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Defence sites in Queensland set for upgrades, expansion amid concerns over China

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The Department of Defence wants a vital air base, navy base and training area in north Queensland ready for any surge in operations.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Darwin yesterday to re-announce an upgrade to local Defence facilities to support ongoing cooperation with United States forces. It is part of an $8 billion capital investment program across northern Australia.

The visit came after Defence Minister Peter Dutton publicly said the possibility of conflict erupting over China’s interest in Taiwan could not be “discounted,” and Home Affairs Minister Mike Pezzullo warned his staff “free nations again hear the beating drums” of war.

Addressing the comments, and the need for further Defence investment, Morrison said Australia had to “promote an environment where peace will be the outcome,” including through cooperation with the US and its allies.

“All of our objectives through the activities of our Defence Forces is designed to pursue peace,” Morrison said.

“In a region as uncertain as this you need to ensure that you have the Defence capability that enables you to protect and defend Australia’s interests in that region.”

Queensland is, geographically and strategically, vital to Australia’s defences and its military preparedness.

Within weeks, Queensland will play host to the largest bilateral combined training activity between the Australian Defence Force and United States forces. The long-running Exercise Talisman Sabre, centred on the Shoalwater Bay training area, is set to be held for the first time since the pandemic began.

To maintain a “state of readiness,” military personnel will practice amphibious landings, ground force manoeuvres, urban operations, air combat and maritime operations across a number of Defence sites in Queensland and northern NSW.

It comes as a federal parliamentary committee examines a Defence plan to upgrade RAAF Base Townsville, the Townsville Field Training Area, and HMAS Cairns.

The department has told the committee that if the sites are to be relied upon for operations, training, or even local disaster support, construction must start later this year and be completed by the end of 2023.

“The (Townsville) Base’s ability to effectively support wider military operations, including assistance to the civil community, risks being compromised if the supporting infrastructure and capacity cannot be relied upon,” the department wrote in briefing notes.

“Further, in its role as a forward deployment and mounting base, there is a significant shortfall in on-base transit accommodation. Current arrangements cannot cope with the regional demand surge during high tempo operations and training exercises. “

At HMAS Cairns, the department has identified a “need to refresh primarily ageing services to improve capacity, reliability and compliance to support and sustain Defence capability at the Base”.

The field training area improvements come as Defence pushes ahead with a longer-term project to build and upgrade training facilities in Queensland to support joint exercises with Singapore. This will see Shoalwater Bay expanded, and a new area built at Greenvale near Townsville.

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