Adjournment – HMAS Tobruk Dive Wreck

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (11:37): My region is in need of a new tourist attraction—one that will increase domestic and international visitation, stimulate the local economy and create jobs. Wide Bay Burnett includes Lady Musgrave, Lady Elliot and Fraser islands. The region is renowned for its fresh seafood, perfect climate and awe-inspiring marine life. Yet it has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Tourism operators say they need another water based attraction that will keep their boats in the water during the months that humpback whales and loggerhead turtles are no longer present.

The idea of a military dive wreck was first floated with me before the last federal election by Nicky Schulz. Nick is a very well-respected commercial fisherman from Hervey Bay, who is passionate about protecting and celebrating our marine environment. Not long after being elected to represent the people of Hinkler, I contacted local business owners, recreational scuba divers and my state and council counterparts to gauge their interest in the proposal and was overwhelmed by their positivity. I wrote to Assistant Minister for Defence Darren Chester to seek advice on which military vessels were due to be decommissioned over the next few years. In November last year Mr Chester visited my electorate to see firsthand why Wide Bay Burnett is the ideal location for a dive wreck. Hervey Bay Whale Watch owners Brian and Jill Perry took Mr Chester out on the water and expressed their support for the proposal.

A Wide Bay Burnett regional dive wreck advisory committee was formed to assess the project’s feasibility. The advisory group includes representatives from the Hervey Bay Boat Club, the Hervey Bay Chamber of Commerce, three locally owned scuba diving and whale watching businesses, the regional development authority and the Department of State Development, as well as the Bundaberg, Fraser Coast and Gympie regional councils. The group also includes experts who have established dive wrecks in other locations.

In August this year, the advisory group met with several share-holding ministers in Canberra to outline the details contained in their business case. They are asking the federal government to approve the gifting, stripping and scuttling of the recently decommissioned HMAS Tobruk in 34 metres of water at a site midway between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Communities like Burrum Heads would benefit as well. Burrum Heads is soon to get a new boat ramp, which will be ideal for launching dive boats to take the shortest run to the proposed wreck site. The advisory group have held community information sessions, and they have established a Facebook page which has attracted some 730 ‘likes’ in just a few short weeks. I encourage business owners, history buffs, water sport lovers, recreational fishers, tourists and of course locals to support the advisory group, to ‘like’ their Facebook page and to share it with their friends.

Local media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive, and I expect that that will continue as the advisory group’s campaign escalates in coming weeks. The advisory group estimates that a military dive wreck would contribute between $1 million and $4 million each year to the local economy. This will be a great rate of return for a one-off estimated investment of approximately $6 million. It would create additional breeding habitats for local fish stocks and other marine life. An HMAS Tobrukmilitary dive wreck would complement the Rats of Tobruk Memorial in Bundaberg, the HMAS Brisbane dive wreck at Mooloolaba and the Fraser Coast Military Trail, which is currently being developed by the Fraser Coast Regional Council.

Local RSL sub-branches are very supportive of the project. Hinkler has a larger than average veteran population and an impressive ADF recruitment application rate, but it receives the lowest annual Defence spend of any federal electorate in the country. I have met with Attorney-General George Brandis in regard to the project and to discuss any potential legal impediments.

Before it can formally seek funding for the project, the advisory group needs a clearer picture of the remediation work that will need to be done to enable the vessel to be scuttled. The advisory group is seeking approval for McMahon Services to board HMAS Tobruk at Garden Island to formally assess the likely costs. McMahon Services have completed two significant vessel dismantling and disposal projects. They scuttled both the ex-HMAS Hobart and the ex-HMAS Adelaide to create military dive wrecks.

I am pleased to advise that the Fraser Coast Regional Council has just this week committed $1 million towards the project. That is from a local government authority. I hope that Bundaberg Regional Council will soon follow their lead and that the Queensland state Labor government will get on board. I would like to thank our patron senator, Senator James McGrath, now Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, for his longstanding support of this project.

I believe that the Defence assets paid for by the Australian people can and should continue to serve the community long after they are no longer of use to the military. Make no mistake: HMAS Tobruk should not be sent to the scrap metal yard or to a freezing, dark, watery grave in a place like Tasmania. The Wide Bay Burnett is the ideal resting place for HMAS Tobruk. We are a region that has great respect for the veteran community, and we will treat the Tobruk with the respect that it deserves. The project will be an economic injection and add desperately needed jobs into our region now and for decades into the future.

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