Inadequate infrastructure may hinder Defense’s efforts to develop and retain a skilled civilian workforce at RAAF Tindal to support the introduction of the MQ-4C Triton, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works has been told. Through Project Air 7000 Phase 1B, Defense is planning to construct a forward base for Triton aircraft at RAAF Tindal.
During a public hearing held in Katherine, testimony revealed that there are concerns about the ability of the town’s housing stock to support the larger workforce required by Triton.
According to Air Commodore Ron Tilly, Director General Capital Facilities and Infrastructure, Triton-related work at RAAF Tindal is expected to create between 550-600 jobs, with an average daily workforce of 60 personnel.
“So we’ll just focus on the workforce at Tindal, which will be, over the life of the project, between 550 and 600, with, however, a daily peak of between 50 and 60.”
Group Captain James Parton, Director, Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Transition Office, said that ongoing support of Triton would require around 50 additional personnel.
“Roughly 10 to 12 pilots will be accommodated here in Tindal permanently, and, along with that, with the contract for maintenance support and sustainment support, around 40 Northrop Grumman Australia contractors.”
Local Mayor, Elisabeth Clark, told the Committee that the Katherine Town Council wasn’t sure where Defense planned to house the expanded workforce and expressed concerns about the capability of local social infrastructure.
“There does not appear to be a plan to generate additional housing to meet the anticipated growth that this project will generate. This also flows on to associated childcare spaces, already an 18 month wait list, and to other social infrastructure such as schools nearing capacity.”
Questioned by Committee members, she said that ongoing local native title claims, as well as bureaucracy, prevented the release of more land for housing in the short-to-medium term.
“I understand it’s got to be built, but I think it needs to be the federal government who help sort out the native title claim as well as maybe identifying areas, because, even if you do build in the town area, a lot of the town area is under flood. So you’d have to also consider that. There isn’t actually another area that has been identified to expand housing. We have 54 lots coming up presently, but there hasn’t been another area in town identified to expand housing.”
Despite that, Clark told the committee that the Council welcomes increased investment by Defense at Tindal. Specifically, she added, the council is open to renegotiating the boundaries of the area leased from Defense for Katherine airport.
“Council is currently reviewing its Master Plan for this leased area. [of RAAF Tindal] and welcomes the opportunity to review the lease boundaries and access arrangements to the Civil Airport that will maximize the potential of this key strategic community asset.”
During the hearing, it was revealed that a taxiway, previously maintained by Katherine Airport, would become the responsibility of Defense as a result of the project.