The Department of Defence (Defence) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) Phase 6 Facilities Project.
The JORN capability is Australia's first comprehensive land and air early warning system. It provides 24-hour military surveillance of the northern and western approaches to Australia, while also assisting in detecting illegal entry, smuggling and unlicensed fishing.
The JORN system comprises three elements: the over-the-horizon radar, Ionospheric Sounder Sites and the JORN Coordination Centre.
There are three over-the-horizon radar transmit and receive sites, these sites are located in Longreach, Queensland (Radar 1); Laverton, Western Australia (Radar 2); and Alice Springs Northern Territory (Radar 3).
The JORN Phase 6 Facilities Project aims to address obsolescence and supportability issues associated with the existing Radar 3 over-the-horizon radar facilities consisting of a Transmit site at Harts Range and Receiver site at Mount Everard in the Northern Territory (NT), and provide supporting infrastructure and upgrades at four Ionospheric Sounder Sites, at various locations across Australia.
The estimated cost of the project is $50.7 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 24 May 2018.
Conduct of inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received one submission, one supplementary submission and one confidential submission. A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 30 July 2018, the Committee conducted a site inspection by presentation for the Committee. On the same day, the Committee also conducted a public and in camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
Defence identified that many elements of the existing JORN are now in excess of 30 years old, and a significant upgrade of the JORN capability is being conducted to maximise its effectiveness and provide increased capability arising from innovation and technological advancements.
Defence submitted that works at the Radar 3 facilities additionally aim to standardise its operational model across all three Radar sites, specifically changing the current operating model to a travel in/travel out model, aligning operations to Radar 1 and Radar 2.
Defence told the Committee at the public hearing that the travel in travel/out model aims to:
Address escalating maintenance cost to maintain the deteriorating assets;
Address inadequate amenities to support the health and wellbeing of operations personnel, and;
Redress the Radar 3 facilities through the consolidation, refurbishment and construction of purpose designed facilities.
The proposed works also require one new and three additional Ionospheric Sounder Sites installations located near existing installation across Australia. The Ionospheric Sounder Sites upgrades aim to provide improvements to the Frequency Management System of the JORN capability.
Defence’s submission stated that proposed upgrades aim to extend the system life to 2042.
The Committee is satisfied that the need for the works exists.
Scope of the works
According to Defence, the proposed works across all sites include:
upgrades to services including power, water, fire protection, sewerage, ICT and stormwater;
new travel in/travel out accommodation facilities;
upgrade to, and new facilities to support the Receive and Transmit operations, fundamental to the Jindalee Operational Radar Network; and
demolition of redundant structures.
The specific works proposed at Harts Range, NT include the following elements:
transit accommodation precinct;
demolition of legacy buildings; and
transmit building replacement.
Works proposed at Mount Everard, NT include the following elements:
transit accommodation precinct;
receive building refurbishment; and
demolition of legacy buildings.
Ionospheric Sounder Sites proposed works include supporting facilities for one new and three additional Ionospheric Sounder Sites installations located near existing installations to enhance the existing Ionospheric Sounder Sites network. These works will be undertaken at RAAF Base Learmonth and Ajana in Western Australia, Horn Island in Queensland and Murray Bridge in South Australia.
Upgrades of the selected Ionospheric Sounder Sites under JORN Phase 6 aims to provide the following at each location:
a flat, cleared area of 105m x 105m (inclusive of allowance for fire break);
a nominated location for an equipment shelter;
power connection to the site to enable connection of the equipment shelter; and
site fencing to delineate the area and provide protection from stock and low level physical security.
Subject to Parliamentary approval, Defence anticipates that construction will commence in early 2019 and reach completion by late 2020.
The Committee finds that the proposed scope of works is suitable for the works to meet its purpose.
Defence submitted that the new operational support model at Alice Springs will change the way that BAE personnel are employed:
For BAE Systems staff employed at Harts Range, and their families, this will result in a change from permanent on-site accommodation to transit accommodation for rostered staff only. For BAE Systems staff employed at Mount Everard, this will result in a change from staff commuting daily to Alice Springs to provision of transit accommodation for rostered staff only.
According to Defence, one of the key reasons that these staff would be transitioned away from on-site accommodation was due to workplace health and safety concerns. Specifically, the threat posed by bushfires and the remoteness from appropriate medical facilities.
At the public hearing Defence told the committee that they have been engaging with the personnel and families of the permanent on-site facilities at Harts Range for at least two years and that the personnel and their families have accepted that there is a ‘need to change the approach around the health and safety aspects at Harts Range’.
In responding to the concerns of personnel at the Harts Range facility, Defence told the Committee that:
Part of their agreement is that we will relocate them to where they would like to go. Some families have said they would like to move on and take on different challenges. So we will be helping to redeploy those people wherever possible.
Cost of the works
The project has a budget of $50.7 million, exclusive of GST. It includes the cost of construction, management and design fees, contingencies, information and communications technology, contingencies and an escalation allowance.
The Committee also received evidence relating to cost breakdowns in the in-camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
The Committee understands the importance of military surveillance of the northern and western approaches to Australia, and the additional capability in detecting illegal entry, smuggling and unlicensed fishing. The Committee also accepts that facilities at JORN Radar 3 are aged and in need of repair and upgrade to maximise effectiveness and provide increased capability arising from innovation and technological advancements.
The Committee recognises the concerns of personnel and their families at Radar 3 facilities who will be impacted by the transition of the operational models to a travel in/travel out mode. The local impact of proposed public works is always an important facet of the Committee’s scrutiny.
In this regard, the Committee acknowledges the consultation efforts of Defence and BAE Systems. The Committee also notes that Defence has responded to the concerns of the affected personnel, and urges Defence and BAE Systems to maintain a focus on the relocation of personnel and family of the transmit site at Harts Range, Northern Territory.
Having regard to its role and the responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that this project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project which 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: Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) Phase 6 Facilities 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 the project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.