Monday, 13 February 2017
Questions without Notice
Defence Land Acquisition
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. On what date did the minister's department first advise her of the possibility of compulsory acquisitions as part of the expansion of the Shoalwater Bay training area and Townsville Field training area under the military training agreement with Singapore?
I am, I must admit, slightly bemused by the opposition's approach to this. Usually, traditionally, they would have a firm commitment to matters concerning national security, but that is glaringly absent in this case, for what appears to be the sake of puerile local politics, as far as I can tell. There is not a lot more to it than that. In fact, the government has been quite clear in saying that the concerns which were raised by landowners and the process of planning that has been underway by the Department of Defence are what led to the decision that I announced last week in relation to the acquisition of land.
A point of order, Mr President, on relevance. The question was very specific. It was: on what date did the minister's department first advise of the possibility of compulsory acquisition as part of the expansion of Shoalwater Bay? It was a very specific question.
It is very disappointing that those opposite have not been able to take a strategic view of the comprehensive strategic partnership and military training initiative which sits underneath it. As we know, the Prime Minister announced the comprehensive strategic partnership in May of last year, which includes a strengthening of the defence partnership and the joint development of military training facilities in Northern Queensland. Following the announcement of the comprehensive strategic partnership in May, the Department of Defence commenced—
Mr President, the minister is manifestly avoiding the question. She was asked one question: on what date did her department first advise of the possibility of compulsory acquisition? It is a very simple question. She ought to answer it.
As I said, following the announcement of the comprehensive strategic partnership in May, the Department of Defence commenced detailed planning for the joint development of military training facilities. I, as the Minister for Defence, was preliminarily advised about the potential requirements for training area expansion in June. Detailed planning continued, which led to the finalisation of and signature of the memorandum of understanding with Singapore on 13 October 2016, which formally set out the agreed parameters of the increased training access that Australia would offer and represented the formal agreement by both countries to the scale of the increased access Singapore would be offered. Following the signing of the MOU— (Time expired)
I thank the minister for finally advising that she was first advised by her department about the potential for expansion in June 2016. Did the advice the minister was provided in June include the possibility of compulsory acquisition?
As I indicated in my previous answer, I was preliminarily advised about the potential requirements for training area expansion in June 2016. That goes to all aspects of the processes under the Lands Acquisition Act.
I thank the minister for finally telling the Senate that she was advised by her department of the possibility of compulsory acquisitions before the July election last year. Why has it taken four sitting days for the minister to come clean with the Senate about what she knew and when she knew it?
As I was saying, this is a very complex process. It is a process which has been underway for some time between the Department of Defence and other parties, of course including the government of Singapore. The detailed planning which took place and led to the finalisation and signing of the memorandum of understanding with Singapore on 13 October 2016 actually formally set out the agreed parameters of the increased training access that Australia would offer. It represented the formal agreement by both countries to the scale of the increased access Singapore would be offered. That was not finalised until October of last year. Following the signature of the MOU, Defence was then able to begin the process of detailed master planning so that the precise requirements could be clarified and engagement could begin with stakeholders.