House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Gilmore Electorate: Royal Australian Navy

11:16 am

Photo of Ann SudmalisAnn Sudmalis (Gilmore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week I welcomed the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. David Johnston, and the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, to my electorate to announce that Defence's new $700 million JP9000 phase 7 Helicopter Aircrew Training System—or HATS for short—facility will be entirely located on our fantastic local Navy base, HMAS Albatross.

This announcement represents an investment of approximately $200 million in new and renovated facilities at HMAS Albatrossalone, as well as substantial upgrades to the Jervis Bay airfield at HMAS Creswell, with a total investment of $700 million by 2018. It is expected that the project will create 380 short-term jobs during construction, with an additional 80 full-time, highly technical, non-Defence jobs once construction is complete. This equipment and investment means that, from 2018, all Navy and Army aircrew will complete their initial helicopter training in Nowra. For many, this is the final training stage to transition from fixed-wing aircraft to rotary, after learning basic flying skills at Tamworth.

The phase 7 HATS project is all about preparing Navy and Army aircrew for conversion to new generation, operational helicopter types including the MH60 Romeo Seahawk, the Army multirole and the Navy maritime support helicopter. As HMAS Albatross is the Navy's only major air base in Australia, I am especially excited about the arrival of these helicopters. They represent a massive boost in capability for our Navy personnel both at home and abroad. The Navy's first ever MH60 Romeo helicopter arrived last week, only the third off the USA's first Romeo production line. If that is not a sign of the close relationship between our two great countries, I do not know what is.

Our Navy is a significant and important part of our community. HMAS Creswell, with Captain Hussey at the helm, and Captain Bateman at HMAS Albatross are constantly involving our service men and women in official duties such as our catafalque parties and also as mentors for local youth programs.

Albatross is an amazing support in another way with the annual Tour The T fundraiser, which will be held on 5 December, raising money for our local Shoalhaven charity Slice of Life Australia. The Navy are completely closing down their runways for the day, allowing locals to walk or run the distance, for a dollar fee, to support the local group. Members of our Navy, particularly Commodore Vince di Pietro, also abseil in extraordinary places to raise money for the Sir David Martin Foundation, which in turn supports our local youth facility at the Triple Care Farm.

HMAS Albatross has an intriguing history. It was originally an Australian Air Force field. It began in May 1942. In 1944 the base was transferred to the British Royal Navy and was commissioned as the Royal Naval Air Station HMS Nabbington. Thank heavens that name changed. The base reverted to RAAF control in 1946 and in 1948 it was commissioned as HMAS Albatross, as we know it now. Our base is unique in that we have valleys and dense bushland to the west, coastal and cliff conditions to the north and south, and clear oceans to the east. It is an outstanding training location. What better conditions could you ask for for a helicopter training school. At HMAS Albatross we also have construction under way for hangars and aprons for the new Romeo helicopters.

As exciting as this development is—and it is very exciting for our region, due to the economic and employment benefits it will bring to Gilmore—there have been some issues that have caused us some grief. The construction of the facility is nothing short of magnificent. However, as I have explained to the House previously, the process of completing payments going right down to the smallest supplying subcontractor has not always been successful. Mark Nelson, a senior contractor, has been working constantly to recover payments that were missed on the way through. That situation simply is not good enough.

I will be pursuing our defence minister and the assistant minister, and our ministers for finance and small business as well, to ensure that the situation that we saw with Hewatt's and our Albatross subbies can never happen again. What has happened in this situation is appalling, and it has happened over time under the supervision of different governments. Government contracting and procurement must absolutely ensure that supply and end contractors receive their payments, that no-one in the chain is trading insolvent, and that due diligence is done not just by the department doing the initial contracting but through the entire process, from the primary sublevel contractors right up to the main ones. Ethics and responsibility are critical. It is time to look forward and think about what we can do to stop this ever happening again. This will be the focus of my energy.