RAAF range plans spark debate
THE lives of fishermen may be put at risk if the Department of Defence fails to consult with stakeholders over plans for the Evans Head Air Weapons Range.
Ecofishers NSW chief executive Ken Thurlow, of Byron Bay, said professional and amateur fishermen could be in danger from ‘off-target’ fire.
Defence has confirmed it plans to increase its activities and use the ‘full extent’ of the range, which it has not done for some years.
The increased activities, starting next year, will involve periodic access restrictions at sea within the range area.
“Defence’s most important priority is safety. Decisions regarding access restrictions are based on the need to ensure public safety while conducting safe and effective training activities,” the spokesman said.
Defence plans to alert local fishermen about the closures using the media.
However, Mr Thurlow said Defence would be better able to alert fishermen about upcoming restrictions if it worked with the fishing industry and used its networks to circulate information.
“Fishermen don’t normally read the local classifieds,” Mr Thurlow said.
“As key stakeholders and users in the area we wish to be involved in all future proposals and planning for safety.”
Federal Member for Page Janelle Saffin yesterday met with Defence Minister John Faulkner to raise her concerns about the planned extension of the ‘no-go area’ at Evans Head.
“Along with members of the Evans Head community, I was alarmed to read in the media yesterday of the RAAF’s proposal,” Ms Saffin said.
“I had not been contacted by the RAAF and was shocked that it was considering action that could negatively affect the town, a beautiful fishing village that is also popular with tourists and a favourite holiday destination for many locals.
“I immediately raised the issue with the Minister’s senior advisor and asked for a brief to find out about the RAAF’s plans and thinking on this.”
Defence said the range was an important part of air combat training for preparedness and the RAAF planned to use it for F-18 Super Hornet training exercises.
Air force F-111s currently use the range most weekdays. The use of the range should not increase with Super Hornet operations.
However, residents can expect to see more aircraft than experienced with the F-111s.