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;
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 !
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
(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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.