GROWING CONCERN: Neil Farmer (pictured with wife Clare and daughter Annabelle on their property outside Yaamba) is one of a number of graziers concerned with the low-level flying planned as part of Operation Wallaby. ABOVE: This map shows the number of properties that have lodged a no-fly application.
GROWING CONCERN: Neil Farmer (pictured with wife Clare and daughter Annabelle on their property outside Yaamba) is one of a number of graziers concerned with the low-level flying planned as part of Operation Wallaby. ABOVE: This map shows the number of properties that have lodged a no-fly application. Tara Croser

Dangerous military actions have CQ graziers fearing fatality

GRAZIER and vet Dr Neil Farmer is concerned animals or people could suffer serious injury if low-level flight operations for Exercise Wallaby go ahead as planned.

Extreme noise and wake turbulence created by large military aircraft has the potential to spook cattle, something Dr Farmer said could result in death or serious injury if the conditions aligned.

The Morning Bulletin has spoken to several graziers from the prime cattle country surrounding the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area who all expressed similar concerns about the threat to people and their business, with cattle at risk of health issues from the stress caused by loud low-level flights.

Running until October 14, Exercise Wallaby involves several large military aircraft including Apache, Super Puma, and Chinook helicopters and the C-130 Hercules.

It's this large aircraft which was scheduled to conduct low-level navigation tasks, at about 152m above ground around areas outside the military training area.

Dr Farmer said there was a danger to anyone mustering cattle, an activity which takes place on a daily basis at the dozens of properties where low-level flying operations are planned for the Singapore Armed Forces training in Exercise Wallaby.

Dr Farmer's own property is included in this area.

Spooked cattle are also at risk of injury, with Dr Farmer saying they could run into barbed wire fences and cut themselves or become tangled.

The stress may also impact their weight gain and calving.

Marlborough grazier Joanne Rae said the most valuable aspect of cattle was their weight and any adverse impacts on that could have big implications.

"I think people forget we're trying to run a business here ... and the animals are extremely valuable and what's most valuable is the weight they put on," she said.

Ms Rae said graziers needed certainty about training operations.

While Stanage grazier Craig Mace is still thankful he wasn't mustering with his children when a low-flying military aircraft spooked the 150 head of cattle he was working some months ago.

The potentially life-threatening situation was the catalyst for Mr Mace to request no-fly zones to cover his property during the Australian-American joint military training operation Talisman Sabre.

However, the threat of injury to both people and cattle is now a major concern for Mr Mace and dozens of fellow graziers after the Department of Defence rejected requests for no-fly zones for the duration of Operation Wallaby.

"It's about time something was done about it before an accident," he said.

"No one wants to take responsibility for what could go wrong."

 

No fly zones requested around Shoalwater Bay
No fly zones requested around Shoalwater Bay CentroArt

Experienced general aviation pilot and grazier Roger Toole has become the spokesperson for affected landholders, liaising with the Defence Department on their behalf following the issues experienced during Talisman Sabre.

In late July, Mr Toole was contacted by RAAF staff with detailed air operations information and asked to inform local graziers about how to apply for no-fly zones.

He was told the exercises would involve up to three low-level flights daily by the Hercules on random routes, with some taking place at night.

Mr Toole said he contacted the RAAF on August 22, having already received over 40 no-fly requests from landholders to lodge on their behalf, but was met with an unsatisfactory response.

"We are talking about cattle that generally weigh from 300kg to 800kg," he said.

"Family and staff are close by, be it on horseback or bikes, when a mob of cattle bolt."

Mr Toole said the Defence Department and those involved with Exercise Wallaby had "total disregard for the very real potential injury to people and cattle, and even more serious situation of fatalities".

"It only takes one flight by a C-130 military aircraft or heavy military helicopter at low level over a cattle property in the area and disaster can happen in a couple of seconds," he said.

On Monday, Mr Toole was advised no-fly zones would be in operation for just two days (Thursday and Friday) of the two-month exercise.

"This is nothing short of a disgrace and total disregard by Defence for the safety and well being of hundreds of landholders on the ground," he said.

Since then, Mr Toole has advised the department flights below 760m should be scrapped completely outside the Shoalwater Bay training area.

The Deence Department told The Morning Bulletin landholders would have to continue to apply for no-fly zones on a rolling basis throughout Exercise Wallaby.

"The Singapore Armed Forces have conducted Exercise Wallaby at Shoalwater Bay Training Area for the last 26 years and is about to commence this year's exercise," a spokesperson said.

"Throughout this long history the Australian Department of Defence has supported Singapore in the conduct of their unilateral training through ensuring that Australian legislation and policy is adhered to.

"Defence has also refined its support to Exercise Wallaby over the years to ensure that the concerns of local property owners is considered in the exercise planning.

"While aircraft operations have been the subject of noise complaints, there have been no reported safety incidents that have resulted from Exercise Wallaby.

"Defence has implemented a process which allows local property owners to request "no fly areas" over their properties for periods where they believe aircraft operations may create safety issues during mustering.

"This process will be in place during the period 31 August to 21 September 2017 and is aimed at avoiding problems, particularly with cattle mustering, which may be caused by Singaporean aircraft flying to the Training Area whilst still allowing the aircrews to achieve valuable training outcomes. 

"The process has been distributed by Airservices Australia through Aeronautical Information Publication Supplement (AIP SUP) H113/17 and discussed at community briefings.

"The process allows property owners to apply for a "no fly area" over their property at least 48 hours ahead of their mustering.

"Singapore will consider these requests on a case by case basis depending on the planned exercise outcomes for a specific day.

"This will be done on a rolling basis until the conclusion of aircraft operations.

"Any further inquiries, particularly from concerned property owners should be directed to 1800 DEFENCE so that the appropriate exercise planners can contact them to address their concerns."



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