Transcript – Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Marise Payne and Member for Gilmore, Ann Sudmalis MP, HMAS Albatross, Nowra, NSW

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Senator the Hon Marise Payne

Minister for Defence

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  • Henry Budd (Minister Payne’s office) 0429 531 143
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18 March 2017


Welcome to the beautiful HMAS Albatross and a beautiful day – it’s not raining. I am not going to spend a lot of time but this is a very, very fine colleague of mine, this is Marise Payne, Minister for Defence and doing a phenomenally wonderful job, well respected in all aspects of the Defence force because I talk to other people – they all say how wonderful you are. So I’d like to welcome her to this particular space.

The navy personnel have been absolutely fantastic, thank you to each and every one of you. Commodore Chris Smallhorn and Captain Fiona Sneath, thank you so much for your hospitality today. Now I will hand the floor over to the Minister.


Thank you. Thank you very much, Ann. Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all very much for being here and it is great to be at Albatross this morning. It’s particularly great to be here with my very good friend of a long time, Ann Sudmalis. Ann is of course the Chair of the Government’s Defence Parliamentary Members’ Committee and that means that she does keep a very strong eye on me from day to day, for which I am grateful. She chairs that in a very authoritative and strong way and makes sure that her Ministers, and there are three of us in the portfolio, are held to account on a regular basis. You’ve got no idea what having a science teacher do that to you feels like.

It’s great to be here, as I said, at Albatross this morning. We have been looking at the progress of the ADF’s new Helicopter Aircrew Training System, which for ease of reference I am going to use an acronym, ladies and gentlemen – surprise, surprise – it’s called HATS.

So we’re investing more than $157 million in these new facilities that are going to provide our next generation of aviators with a cutting edge training system. The new HATS will provide streamlined, initial pilot training in a highly realistic environment for our Navy and Army personnel.

We can actually attest to that. We’ve just had a fabulous opportunity to meet with some of the trainers and the teams who are implementing this system and it is very realistic and a very impressive undertaking that will be very useful for our students. It also has a particularly positive impact on our operational availability of aircraft because we can use this training system and the simulators in a very effective way.

The project itself includes a new training centre with three flight simulators, refurbished hangars and workshops and new living accommodation. As part of the training system, 15 Airbus EC135 helicopters will be based here at Nowra, replacing the Navy’s Squirrel and Army’s Kiowa helicopters, which are respectively more than 30 and 40 years old.

The system will help prepare Navy and Army aircrew for conversion to the advanced, new generation helicopter types which include the MH-60R Seahawk, the MRH90 and the Tiger.

For those of you familiar with the Defence White Paper, in February of 2016 the Government recognised that our military bases were a key enabler for the ADF. So in total, that means in supporting that enabler the Government is investing over $500 million to upgrade facilities here at HMAS Albatross.

As well as the HATS project, we’re investing in new facilities for the MH-60R Seahawk, which is a $189 million investment, and we’re also upgrading what is politely described as obsolete engineering services and infrastructure right across the base – that is the HMAS Albatross Redevelopment Stage 3 project, which is a $194 million project.

These are real investments that particularly demonstrate our strong commitment as a government to ensuring that our young aviators have access to the latest training systems and it’s a real commitment to the region. And let me be very clear about that – it’s about saying that we know we are a large member of the community here in Gilmore. We know that we have obligations and responsibilities. We love being here. We love being part of this glorious part of the state of New South Wales and I am after all a New South Wales Senator as well. We absolutely love it and we recognise the importance of that commitment so in providing the latest systems for our ADF members, we also observe and take care of, I hope, our responsibilities in regard to being part of the local area and I am sure we do that as well as we possibly can.

So ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Can I thank the members of the ADF, of Thales, of Boeing and others who have been involved in this morning’s presentation – we really appreciate the insights that you are able to give us. It does make an absolute difference. I think I said to Chris “I signed off on a brief on that” – well yes, I did, on whatever we were discussing during our tour. But the difference it makes to actually be here and have a chance to talk about it in-situ, to see the technical aspects of what I have signed off, it really makes a much more interesting and much more alive appreciation of the work that’s being done. So thank you all very much, and I am happy to answer a few questions.


Minister, there has been soil testing for contaminants at this base and also at Creswell. What is the latest on that?


So those detailed investigations are still underway. We’ve indicated to anyone who uses bore water as opposed to reticulated water that we would of course be happy to provide water to them, but as I understand it we’ve had no requests for that.

So, I expect that testing process to come to its natural conclusion in the middle of this year or there abouts and we’ll be able to come back to the community with more information then.

This is a difficult legacy issue for government. It’s not just an issue for Defence – it’s an issue at any airport in Australia. It’s an issue at rural firefighting locations. Those Aqueous Firefighting foams were used over many, many years. We are working very hard, location by location throughout Australia, including here to make sure that we do the right investigations, the right testing, support the community, support the personnel as we are able to and we will come back when those results are known.


And when those results are known, what do you expect to be able to tell these people that have been affected by possible contamination of these areas?


I think it’s reasonably difficult to be able to answer that without knowing the results, so perhaps we might talk about that later, when the results are known.


In the US, court documents are saying that a Royal Australian Navy member has been implicated in the “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal. Have you been briefed on this case and is Australia cooperating with the investing?


This is an investigation in relation to certain activities surrounding the [US] Seventh Fleet. It is an ongoing investigation, so I won’t make any detailed comment on that, but we’ve been working with the United States on this since the second half of last year and yes, indeed, I have been briefed several times on its progress. Yes, as I said, it’s an ongoing investigation, I won’t make any comment. It has of course in Australia also been referred to the Australian Federal Police.


Do you know how many people were involved in the scandal from Australia?


I am not going to make any further comment on the detail of the investigation.


Will Australia be looking to extradite the people involved at all?


I am not going to make any further comment of the detail of the investigation.


Ann Sudmalis claimed that she was the victim of a sexist bullying attack by Labor. What are your thoughts on that?


Well, the Australian Parliament is a pretty robust place. You would have read a story in this week’s Financial Review – or you might not have – about women in politics.

I’ve been doing this for a very long time, so has Ann. We’ve seen interesting characters in the political landscape come and go. We’re both still here. I think that answers your question.


And you mentioned – well I heard that some facilities and training equipment will be coming down from Oakley [sic] as of 2018 as part of this new redevelopment. Can you talk us through what the benefits will be for this area?


Well, as I said, we are investing over $500 million. So that is a very significant investment into the facilities here. Where it is at all possible we try to use locally engaged businesses and trades to support that investment and I think in terms of the quality of workplace that we provide for personnel and contractors who are here, it makes a real difference to working life.

There’s been a need for some of the upgrades that are happening here for some long time. I’ve been in parliament long enough to see the brief of estate upgrades to Albatross go across the Committee desks on more than one occasion. So the fact this government is actually implementing those I think is very important.

The location of various activities within Defence is always a very dynamic one but we will make sure that those who are coming here are well supported and become part of the Gilmore community as soon as they possibly can. The Defence Community Organisation, the ADF and the Defence Organisation itself are very good at doing that and those who leave this part of New South Wales usually tell me that they leave with some regret, as it’s such a fabulous place to live.


Did you have a chance to use the simulator training program at all today and did you successfully manage to land a helicopter?


[Laughter]. I was ably supported by Geoff, who was very helpful at showing us the sort of work that they do in the simulators. I don’t think anybody wants the Defence Minister actually driving the equipment by themselves. Somebody asked me last week whether I’d been able to fly the Joint Strike Fighter. I pointed out it was a single seat aircraft and that probably would not be a good idea. I like to watch the experts to be honest with you.


What were your impressions of the simulator?


Well it’s so realistic – it’s fabulous - the material that we saw. Ann literally made a sharp intake of breath, it is a very realistic representation of the area here around Nowra and Albatross. That level of reality I think provides the young aviators, who are in the learning phase, with a very important appreciation of how they go about doing their jobs and what they’re going to do. It also, as I said, makes a real difference in terms of our operational capability in terms of the aircraft themselves. The more training we do in this context, which is so real, the more operational availability we have for the aircraft.

Thanks everyone.


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