Talisman Sabre 2007

Senator BARTLETT (2.50 p.m.)—My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is the minister aware that field training exercises for Talisman Sabre 2007 have commenced and will continue until 2 July in Central Queensland’s Shoalwater Bay and that the Department of Defence website states that ‘environmental management is the No. 1 consideration’ during these defence exercises? Can the minister outline what measures the government has put in place to ensure that environmental damage does not occur in the Shoalwater Bay training area? What follow-up environmental assessments of the area to assess the impact of the exercises on the environment will the government conduct, including impacts on wildlife? Can the minister confirm and assure the Senate that depleted uranium will not be used in any munitions during the course of this exercise? Has there been any study done of what the effects will be of firing fresh munitions into areas that had previously been bombarded by depleted uranium rounds?

Senator ELLISON—I am aware of the Talisman Sabre 2007 exercise. In relation to the last part of the question that Senator Bartlett asked, no depleted uranium munitions will be used during exercise Talisman Sabre 2007. Environmental precautions are being taken. I think that was addressed at the Senate estimates, if I recall correctly. It is anticipated that US Navy nuclear powered attack submarines are scheduled to participate in the exercise. Precautions are taken by Navy about equipment that is used, in relation to aquatic life in the ocean. I will get more detail on that and get back to the Senate, but I can say that Navy is very careful in what it does in any of these exercises.

I understand that an environmental impact assessment was undertaken at key stages by expert consultants in association with Defence’s professional environmental staff and with the participation of officials from Commonwealth and state environmental regulators. I understand the community was invited to provide comments and suggestions, and that is another aspect which demonstrates the care which has been taken by Australian defence forces in carrying out this exercise.

Senator BARTLETT—I thank the minister for his answer. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that on Tuesday a group of seven peace protesters entered into the training zone and that there are reports that a further five have done so today? I inform the minister that I have spoken to some of the organisers of the peace actions outside the Talisman Sabre exercise zone. They have first-hand knowledge that those activists are there, but have told me that Defence currently still believes these claims to be a hoax and are proceeding with their firing regardless. Is the minister aware of any action on the part of Defence or on the part of the Minister for Defence to ensure that the safety of these protesters is not ignored?

Senator ELLISON—There is no concern about a lawful protest but, if people go beyond the law in what is a lawful right to freedom of speech and expose themselves to risk, that makes it all the more difficult for authorities in dealing with that issue. Of course, the safety of people in that circumstance is regarded carefully by Defence, but you have to remember that in any of these protests one expects that the protesters act responsibly. They have a responsibility on themselves as to the way they demonstrate.

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