THE federal government should consider acquiring the Aurora Australis and Toll vessels when they are retired, opposition infrastructure spokesperson Senator Carol Brown says.
Senator Brown was speaking in the context of the recent bushfires where emergency maritime evacuations were crucial in East Gippsland and southern New South Wales.
She said options had been presented to Labor, including purchasing the Aurora Australis from P & O when it returns from Antarctica, purchasing the Toll cargo vessels and working with the Australian Maritime College to fund the acquisition of a new training vessel for the college that also would be suitable and available for emergency response.
“The [Aurora Australis] would require some modification to make it fit for purpose for the emergency response role, although it does already have a number of facilities that make it suitable to take on this role – including a helipad, desalination plant, dining hall for 150 people and a refuelling station,” Senator Brown said.
“Another important capacity of the Aurora Australis is its extensive fuel storage facility. As currently configured the ship can store 1,000 cubic metres of fuel. The estimated costs of purchase and modification supplied to the opposition currently stand at $10million.”
Senator Brown said Labor supported and valued the role of ADF personnel and assets in the bushfire rescue, relief and assistance role.
“However, the fires have also shown areas of vulnerability in our supply and rescue capability,” she said.
“A number of Australian civilian vessels and crews provided vital rescue and support to communities severely impacted and endangered by the fires,” said Senator Brown.
She said Labor acknowledged the need to develop a more formal and coordinated civilian capacity.
“I have written to the Prime Minister inviting him you to consider these options along with others that will certainly emerge as the events of the last few months are reviewed,” Senator Brown said. “We are keen to ensure that the Government and Opposition work together to develop a non-partisan position on the development of a civilian maritime emergency response capacity.”