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Talisman Sabre military exercises

*1483 Senator Ludlam: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence-In regard to the Talisman Sabre military exercises in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland:
(1) What type and number of land vehicles, amphibious vehicles, aircraft and navy vessels will be involved in the 2009 exercises.
(2) What types and quantities of fuel are expected to be needed for the 2009 exercises.
(3) How much live fire will be used in the 2009 exercises.
(4) Will any missile firing take place in the 2009 exercises.
(5) How many troops from Australia and the United States of America (US) will be involved in the 2009 exercises.
(6) What was the Government's response to the warning provided to it by the International Whaling Commission before the 2007 exercises that the use of underwater sonar in the exercises could seriously injure or kill whales.
(7) Is the Government aware that in 2007 the US Navy claimed an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (US) when conducting exercises with powerful sonar designed to hunt for super-quiet submarines.
(8) Will the Government be allowing high-powered active sonar to be used in the 2009 exercises.
(9) Given that the 2005 exercises are reported to have involved the sinking of two decommissioned US Navy ships off Australia's coast: (a) what types and what volume of chemicals will disperse as the vessels disintegrate; and (b) how will this be monitored.
(10) What form of assessment occurred before permission was given for US warships to be sunk in Australian waters.
(11) Will there be any further ship sinking exercises as part of the 2009 exercises.

 

ANSWER 

 

Senator Faulkner-The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's uestion:


(1) Exercise Talisman Saber 2009 will be conducted at designated Australian Defence Force (ADF) training facilities in Queensland and the Northern Territory, within the Australian Maritime Zones of Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone and in the United States (US). The exercise is not taking place exclusively at Shoalwater Bay in central Queensland. Approximately 1,650 armoured and other vehicles will be operating in and around Shoalwater Bay. The combined Australian- US Amphibious Task Group will comprise six major amphibious units and four minor amphibious units. Each of
the major amphibious units has indigenous landing craft and rotary wing aircraft to provide ship to shore movement. Additionally, the US Landing Helicopter Dock ship will have six Vertical, Short Take Off and Landing aircraft embarked. A total of approximately 50 aircraft will operate in and around Shoalwater Bay, many of which will be transiting from Air Force bases throughout Australia. Seven Royal Australian Navy major fleet units and eight US Navy warships will form the Surface Task Group and will support amphibious landings before proceeding to the Coral Sea. Royal Australian Navy
mine countermeasures and survey assets will conduct precursor operations in preparation for the amphibious landings. A US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, supported by a single escort ship, will operate in the Arafura and Timor Seas off the north-west coast of Australia and will conduct air operations over northern Australia.

(2) The quantities of fuel used during the exercise are not disclosed because of the potential to reveal valuable intelligence information about the preparedness of the participating forces. The types of fuel used include military specification diesel, unleaded petrol and jet turbine fuels.

(3) Live fire will be restricted to gazetted Defence impact areas. The quantity of ordnance used during the exercise is not disclosed because of the potential to reveal valuable intelligence information about the preparedness of the participating forces.

(4) Yes.

(5) The exercise is scheduled to involve up to 8,000 Australian and 15,000 US personnel distributed across a number of geographic locations in Australia and in the US.

(6) The Government is aware that in 2007 the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) Scientific Committee commented on the risks associated with the operation of certain types of high-powered active military sonars on marine mammals. The IWC Scientific Committee further recommended that certain precautionary measures be in place when this equipment was operated during Exercise Talisman Saber 2007. The measures recommended by the IWC were comparable with those that had already existed in the ADF Maritime Activities Environmental Management Plan for almost two years. The Government considers that the IWC Scientific Committee's comments supported the approach that the ADF was taking with regard to protecting marine mammals from any risks that might be associated with the use of sonar. The Government is satisfied that the precautions taken to avoid exposing marine mammals to high-powered sonar transmissions during Exercise Talisman Saber 2007 were effective in reducing any risk to a very low level. Notwithstanding, additional measures
are being enacted during Exercise Talisman Saber 2009 to further protect the marine mammals from any possible harmful high-powered active sonars.

(7) Yes.

(8) Yes.

(9) (a) The vessels went down in excess of 4000 metres of water during a live-fire exercise conducted by US Forces. The ADF monitored but did not take part in this activity. Both vessels were very thoroughly cleaned and inspected prior to sinking. Strict requirements were enforced to ensure all oils and any other chemicals were removed from the vessels. The vessels were inspected and assessed as meeting all Australian requirements by an Australian Department of Defenceappointed
contractor with extensive expertise in disposing of vessels at sea to ensure they met the strict protocols required.

(b) There is no intention to monitor the ships' disintegration at such extreme depths.

(10) The US Navy held all the necessary approvals from the US Environment Protection Agency to dispose of the ships as part of the exercise. The US Navy complied with the requirements of the International Maritime Organisation's Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (known as the London Dumping Convention) which regulates disposal of ships at sea. The Australian Department of Defence managed Exercise Talisman Saber 2005 and took steps to ensure that the vessels were prepared for disposal to a standard that met the requirements of the then Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage. Defence consulted with that department during the environmental impact assessment process for the exercise and conditions applying to this activity were agreed and strictly implemented. Defence was advised at the time that the US Navy did not require any additional approvals from the Department
of the Environment and Heritage to dispose of the vessels in international waters.

(11) No. 

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