Page 2621 - Week 08 - Thursday, 30 June 2005

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observations and recommendations. Those identified for which money was appropriated were certainly worth persevering with.

The questions for which we do not yet have answers are those going to the heart of crucial issues like the communications system. Communication failures were instrumental in contributing to the poor response to the 2003 bushfire disasters and were one of the serious failings identified by McLeod. The government has stated in annual reports and estimates that communications are working okay in general terms, yet we constantly get feedback from the people in the field units that the implementation of the various communication systems—TRN, FireLink, communications vehicles, datalink and the Plumtree software programs—is being fielded in a haphazard fashion with mixed success.

Major questions remain over the reach of the new radio network. The continuing use of the old primary network has never been transparently explained. Why is this? It is because that is still required to piggyback the new TRN system. This issue alone begs very deep questions about the efficacy of the system and about why so much money appropriated in the last 2½ years has not delivered efficient and reliable communication systems on time and with the urgency they deserve. When I examined the original communication system’s operational requirement—which was designed in accordance with the McLeod recommendations—I, and indeed many others, had major questions about where the funding went and what we got for it. In estimates the minister evaded those questions.

Let me identify the breakdown of the communication system’s operational requirements, which I have no confidence that this budget any longer supports or respects. The program to implement the communications plan was spread out over four years at a cost of $26 million, which was then downgraded, understandably, to about $23.6 million. It included a new trunk—basic network—system of $15.4 million, a mobile and portable system worth $4.2 million, a portable manpower system worth $3.8 million, a radio relay vehicles program worth $0.6 million, an RF-based wide area network worth $1.2 million and a project management program worth $1.6 million. That was the benchmark designed 2½ years ago, for which appropriations were made, but there are questions over whether those capabilities have been properly delivered. We cannot find out, even though there is a deep amount of concern.

The last point I want to make is in relation to the information management communication command and control section, or IMCCC as it is called—the group that now operates within the ESA headquarters alongside of the operations section. I have major questions and deep concerns that the operations section itself and the IMCCC, which is part of that inside the ESA headquarters, has become a bloated, costly and inefficient organisation responsible for a very large blow-out in the order of $5 million, which I understand has had to be departmentally investigated.

The department has had to come into the ESA and question why that amount of money has been blown beyond budget. We have asked about that but we do not have the answers. We will continue to get to the bottom of that, and why a group which is responsible for communications and technical support now has in the region of at least 18 staff when, in the previous regime, the communications support section was staffed by six. We want to see what we are getting for our dollar. We want to know how

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