Greg Hunt MP - Thursday, 8 December 2005

Call on the Premier to put in a bid for HMAS Canberra

Call on the Premier to put in a bid for HMAS Canberra

By Greg Hunt MP, Federal Member for Flinders

Thursday, 8 December 2005 — I take this opportunity to call on the Victorian Premier, in a spirit of bipartisanship, to make a bid for the HMAS Canberra. The HMAS Canberra is an Adelaide class guided missile frigate which has been recently decommissioned. It has been offered by the Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, to four states and territories—Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory—as a vessel to be sunk so as to create an artificial reef and diving centre.

Unfortunately, I understand that offer has not been taken up by the Victorian government and, in particular, the Victorian Premier. I believe this is an extraordinary opportunity for the dive industry in Victoria. It is an industry which has faced some challenges due to the process of channel deepening. I believe it is a timely offer, it is a valuable offer and it is an offer which the Victorian government should pursue with an absolute ferocity of intent. I offer my services—as does my state colleague, Mr Martin Dixon, the member for Nepean—to help make the case to Canberra, but we cannot make that case unless the Victorian government puts in a bid. The closing date for expressions of interest is fast approaching. The minister, Senator Robert Hill, set 16 December as the closing time for states to make their submissions. There may be some small flexibility in that but, to the best of my knowledge, Victoria has neither expressed interest nor shown any signs that it is likely to express interest.

Let me set out the facts very briefly. I want to set out the offer, the history of the Canberra, and the value to the diving industry. When we look at the offer, we find that around Australia in recent years there have been four decommissioned naval ships sunk off the cost of Australia as tourist dive sites. They have each gone on to help create major tourism and economic benefits. The HMAS Swan was sunk off the coast of Western Australia at Dunsborough; the Hobart was sunk at Victor Harbour off the coast of South Australia; the HMAS Brisbane was sunk at Mooloolaba, off the Sunshine Coast; and the HMAS Perth was sunk off the south coast of WA at Albany. In this particular case, the Defence minister has made the offer to Victoria to be one of four possible contenders. The bids are being solicited, and we have a period of just over one week from now before the initial deadline passes. As I said, nothing has been received from Victoria.

The history of the Canberra makes it particularly interesting. It was commissioned on 21 March 1981 and decommissioned on 12 November this year. It is a long-range Escort frigate from the Adelaide class of guided missile frigates. It was one of six sister frigates which were powered by gas turbines. For most of its life it was based at Garden Island. It completed its service based at Stirling Naval Base in Rockingham, Western Australia. Operationally, it served in Kuwait in 1992-93. It served in Jakarta as part of the evacuation of Australian nationals in Operation Brancard. In 2002 it served in Operation Slipper in the international coalition against terrorism. It is the second Australian ship to have the title HMAS Canberra. The first was a Royal Australian Navy cruiser that was sunk during World War II at the battle of Savo Island in 1942, with the loss of 84 Australian lives.

Against that background, this ship offers an enormous opportunity to the diving industry on the Mornington Peninsula, within my electorate of Flinders, and, more generally, within Victoria. The potential to sink the ship off the southern coast of the Mornington Peninsula in deep waters, in areas which already contain some former decommissioned naval submarines, allows us to create an outstanding dive site. It would help Victoria boost the number of jobs in the dive industry, boost the profile of the dive industry and help the people of the Mornington Peninsula. In the best sense of cooperation, I offer my services to the Victorian government. I urge the Premier to put in a bid, as does my state colleague Martin Dixon. There is a week to do so. This is a great opportunity for Victoria. Do not let this opportunity go begging. Please bid to have the HMAS Canberra come to Victoria.

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