The Department of Defence (Defence) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with the proposed Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) Remediation Project.
The purpose of the project is to remediate selected elements of the facilities and engineering infrastructure within the SWBTA to ensure its environmental sustainability is commensurate with introducing new capabilities to the Australian Defence Force.
The estimated cost of the project is between $105 to 140 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 18 September 2019.
Conduct of the inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received two submissions and one confidential submission. A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 15 November 2019, the Committee conducted a public and in-camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
The project proposes to deliver works at numerous sites across the SBWTA, which covers over 274,000 hectares of land and 180,000 hectares of sea and is located approximately 80km north of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. Defence outlined the need for the project as follows:
The SWBTA is one of Australia’s key training areas for domestic and international Defence training, and is the Australian Defence Force’s only national location capable of supporting significant amphibious operations. It can be accessed by air, sea and land, and is of sufficient size to accommodate large-scale training manoeuvres supported by air and naval gunfire. Given the current and expected future use of the training area, there is a need to remediate the existing infrastructure to:
enable continued environmental sustainability for Australian Defence Force exercises.
meet the Department of Defence’s obligations to manage the area for both military operations and environmental conservation.
increase Defence’s Amphibious training capability.
enhance the quality and longevity of existing infrastructure for air, sea and land manoeuvres into the future.
Defence noted that it had undertaken comprehensive master planning, site investigations, stakeholder consultation, whole-of-life cost analysis and design development to establish the capital facilities and infrastructure works required under the project to address each need.
Defence outlined four options for the project:
Option 3—priority scope elements
Option 4—rationalised remediation
Defence considered option 4, rationalised remediation, as representing the ‘best value for money solution to the Commonwealth to address the need from a whole-of-life perspective’. This was based on the ‘benefits of addressing most scope elements to varying degrees and effectively managing the impacts of reduced design solutions’ and allowing ‘flexibility to progressively re-invest savings into the “below the line items” and realise the full scope option (option 2) as far as the project’s budget will allow’.
Priorities for re-investment are:
the camp facilities at Williamson Camp
further development of the Urban Operations Training Facility
greater pavement strengthening at Williamson Airfield
Scope of the works
Defence outlined the scope of the project as follows:
Urban Operations Training Facility Upgrade
Williamson Camp Development
Williamson Airfield Upgrade
Field Hospital Site Upgrade
Freshwater Beach Landing Site Remediation
Remediation of Selected Creek Crossings
Defence provided a summary of the above scope components, as including:
upgrading the urban operations training facility to support brigade-size training activities of approximately 2,000 soldiers; upgrading the Williamson Airfield to support increased heavy-lift aircraft operations; upgrading an existing clearing to be used as an aeromedical evacuation landing zone and field hospital site; developing a camp to support up to 1,000 personnel; upgrading Dingo Drive to support two-way military traffic; and upgrading up to 60 creek crossings throughout the training area.
There was interest at the public hearing in understanding more about the Urban Operations Training Facility Upgrade. The proposal for the construction of the original Urban Operations Training Facility was approved by the Committee in 2006. This facility consisted of repurposed shipping containers, which Defence explained are now ‘beginning to corrode’ and will soon be ‘unsafe to use’.
Defence noted that the design life of these containers would not have been ‘much over the 10-year mark, given that they were just a containerised option’. However, the building structures at the upgraded facility will have a design life of 50 years, ‘so this one is planned on enduring for many decades without the need to come back … there is certainly no thought that it would need to be replaced, because it has a long design life, given the nature of the construction’.
The new construction will be ‘a combination of tilt-up concrete panel construction, colorbond roof sheeting, colorbond industrial style sheds—all materials that are very hardy and low-maintenance that can be left out in the bush without a lot of maintenance’. Defence confirmed that the managing contractor would be responsible for the disposal of the containers, with ‘a rate of 70 per cent of the waste from the project, including the containers’, going through recycling centres as opposed to landfill.
Another matter raised at the public hearing was the Williamson Airfield Upgrade—in particular, whether there would be land available if there was a future need to extend the runway. Defence responded that there was land available but a runway extension is not proposed, because it can already accommodate a fully laden C-17 Globemaster.
On the Williamson Camp Development, Defence further explained the rationale behind providing austere accommodation for Defence personnel. It was noted that field forces ‘deploy to an environment where they have to bring, where possible, their own equipment in order to sustain them during that deployment’. Further, ‘shower bags on hooks, zero-discharge, low-water-usage toilets and the like’ achieve both environmental and training outcomes.
There was also interest in understanding more about the Dingo Drive Remediation, noting that, over recent years, the Committee had approved a number of medium works relating to road maintenance at the SWBTA. Of particular interest was whether there was an overall plan for road maintenance at the site in the long term. Defence responded that:
that sort of routine maintenance would continue, even after we do this work on Dingo Drive … Whilst the piecemeal fixing of Dingo Track will definitely be reduced, there is still quite an extensive road network throughout that range where there will be maintenance work required … But there is a plan. That is planned maintenance that they do.
Defence noted it had developed a ‘community consultation and communications strategy that recognises the importance of providing local residents and other interested stakeholders an opportunity to provide input into, or raise concerns relating to, the project’.
Defence provided a detailed summary of key stakeholder consultations, and stated that, as at the time of the above consultation processes, the feedback received from those consulted had ‘generally been positive’.
Concerns raised during these consultation activities had been addressed as follows:
Defence’s approach towards maximising opportunities for, and developing the capabilities of local industry, including the Darumbal People
Defence’s response detailed how the Managing Contractor would be facilitating this through its Local Industry Capability Plan
Defence outlined the policies, agreements and contractual mechanisms that it will utilise to maximise work and development opportunities for the Darumbal People
Defence’s approach towards Heritage Management during construction
Defence confirmed that a Management Plan would be developed by the Managing Contractor
the impact of construction activities on training exercises on SWBTA
Defence confirmed that elements of some training activities would need to be relocated to other training areas throughout Australia to enable construction activities to occur. Defence confirmed that construction activities are currently not expected to impact Exercise Wallaby
the impact of the Project’s proposed Williamson Airfield Upgrade on the usage of Rockhampton Airport
Defence advised parties the proposed Williamson Airfield Upgrade is not anticipated to reduce Defence’s use of Rockhampton Airport, and that each airfield is used for different purposes to support Training Activities at SWBTA
the impact of the Project’s proposed hard-standing areas on water flow and sediment runoff into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Defence confirmed that water flow and sediment runoff were considered when developing the design solution and that, by design, the hardstand will decrease sediment runoff. As a result, the construction of permanent hardstands will have a positive environmental impact
As to whether the works were likely to cause any disruption to the surrounding community outside the base, Defence observed that construction sites were well within the boundary of the base, ‘so they are a long distance from any locals’.
Defence also provided further information on the scheduling of major training exercises and construction activities in terms of the SWBTA:
ADF Headquarters Joint Operations Command, Joint Capabilities Group, realise that Shoalwater Bay is our premier, category 1 training area. They’ve now commenced their planning cycle for Talisman Sabre. They’ve concluded that they’re not going to be utilising Shoalwater Bay and that the upgrades are the most important thing over the next 31 months … That’s being worked out at the moment, and it will allow Shoalwater Bay to be upgraded and remediated as per the submission.
Consultation with traditional owners
There was interest at the public hearing in further exploring Defence’s consultation with the Traditional Owners of the SWBTA, the Darumbal People. Defence confirmed that the Darumbal people had been determined as the native title holders—‘in all the consultation we’ve done, it’s been only the Darumbal people that have identified themselves as that. We’ve worked with them accordingly’.
Defence also noted that it had undertaken extensive cultural heritage investigations with the Darumbal people, and reinforced its commitment to ‘partner with the Darumbal people in protecting their culturally significant places and to promote their people and businesses through contracting opportunities’. Defence has an Indigenous land use agreement in place with the Darumbal people, which allows them to have first right of refusal for contracts that are below $250,000, with the expectation that there will be ‘employment opportunities for either Darumbal businesses or individual Darumbal people on the project’.
Consultation with local contractors
In terms of whether the proposed works would be carried out by local contractors where possible, Defence confirmed that the major managing contractors, the FK Group and Downer joint venture, had ‘signed themselves up to an 80 per cent local participation rate for the construction side of the project’, with the contractors having undertaken ‘quite extensive industry consultation with key industry bodies in the region’. The managing contractor for the project is contractually required to comply with a local industry capability plan.
As Defence further noted:
Since the start of the project, we have done intensive investigations into the market and have met with in excess of 200 local subcontractors, got a sense of their capabilities and what they can do, fed that into the design, so we have designed certain materials in certain processes that suit what the local industry can do. In addition to that, we have also shaped the packaging plans of the procurement strategy so that we are creating subcontract work packages that are of a size that will suit the general spread of that capability and capacity of the local industry.
Consultation on environmental matters
Defence’s consultation on environmental matters at the SWBTA was another matter of interest at the public hearing, noting that the training area is located within a World Heritage Area.
Defence noted it had ‘robust environmental policies and management strategies in order to ensure that it meets its responsibility to manage Shoalwater Bay during military activities’. For example, the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 stated that:
Defence has a mature environmental management system in place that has operated very effectively for many years. The memorandum of understanding between Defence and the Marine Park Authority continues to underpin strong working relationships and information sharing, and instils a high level of confidence that defence activities are environmentally sustainable in the Region.
Defence emphasised that its engagement with groups with environmental interests in the SWBTA indicated they are ‘satisfied that we have robust measures in place’.
As to whether there were any outstanding issues relating to consultation on environmental matters relating to the SWBTA, Defence confirmed that:
The environmental management efforts we’ve had on this project, and in previously managing Shoalwater Bay, have been quite extensive, just in recognition of the significance of the area, in particular the wetlands that are recognised under the Ramsar Convention, so a lot of consultation has been done with all parties involved.
Defence explained that all relevant parties and jurisdictions with an interest in Shoalwater Bay are on the Environmental Advisory Committee, with Defence being ‘active on that committee to make sure that we’re actually meeting all the obligations that we need to’.
As to how the environmental sustainability of the various facilities at the SWBTA has been monitored in the past and will be monitored in the future, Defence explained that:
before any exercise, the condition is well documented … so that over the years whenever there has been a major exercise … what happens is that the range is returned to what it looked like before you started ...
Whilst this work is heavily focused on doing environmental controls, it’s not to say that we haven’t very closely monitored the environment out there up to date. But it’s been done in a piecemeal fashion, which has, over the years, been expensive. By doing this investment now, that piecemeal repair work will be very much reduced.
In terms of any PFAS contamination issues associated with the site, Defence responded that there had been some investigations done, with:
…some low levels identified in the Williamson Airfield area – very low levels sitting at about 0.14 milligrams per kilo in terms of concentration. That sits on the lowest band of PFAS contamination. Within that band we are permitted to re-use the material as part of the works so that it doesn’t have to leave the site.’
Cost of the works
The project has an estimated cost of between $105 to 140 million (excluding GST). This includes management and design fees, construction costs, information and communications technology, furniture, fittings, equipment, contingencies and a provision for escalation.
Defence noted that an increase in operating costs is expected as a result of the proposed works, ‘due to the addition of new facilities and infrastructure which will increase the associated facilities maintenance, cleaning and utilities expenses’.
The department provided further details on project costings in its confidential submission and during an in-camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings provided for the project have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
The Committee did not identify any issues of concern with the proposal and is satisfied that the project has merit in terms of need, scope and cost.
Having regard to its role and responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that the project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project that is fit for purpose, having regard to the established need.
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: Shoalwater Bay Training Area Remediation Project.
Proponent entities must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.