immediately identified it, photographed it and sent all of the material down to Canberra. Is that the correct location of command that it is sent to, before it is then sent on to Armidale to intercept the boat?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I am not 100 per cent sure, but there might be a deployed ability to do some reviewing of the imagery or the surveillance information that we have picked up. It may not need to come all the way back to the senior headquarters, but oftentimes I suspect that that is probably the case.

CHAIR —What is the general result of the capture of those illegal fishing boats? What happens with the boats themselves?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I am not completely familiar with the implementation of the legislative process, but there are a number of things we might seek to do. We might embark and educate vessels if they are not quite breaking the law. We might issue some warnings. We may need to do some legislative forfeitures by our Customs officers. If they are clearly breaking some of our rules and laws, there would be apprehensions. That would lead to levels of arrest. I guess it now depends whether they are fishing laws or immigration laws as to what the end results might be. There may on occasion be destruction of vessels, where we apprehend and then destroy the vessel.

CHAIR —I do recall there was a successful program—and I assume it is still continuing—where there was education of Indonesian governments and it was explained what the end result would be of entering our waters. Is that program still continuing and, if so, is it successful?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I think that program is continuing through a number of avenues, not just Australian Defence Force but also the Australian Federal Police and Customs, in collaboration with many of our neighbours, not just Indonesia, but other nations around that region, to educate and attempt to prevent these vessels coming our way. It is education—saying: ‘Don’t do this. These are the consequences.’—and information flow so that we gain an indication as to what might be coming.

CHAIR —Are there any last questions before we move on to the next subject? If not, we move on to ADF Base Security.

Mrs GASH —You might have to take this on notice. To relieve accommodation on base and strengthen security several state and local governments invested in industrial subdivisions adjacent to Defence infrastructure, such as airfields, ports and other bases. Can you advise me whether the Department of Defence will continue to support this regional investment by encouraging Defence contractors to establish off base, and can you also assure these investors that there is no policy by the Department of Defence to concentrate Defence support activities back on base in certain locations?

Mr Merchant —Certainly there is no policy that I am aware of. I will take that on notice and confirm the position on that.

Mrs GASH —It was specifically done in certain locations, as I said, to eliminate extra accommodation on the base, to give further accommodation for Defence activities, and also to strengthen security on base as opposed to having all Defence contractors on the base as well. If you could take that on notice and give me some answers, I would be very grateful.

Mr Merchant —Are you saying that these contractors were moved off base because of security concerns?

Mrs GASH —Not necessarily, but that was mentioned. It was not the main point. The local governments and states gave incentives for contractors to go off base, but now there is talk that Defence want these people back on base. That is causing some difficulty. It was probably a more appropriate question for this afternoon, but I will not be here this afternoon, so you have copped it.

Mr Merchant —That has not been an issue or a consideration for us in the work that we are doing to improve base security.

Mrs GASH —If you could still take that question on notice, I would be very grateful.

Mr Merchant —Yes.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Base security, since Holsworthy, has been on a lot of radars, including ours here in Parliament House, and on mine as well. I know there is a problem to improve security at bases, but I think it goes beyond that. I notice that you have spent about $10 million thus far of the $330 million. We have a huge void between perhaps where Defence wants to go and where we are at now. Getting to the bases first, what is the proposition there? We have civilian security people there. Is there a suggestion that we should go back to military personnel involvement or are we going to leave it with security companies to provide it? Obviously we have had a very serious breach at Holsworthy. Why would we continue with civilian security personnel when it might be more appropriate for elements of Defence to provide it—keep it within house, if I can put it that way?

Mr Merchant —After the threat to Holsworthy we have looked at a combination of measures to improve security of bases. The base security improvement program that is now under way has a number of dimensions to it. It might be helpful if I just ran through those dimensions. Firstly, there has been a number of changes to policy and procedures at bases. In particular, we have mandated a number of measures that must be in place at all Defence bases now to improve their security posture. Many of those are very basic elements, such as an up-to-date security plan, communication systems that allow receipt and dissemination of threat information, emergency alert systems, and a rehearsed system of base lockdown procedures. They are mandatory measures that must be in place at all of our bases. We have also looked at a range of policy issues. One of those has been to strengthen, for example, the background checks that we do on our contracted security personnel. They are all now subjected to the equivalent of, in old terminology, a secret level security clearance, or in new terminology a negative vetting 1 security clearance. That includes measures such as a police records check and an ASIO background check. Those measures are now in place. We are also looking at a range of improvements to physical security at our bases. We have already implemented a number of improvements in different locations, such as improvements to our closed circuit TV monitoring at the base premises, and also to the communication systems and to the emergency operations centres at a number of bases. The bulk of the $330 million that you mention is also tied up in more substantial infrastructure work, particularly to our highest profile bases, and that program of work will be coming forward to the public works committee later this year.

On the issue of guarding, we are looking at and have been discussing with police about increasing the number of bases where we have an armed police presence in addition to the contracted security personnel. We will be putting in place an armed police presence at an increased number of bases this year. We already have armed police at some Defence bases, but we will be looking to increase that number of bases that have that presence. In addition, we are also developing an ability for Defence Force members to better protect themselves and their colleagues in the event of a terrorist attack. That would be comprised of appropriately trained Defence Force personnel, particularly in the principles of self-defence. The aim there is to provide a protective presence to protect people who may be in a lockdown situation during an emergency and to prevent loss of life until police arrive to resolve the incident. It is certainly not taking over primary responsibility from police for resolving the incident, but it is providing an enhanced measure of self-defence.

That has been complemented by legislative changes, and the Senate this week passed proposed amendments to the Defence Act that would clarify the right of self-defence for Defence Force members on bases in the event of an attack. Currently their right of self-defence derives from the different pieces of state and territory legislation in which the base resides. This will provide a uniform set of principles in the Defence Act, and also strengthening the provisions and penalties for trespass. We are given a legislatively enforceable provision for search of people and vehicles on entry and also departure from Defence bases. We think we have quite a comprehensive package, which we will be putting in place progressively during the remainder of this year and future years.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —When you drive around Canberra and look at some of the foreign embassies, there are very high fences around those places. You just cannot jump over the garden fence, as it were, and enter foreign embassies. Yet many of our Defence bases are unfenced. There might be an entry point where you will have some sort of a guard, but the whole of the base is not protected, including even our senior personnel within Defence, quite apart from the Defence personnel that are out in the civilian areas now. Does this present a real problem for us or are we so confident of our security that the bases do not need the sort of protection that even foreign embassies in Canberra give their embassies and high commissions in Canberra?

Mr Merchant —This has been one of the issues we have wrestled with. Clearly there is a substantial program of investment, as I have outlined. Some of that will indeed go into the Russell complex. We are also looking at increasing our protective measures at Duntroon. The protection of our senior Defence Force personnel has been an issue that we have considered in this. Our aim has been basically to look at our level of risk exposure and to aim to reduce our level of risk exposure to a position where we are at low or moderate in regard to armed attack, including against the prospect of armed attack on senior Defence Force personnel. Clearly, putting fences around the entire Russell complex would be a very expensive proposition, but certainly we are looking at some additional protective measures, particularly for R1, which is where the senior Defence Force personnel are accommodated, and also at Duntroon.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —What about fencing Duntroon? We have put a fence right around Government House. We have put a fence right around the Prime Minister’s residence. Are they greater risks than our senior Defence people? Do you not think we are leaving ourselves open to potential breaches and risks? When you look at Government House and the Prime Minister’s residence, they are very heavily fenced, and yet you could just walk into Duntroon anywhere—all around there, for that matter.

Mr Merchant —As I said, we are looking at improving security at Duntroon and ADFA. It is not in our plans at the moment to fence off Duntroon or ADFA. A lot of this obviously is guided by intelligence and assessments about the likely sources and targets of threat. At the moment we consider that there are higher priorities for investment in our security measures at a number of other bases that could be of higher profile and higher attractiveness for terrorist attack.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —So, the Prime Minister must be at greater threat than the CDF? I just make that observation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —She is a greater threat to Australia, but we will not go there.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —I am concerned, as you can see, quite seriously. We live in a different world since 9-11. I think access to some of our Defence bases, Duntroon and other high-profile bases has probably degraded since 9-11, and we have moved from Defence Force personnel securing those places to a civilian operation. Holsworthy is an example. Have we not seen the flag go up?

Mr Merchant —As I said, we are looking at increasing the number of bases where we have an armed police presence and armed police patrols. I do not want to go into specific details about which locations will have that presence.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —No, I understand that.

Mr Merchant —It has been guided by assessments about the threat and risk exposure at different locations. Clearly, areas of Russell and areas of the Duntroon complex have been very much on our mind through that consideration.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Even Parliament House has armed police, AFP and also the bollards that we all come through of a morning; security at this place has changed since 9-11, and probably other incidents since that, but I have not seen the same sort of attention given to some of our bases.

Mr Merchant —Certainly the security arrangements at Russell are much stronger now than they were before 9-11. Similar sorts of arrangements to those applying here, including bollards, protective security personnel presence, and as I said we are looking to extend that further in the light of what we took away from the Holsworthy threat.

CHAIR —You mentioned the increases in personnel. Certainly I am aware of the very successful dog breeding program at RAAF Base Amberley. Can you explain how that program is going, and whether it is a case of that being rolled out into other bases?

Mr Merchant —I am not familiar with that program. Perhaps Air Vice Marshal Paule might be able to help.

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I do not have any current information. A couple of jobs ago, I had some responsibility for our training school at Amberley, which had a dog breeding facility there. I think it is still an Air Force program, but it seeks to breed a couple of different types of dogs, one for security purposes in terms of the larger dogs, but also the smaller breed of dogs that have different capabilities. I do not know right now where those dogs are located around Australia, and my information is a couple of years out of date. If you need any more details than that, we would need to take that on notice.

CHAIR —I will put that on notice, and if I could get some understanding of where that program is at now, that would be appreciated. I was up there in 2009, so I would like an update with respect to where that program is at, and the expansion of that.

Mr ROBERT —A total of $339 million was allocated for the base security enhancements, starting with $10 million in 2009-10, and then the further $329 million to financial year 2013-14. Out of that $339 million that has been allocated, how much has been spent so far and what has it been spent on?

Mr Merchant —We have committed approximately $24 million to date to implement a series of security enhancements at a number of bases, most notably Holsworthy, Russell, Duntroon and also the Garden Island complex. The types of improvements implemented include some improvements to fencing, also increased security patrols, installation of closed circuit TV systems, intruder alert devices, security lighting upgrades, and also upgrade of emergency operations centres.

Mr ROBERT —So, it has now been 20 months since the August 2009 incident, and we have committed just $24 million?

Mr Merchant —We have undertaken a comprehensive series of 88 threat and risk assessments across all major Defence bases. We were concerned to take a deliberate approach to this whereby the investments that we made in improved security would represent, if you like, the best bang for the buck, where we could see investments that would make most impact on the residual level of risk, with a particular focus being on the threat of risk of armed attack on personnel on Defence bases, which is of course what the focus of the Holsworthy incident was. We have taken a deliberately careful approach to ensuring that our investments are best targeted. As I said, we now have quite a good comprehensive plan across those Defence bases, and the more substantial infrastructure work will now go to the public works committee later this year.

Mr ROBERT —Can you confirm that the intel assessments have now been completed on those 88 bases?

Mr Merchant —The threat risk assessments have been completed. That has informed the development of the program of works, which has also been agreed. Now we are moving that forward.

Mr ROBERT —Out of that program of works that has come out of the risk assessment program, at its pure level, how much money did that program of work say was needed to reduce the threat levels at those 88 bases down to what is acceptable?

Mr Merchant —The $330 million—

Mr ROBERT —What is budgeted is actually irrelevant. Out of the threat and risk process came a range of works requirements. Out of there a process then flows to how much you need to spend to reduce your threat and risk levels down to what is appropriate to get the budget. It is a straight process.

Mr Merchant —What I am saying is that we have allocated sufficient money to moderate the level of residual risk, particularly at the higher profile Defence bases, down to a moderate or low level.

Mr ROBERT —I did not ask whether sufficient funds were allocated. I asked, out of that process, what was the funding required that came out of the threat and risk assessment and then the works to lower that risk? So, the process would have said, ‘We need to do this’, and a cost would be attached. What was that cost?

Mr Merchant —Yes.

Mr ROBERT —What was that cost? Was it miraculously the same as the budget that had preceded it?

Mr Merchant —The budget had not preceded it. As always, this is an interactive process between what your threat and risk assessments show you need to do and then what money needs to be allocated. Clearly this program will go beyond the forward estimates as well, particularly in terms of paying for the increased police presence that we have been talking about. There is a larger sum across the decade. Particularly with a focus on reducing the residual level of risk to armed attack, the budget achieves the purpose that it was designed to do.

Mr ROBERT —So, you are not going to tell the committee what the actual recommended number was, only that the budget meets it?

Mr Merchant —As I said, the objective was to reduce the residual level of risk, particularly at the higher profile Defence bases, down to moderate or low—

Mr ROBERT —I understand the objective.

Mr Merchant —The investment, particularly beyond the forward estimates—and I will check this—I think achieves that at all of the relevant locations.

Mr ROBERT —Will there be any requirement for any physical building that goes to public works post financial year 2013-14 as a result of the TRA process you went through?

Mr Merchant —There may be further work beyond 2013-14.

Mr ROBERT —Are you able to confirm that on notice?

Mr Merchant —I will take that on notice.

Mr ROBERT —In terms of the $329 million, which is the public works base component of it, can you also—

Mr Merchant —That also includes the increased security patrolling. Not all of it is infrastructure. The infrastructure work is incorporated.

Mr ROBERT —So, that $339 million includes physical—as in stuff—as well as personnel?

Mr Merchant —Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I guess this was done at the time of the changeover—and it is perhaps an old argument—but has anyone ever done the cost-benefit analysis of civilian guards as opposed to military police guards? It has always been counterintuitive to me that we get the defence forces to defend the country, but when it comes to defending their own homes, that is, the bases, we employ some civilian contractor to do it. It has always seemed counterintuitive, but I guess that is an old argument. It would seem to me that if you were paying a company, which was in it to make a profit, to employ people to work odd hours of the day at double and triple time and so forth and so on, and get them new uniforms and training, that might not be as cost-effective as increasing the military strength by a certain number of people and rotating them. I appreciate is probably not a much desired role to stand at a gate and check people in and out. Has there been any recent assessment of the cost of providing civilian guards as opposed to expanding a certain unit in the military to look after your own defence?

Mr Merchant —As I recall it, the cost-benefit analysis that you are talking about was done during the Defence efficiency reform and subsequent Defence reform program. My recollection is that it was shown quite clearly that the contracted security personnel were cheaper than the military personnel. The focus for our work in recent years—and particularly after Holsworthy—has been to look, where appropriate and where it has most impact on reducing the residual level of risk, to complement those contracted security personnel with armed police and/or, as I said, this enhanced capability for members of the Defence Force in the event of an attack to defend themselves and their colleagues, rather than having military personnel standing on sentry duty at Defence bases in peacetime. I am confident that would still be a more expensive option than the payment to the contract security personnel that are currently used for the process. We have looked at cost-effective ways to give Defence Force members a greater capacity for self-defence when they need it rather than have them as a routine measure doing basic access control measures.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Has there been any recent look at that? Has anyone done an analysis in recent times?

Mr Merchant —No. As I said, I think the cost-benefit analysis that you refer to was done in the mid-1990s with the Defence reform.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I appreciate that. I just wonder whether anyone has looked at it since, because again it is counter intuitive to me. I am in Townsville, of course. With both Lavarack and Garbutt, I always shake my head. They make me produce my driver’s licence, but I think I am the only one they would probably prevent from getting in, as opposed to anyone more robust who wanted to get through. Without going into too many specifics, is the dog force used in Australia or only overseas in frontline operations?

Mr Merchant —Again, I think I will defer to Air Vice Marshal Paule.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Who is doing security at the Scherger bare base—bare as far as Defence is concerned base, but a base that I understand has hundreds of non-Australians in and around it? What is Defence’s role in base security as opposed to roles of other departments?

Mr Merchant —I am not aware that we have a role at Scherger in terms of the security of that location at the present time. Again, I will confirm that for you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Who is looking after the Defence assets there now? It is obviously a bare base, but do you rely on the Department of Immigration security to protect your limited assets at Scherger? You will take that on notice?

Mr Merchant —Yes.

Air Vice Marshal Paule —The normal construct for our bare bases is we would have a small number of staff in a caretaker mode, just ensuring the serviceability of the base should it be needed to wind up in a short timeframe to support a contingency, or indeed in the preparatory phases for an exercise where we might move a larger number of people on to the bases. Some of those bases might have some shared arrangements with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. They would be looking after their elements, and we would be looking after the ADF aspects.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —With respect to the dog patrols?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —We have a number of different types of specialities of dogs in the Australian Defence Force. We use them both domestically in Australia and also deployed overseas. You might have seen some recent stories about the bomb disposal dogs that are used in Afghanistan—‘explosive detection dogs’ I think is the correct term—to sniff out explosives and provide a level of protection and security to our soldiers, who would then need to go in and dispose of the improvised explosive device in many different ways. Our dogs have different abilities. Some are used in Australia and some are used overseas on operations.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The question is asked in the broad. I do not know whether it is sensitive or not, but I was really asking: are they used in Australia? If it is not sensitive, tell me where; if it is sensitive, do not tell me, but just say, yes, they are used within Australia.

Air Vice Marshal Paule —I am quite confident that they are used in Australia at a number of bases. I just do not have that knowledge with me right now. From my personal experience, being an Air Force officer, I know that they are used around a number of Australian Air Force bases. I would expect they are used around a number of the ADF bases, probably not all but where they are required. If you want the specific details, I would need to get back to you with that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Again within the realms of sensitivity, let me ponder a hypothetical. Would they be used around the perimeters of an airfield somewhere but perhaps nowhere near the front gate where the civilian guards are?

Air Vice Marshal Paule —That is correct. Their employment in their particular location, where that happens to be, would be intelligence driven and the concept that the security arrangements on the base have. Some bases might be used in a training capacity as well, so you might actually see more of a dog presence, training the dogs, and that would be the case particularly at Amberley, I know for sure. It would be dependent upon the level of security that was assessed against that particular base over a long term as well as perhaps a short term.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We noticed one of them at Avalon the other day guarding one of the American supersecret fighters. I was just dying for someone to sort of make a rush for the plane to see what the dog might do. It would probably have licked them to death or something.

CHAIR —I think those dogs might have been American dogs.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Were they?

CHAIR —Yes. Not that I am an expert on the nationality of dogs, but they certainly were led by American uniformed personnel.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —There were Victorian Police around it. If you could get back to me on those couple of matters.

CHAIR —That being close to our break, I thank you for your attendance here today. If you have been asked to provide additional material, would you please forward it to the secretariat. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 12.43 pm to 1.30 pm