Why won’t the Albanese Government give Ukraine the airworthy Taipans? Take Note of Answers

Obviously, I want to come to this issue of the Taipan helicopters.

The minister has correctly advised that the government is responding in accordance with the briefs provided by Defence. But I would offer the evidence that appeared last week, with the photographs of helicopters largely intact in hangars at Townsville, and the subsequent confirmation that, while they are not flyable at the moment because of the removal of some parts, they are largely intact and they are still airworthy.

It is common practice during Defence servicing of aircraft, including helicopters, for parts to be removed and then reinstalled. In fact, the disposal plan that Defence has talked about goes to the issue of the removal of parts for sale.

I know from my experience dealing with the airworthiness system in Defence that, for another nation to buy those parts, they will need to be assured that they have been removed by qualified technicians in accordance with approved processes, which means that the aircraft are still airworthy and, just like at the end of a servicing period, parts can be replaced.

Now, Minister Conroy has made the comment that it would be beyond a reasonable expectation that Australia should put these aircraft back together.

I disagree with that, but, even if you accepted that, the request from the Ukrainian government makes it clear that they would work with their NATO allies, including Germany and France, who take a lead in the NATO or European defence contact group for Ukraine, and they are two of the founders of the NATO helicopters industry group, which produces the helicopters and operates them on behalf of NATO countries.

They are partners in Airbus, who have people in Europe who are supporting the same type of helicopter, and those helicopters are (a) operating safely and (b), as we see even through people like New Zealand, getting far higher rates of serviceability than the Australian Army, for whatever reason, managed to get here.

For the Defence Force here to say that they don’t think this is a suitable platform for Ukraine, who are showing themselves remarkably adept at taking on a range of platforms, from fast jets to precision guided weapons to unmanned seaborne systems that are having great effect against Russian forces—I think it’s the height of arrogance to say that we don’t think that they are up to handling these helicopters when clearly other nations have been able to actually operate them more effectively than we have.

They’re operating safely, and the Ukrainians have done their homework and indicated in their formal request that they believe they can work with their European partners to operate these aircraft in an aeromedical, casualty evacuation role, which has been proven ever since the Vietnam War to be a key factor in saving lives.

It is a real issue for the Ukrainians.

Some hospitals—for example, a hospital in Dnipro—are doing between 50 and 100 operations a day. This hospital alone has performed more than 3,000 amputations, committing soldiers to a life of disability, whereas the medical science shows that early intervention, getting people to medical facilities and surgical support early not only saves lives but, importantly, prevents some of the disability outcomes that result, in particular, from the blast injuries that we are seeing in Ukraine.

If Defence don’t believe that they have the money, the manpower or the time to get the aircraft, which are in Townsville, largely intact, back into a flying state given they are already airworthy, the option is to just donate the airframes as they are to the Ukrainians, who can then work with their European partners to put the tail rotor gearboxes and other parts which are being apparently sold to NHIndustries, who are the people who actually work in Europe. They would have the airframes, the parts and the workforce to work with the Ukrainian government to make these aircraft available.

So there is nothing for the Australian government or the Australian Defence Force to fear in terms of cost implications of donating the airframes, because the Ukrainians have indicated they will work with other partners to get them airworthy.

I am bemused—in fact, I am alarmed—by the attitude that has been taken, which appears to be a mindless adherence to a decision that was taken some months ago.

Despite the new information in the request from Ukraine that they consider their position to be that they can operate them safely and effectively with the support of their allies—despite the fact that it will save lives—it appears that organisations here are perhaps more concerned about saving face than they are about saving lives.

That is not the Australia I know.

That is not the Australia that has put its shoulder to the wheel many times to support like-minded nations—particularly here, where we’re seeing such a great loss of life and injury to their population as they fight against totalitarian regimes in order to protect the democracy that we share and want to preserve.