ISSUES ... an Australian national coastguard service

A separate service arm can more effectively provide comprehensive and proportionate responses for search & rescue needs, aerial and littoral maritime surveillance against minor border incursions; first-level maritime defence and communications.

[ link to information on Japan CoastGuard or US CoastGuard services ... or overview of other world coastguard services ]

The following articles & letters advocate proposals for Australia.

(December 2003: letter to columnist Paul Sheehan, The Australian)

An objective dialogue needs to progress on this topic.

Unfortunately it was last raised by Mr Beasley in the federal election he lost, so progress on the issue suffers by its association with party politics. It was a mistake to raise this as an election issue, and its importance requires bilateral support however long this might take.

A number of vital needs are thus far met by various governments and their departments. Each tries to meet what are seen as its partial objectives: but these areas which may arguably be better served, by a nationally integrated air and maritime capability, and include:

1 Search & rescue responses;
2 Surveillance for coastal incursion risks - unauthorised migration; drugs import; territorial fishing incursions;
3 Low-level force incursions - in which defence (from other ADF components) may be rapidly involved if needed.

At present the first is met by a mixture of voluntary and state government bodies, with tentative funding ranging from medium-term commercial sponsorship to weekly raffles !
The second is met by a mixture of federal customs launches, navy patrol boats, and (often) destroyers or other disproportionate resources; even the army's SAS can be used - though it seems primarily for political impact.

Larger-scale air or maritime resources may also become involved for the third type of risk, as now often at a disproportionate level.

Apart from the benefits of an integrated 'coast guard' arm of the ADF being more effective than the above range of resources, it would most importantly relieve present ADF naval vessels from tasking which is largely a waste in resources and cost, in proportion to many recent incidents.

The path to establishing a coast guard service can be detailed after its principle has been accepted, at least for strategic review.
No doubt pockets of resistance to such change will emerge - which is why a wide consensus on the principles and benefits needs to be achieved next.

[also published in Australian Strategic Policy Institute website comments, April 2005 ]
(December 2004, letter to Editor, The Australian)

This issue is important, but as Peter Jennings indicated (Australian, 17 December) the federal government seems reluctant to approach it with a comprehensive strategy. Mr Howard's announcement of an 'offshore protection command' shows signs of interest which deserve encouragement, but he remains reluctant to use the C-word. Progress on this was not helped by its use as for ALP political point in Beasley and Latham's election campaigns - and it now seems somewhat tainted to the Coalition camp.

Mr Jennings mentioned how a range of important protection and security needs have been met by various governments and their departments. An integrated national approach must be taken for search & rescue responses; surveillance for coastal incursion risks - of unauthorised migration, drugs import, territorial fishing incursions. It can also be a first defence in detecting low-level force incursions - in which defence (from other ADF components) may be rapidly involved if needed.

The search & rescue need has been met by a mixture of voluntary and state government bodies, with tentative funding ranging from medium-term commercial sponsorship to weekly raffles !
Recent parochial bitching over rescue helicopter in the NSW south coast demonstrates the flaws in what has evolved. The other needs are met with a mixture of federal customs launches, navy patrol boats, and (often) destroyers or other disproportionate resources; even the army's SAS has been used - although mainly for political impact.
While I seldom advocate the American approach to government, their coast guard has developed as a viable and respected "sixth force" in their armed services. Their web site demonstrates the range of services and resources they provide.

Apart from the benefits of an integrated 'coast guard' arm of the ADF being more effective than the above range of resources, it would most importantly relieve present ADF naval vessels from tasking which is largely a waste in resources and cost, in proportion to many recent incidents. It will be sensible to transfer smaller RAN patrol boats to a coast guard, with the navy instead focusing on technology such as unmanned drone aircraft, and more substantial defence action. The allegation that this will rob the RAN of a training phase is irrevelant - there is no real obstacle to seconding junior staff between services if the RAN can come out of its tribal shell.

But the path to establishing a national coast guard service can be put in more detail only after its principle has been debated, to achieve a consensual basis for strategic planning. No doubt tribal and other resistance to such change will emerge - which is why a wide consensus on the principles and benefits needs to be achieved next in developing a viable strategy, rather than making more political proclamations.

 (August 2006, letter to Editor, Australian Financial Review)

When will this Federal government get it ?

Why are they unable to accept that this country needs a national coast guard ? An integrated force equipped to meet the overlapping demands of search & rescue responses; of surveillance for coastal risks of unauthorised migration, drugs import, and territorial fishing incursions.

It can also provide a first-level detection and defence for low-level force incursions, escalating to naval involvement only as necessary and economic.

Instead the usual fragmented approach continues: this week the Australian Customs Service advertised tenders for a full charter vessel to enable Customs to "support the interception and boarding of suspected illegal foreign fishing vessels" - when some months earlier our navy also called tenders to dispose of their Armadale-class patrol boats.
It's valid for the RAN to move toward using (unmanned) UAVs to patrol the vast areas now included in Australia's economic security zone, to reinforce the higher-technology end of its resources, and also naval subcontracting of more convential long-distance air surveillance can continue.


But around our coast the basic layers of maritime and helicopter resources need to be provided via an Australian coastguard service - to meet requirements for safety and security around this continent in a rational and integrated way, rather than such ad hoc approaches as most recently demonstrated by Customs.

[ letter also published in South Coast Register ]

 (October 2006, letter to Editor, Australian Financial Review)

The clear need for Australia to have an integrated national coastguard service has been stated already (including in this paper); and it's interesting to again read in your defence special report (AFR,5 October) of Canberra's plans for a 'joint offshore protection command' to manage surveillance work on the northern coast for defence, customs, fisheries, quarantine, and immigration.
If to these JOPC functions were added those of maritime safety and rescue, and made into a permanent force instead of this tentative grouping focused on northern Australia, guess what ? We'd have the basis for a national coastguard - although don't mention this to the Prime Minister ! He seems allergic to the term, since Kim Beasley proposed it as part of ALP strategy.

For the interim it will be useful now for (say) the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to analyse and report on the transition issues which will naturally arise from implementing command integration for JOPC, between its component services.
Then, when a future federal government progresses toward forming a national coastguard service covering these related needs for all littoral areas, we will have learned useful lessons to assist this process.