10 November 2022

Senate estimates meets stern Defence when questioned about training China's military

| Chris Johnson
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MHR-90 Taipan helicopter.

An MHR-90 Taipan helicopter. Photo: Defence.

Defence officials gave little away on Wednesday when asked at Senate estimates whether they knew of any former Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel being asked to provide military training to China.

Defence secretary Greg Moriarty said his department would inform the police if it suspected any previous members of a breach.

“If we become aware of any potential breaches of Australian law by ex-members of the ADF we will be engaging closely with appropriate law enforcement agencies to provide whatever we can in terms of facts and information,” Mr Moriarty said.

“We will be supporting any investigative work that any other agency undertakes.”

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Deputy Defence secretary Celia Perkins said the ADF had been “made aware through engagement with security agencies that former ADF personnel may have been approached to provide military-related training services”, but did not provide further details.

She did not state if any offers to provide training had been accepted by former officers. Neither did she say when the ADF became aware of the approaches, except to confirm it was before the revelations were reported in the media.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence highlighted the concerning issue last month when it said a number of former RAF pilots were being highly paid to provide training for the People’s Liberation Army in China.

Media reports at the time suggested similar approaches could have been made to former Australian pilots and officers.

The Defence officials said they were still trying to determine how many pilots had been approached by the Chinese.

Defence Minister Richard Marles has ordered the Department of Defence to urgently investigate the matter and review laws relating to the activities of retired military personnel.

“The information provided to me so far presents enough evidence to warrant the need for a detailed examination into the adequacy of current Defence policies and procedures addressing this matter,” Minister Marles said.

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Defence’s appearance at estimates has also uncovered that seven MRH-90 Taipan helicopters remain “airworthy” but unused in a Brisbane warehouse because “they have not been able to deliver”.

Army chief Lieutenant-General Simon Stuart said the helicopters’ flying hours had been deliberately reduced ahead of their phase out.

They cost about $48,000 an hour to fly, making the fleet too expensive to operate.

And no-one seems keen to buy them.

The former Coalition government announced last year that Australian military use of the Taipans would end 16 years ahead of their original use-by date.

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