Multi-million dollar defence project to be scrutinised

By Melissa Coade

Sunday April 25, 2021

Defence Minister Peter Dutton
Defence minister Peter Dutton (AAP Image/Sam Mooy)

The parliamentary standing committee on public works has announced it will scrutinise a $111.2 million defence proposal to upgrade RAAF Base Townsville, Townsville Field Training Area and HMAS Cairns.

The ‘North Queensland mid term refresh program’ proposal was referred to the public works standing committee by the Governor-General in April. Valued at $111.2 million, the project will be reviewed for need, suitability and value for money.

According to a Defence submission, the three sites nominated for upgrades have ‘inadequate infrastructure’ and pose OH&S risks. Without the maintenance works, Defence says the facilities will continue to diminish and be ‘less able to support current levels of capability’ including air defence and surveillance or air transport support for ADF operations.

A 2013 assessment of the RAAF base in Townsville recommended fixing critical water, fire and electrical infrastructure. Defence said that despite a base redevelopment project in 2000, none of the infrastructure concerns were fixed.

Defence further noted that current arrangements for the RAAF base were overwhelmed by demand surges during exercise periods.

“The base’s ability to effectively support wider military operations, including assistance to the civil community, risks being compromised if the supporting infrastructure and capacity cannot be relied upon,” the submission read. 

“Further, in its role as a forward deployment and mounting base, there is a significant shortfall in on-base transit accommodation. 

“Current arrangements cannot cope with the regional demand surge during high tempo operations and training exercises.”

For the Army’s field training area in Townsville, Defence wants to establish an access point to its fanning sector on the Flinders Highway-Dotswood/Mingela Road. Building this facility would enhance the Army’s safety and environmental controls of the southern parts of its training area.

“Developing the Fanning Sector is critical to improve access control, manage environmental risks and remove training restrictions currently experienced,” Defence said. 

The Army also wants to update its ageing base camp so that field training accommodation remains ‘fit for purpose’.

“Overall, the range camps spread across the Townsville Field Training Area are ageing and much of its older facilities and infrastructure is becoming increasingly unsustainable. This is reflected in the condition of its engineering services and in-ground infrastructure, much of which has deteriorated over time,” Defence said.

The Navy’s HMAS Cairns provides administrative, logistic and maintenance support to homeported vessels: three patrol boats, two hydrographic ships and four survey motor launches. It also delivers health and administrative support to local ADF personnel.

Defence wants to provide the HMAS Cairns with upgrades that are not covered by a current Navy Capability Infrastructure Sub-Program. It said that a 2014 engineering assessment revealed the need to refresh ‘ageing services’.

“The emphasis of this project is to sustain the base through improvements to services and infrastructure.”

In a statement published on Wednesday, the committee said it anticipated holding a public and in-camera hearing for the inquiry in mid-May. 

The standing committee will accept submissions until Thursday 13 May 2021.


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