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Environmental Impact of Exercise Talisman Sabre 2009

Senator Ludlam: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts (transferred to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence on 19 December 2008)-

(1) What environmental impact studies have been conducted in relation to the planned Exercise Talisman Sabre 2009, which will involve the movement of tens of thousands of troops, with associated tanks and other military hardware, on the fragile ecosystems of the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area in Central Queensland.

Senator Faulkner (New South Wales) (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) -The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question

TALISMAN SABER 2009 is the latest in a series of biennial military exercises in which Australia and the United States participate. Previous exercises of this scale included TANDEM THRUST 2001, CROCODILE 2003, TALISMAN SABER 2005 and TALISMAN SABER 2007. All of these exercises have been the subject of an open and transparent process of environmental impact assessment, including community consultation. For TALISMAN SABER 2009 the environmental impact assessment process is being undertaken by professional environmental consultants Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM). A public environment report on the exercise was released for comment on 13 October 2008 and concluded on 19 November 2008. During October 2008, SKM and Defence representatives also attended community meetings in Rockhampton, Yeppoon, Townsville and Darwin. No significant environmental impacts have been identified.

(2) Has the possible impact from Exercise Talisman Sabre 2009 on the Great Barrier Reef been assessed.

Senator Faulkner's response: Yes.

(3)  (a) Will Exercise Talisman Sabre 2009 be compliant with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and compatible with the Commonwealth Heritage listing of Shoalwater Bay, both of which the Minister cited in his recent rejection of the rail line and coal port proposal due to the area's unique biodiversity values; and

Senator Faulkner's response: Yes.

(b) in particular, how will local fauna be protected from the effects of live firing exercises.

Senator Faulkner's response: Live firings will be conducted at Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in Queensland, Bradshaw Field Training Area (BFTA) and Delamere Range Facility (DRF), both in the Northern Territory. At all of Defence's training ranges the the use of high explosive munitions is restricted to clearly gazetted impact areas. These impact areas are very small and are surrounded by extensive areas of land conserved to maintain the natural landscape. For example, there are three High Explosive Impact Areas at BFTA. The total area of these sites represent .03 per cent of the total range area. These areas have been chosen in consultation with, and with the consent of, the traditional owners. They are located to minimise any impact on sensitive areas of habitat or species. The risk of local fauna at any Defence sites being significantly impacted as a result of the conduct of exercise TALISMAN SABER 2009 is considered to be extremely low.

(4) What impact will the 2009 exercise have on the Shoalwater Bay Ramsar wetlands.

Senator Faulkner's response: Through monitoring, Defence has confirmed that the Ramsar wetlands of SWBTA remain in good to excellent condition. SWBTA Standing Orders limit the types of Defence exercise activities that can occur in sensitive areas including wetlands. These limitations will apply to TALISMAN SABER 2009. The entire suite of potential environmental impacts arising from exercise TALISMAN SABER 2009 have been considered and no significant impacts, including to Ramsar listed wetlands such as those at Shoalwater Bay, have been identified.

(5) Will the Government give a guarantee that no depleted uranium (DU) weapons will be used by forces of either the United States of America or Australia during the 2009 exercises.

Senator Faulkner's response: ADF does not possess any Depleted Uranium munitions and United States forces have been advised that the use of Depleted Uranium munitions in Australia is strictly prohibited.

(6) Has any DU been used in any previous Exercise Talisman Sabre.

Senator Faulkner's response: No.

(7) (a) What military chemicals does the Government anticipate will be left in the land and marine environments as a result of the 2009 exercise;

Senator Faulkner's response: Defence does not anticipate that there will be any significant risk that chemical residues may arise from the conduct of TALISMAN SABER 2009. Environmental monitoring is routinely undertaken at Defence training areas. At SWBTA for example, water quality is monitored and testing has not detected any traces of chemicals attributable to the conduct of military activity.

and (b) what are the human health impacts of these chemicals.

Senator Faulkner's response: Not applicable.

(8) Will nuclear-powered and/or nuclear weapons-capable vessels take part in the planned 2009 exercise;

Senator Faulkner's response: Yes. A nuclear powered aircraft carrier will participate in TALISMAN SABER 2009 operating in the Arafura Sea. Additionally a nuclear powered submarine will operate in the Coral Sea well away from the Great Barrier Reef.

if so: (a) what preparations have been made for the event of a nuclear accident on one of these vessels;

Senator Faulkner's response: All preparations associated with the safety of nuclear powered warships are considered by and are the responsibility of, the Visiting Ships Panel (Nuclear) on which Defence, Emergency Management Australia and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency are represented (among others). The risks are considered very low and the procedures that would apply in the event of an incident are well known, and well rehearsed.

and (b) which government would bear the enormous financial cost of a clean-up in the event of such an accident.

Senator Faulkner's response: The United States Government.

(9) Has the economic impact of such an accident on tourism been considered in the decision to conduct the 2009 exercise at Shoalwater Bay.

Senator Faulkner's response: No.

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