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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 3352


Mrs BAILEY(11.39 a.m.) —I address the House today in support of the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1996. I will focus my comments upon items 5 to 44 inclusive, which deal with the amendments to the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Act 1990. Those items which amend the current act are of particular interest to me in my electorate of McEwen, which contains the large army and army reserve operation at Puckapunyal.

During the election campaign, the coalition made a commitment to serving defence families across Australia. I was very pleased to make this commitment to defence families at Puckapunyal to extend and increase the benefits available to defence personnel under the defence home owner scheme. This bill delivers on those promises.

Before commenting on these amendments, I would like to mention the importance to Australians of the ideal of owning a home. The family home has traditionally been an icon of security and stability in Australian society. It is usually the most valuable asset that a family possesses. It is, for many, the most important investment of their life. The sense of success, prosperity and security is encapsulated in the notion that the great Australian dream is to own your own home. Many Australians are comforted by the knowledge that their retirement will be secured by home ownership. This dream is just as relevant today as it has been to past generations. The family home is security, an investment and it provides peace of mind.

Defence families are no different from any other Australian families in wanting to achieve this security. Historically, though, this ideal has been difficult for defence families to realise. Having been a regular visitor to Puckapunyal over the years, I know how difficult it has been for defence personnel to establish a permanent family home. The nature of the job, with its recurrent postings and removals, temporary accommodation and the difficulty of finding suitable housing often cause enormous hardship, especially for younger couples.

Under these circumstances, establishing the security of the family home has been difficult. Sometimes this has meant that our most promising personnel search for jobs that they feel will give them a more secure future and a better chance of settling down. Sadly, many of those jobs have been outside the Defence Force.

The defence home loans scheme recognises the challenges faced by defence personnel and their families. If they are to have the same opportunities as other Australians, then we must provide them with those benefits. One way of accomplishing this is the improvement of the scheme of home ownership. The doubling of the maximum amount currently available for loans will provide defence personnel with much better opportunities than are available at present.

To make sure we have the best possible defence force, we must make sure we retain the best personnel. To encourage our young men and women to stay longer, the government will recognise the value that our defence forces provide to the nation by giving them a tangible reward for the service that they give. These hardworking people who defend the country and give our nation a sense of security deserve some of that security for themselves. This bill provides the changes which will deliver that reward and significantly improve the conditions of service for members of the Australian defence forces.

Contained in this bill is a doubling of the maximum amount available for a subsidised loan under the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Act to $80,000, or $160,000 where spouses have a joint entitlement. These new maximum subsidised loan limits apply to both new and existing borrowers under the current home owner scheme. The bill also introduces a reduction in the basic eligibility period that applies for new borrowers from six years continuous full-time service to five years.

By increasing the feasibility and attractiveness of home ownership for Australian Defence Force members, these changes will provide a cost-effective alternative to rental assistance. The scheme will also be extended to reservists who have completed a basic eligibility period of eight years of statutory training obligation. This bill will be warmly welcomed by my local constituency in Puckapunyal and by defence personnel Australia-wide, because it will substantially improve the availability of long-term, secure housing for members of our defence forces.

These improvements will encourage members to remain in our defence forces. The extension of the home owners scheme to reservists will also come to play an important role in attracting and retaining reservists. This will in turn increase the quality of Australia's overall defence capacity. It reinforces this government's commitment to Australian defence families right throughout our nation.