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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3827


Mr WEST (Minister for Hou-sing and Construction)(10.28) —I move:

That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the Committee has duly reported to Parliament: Provision of 50 replacement houses at Woomera, South Australia.

The proposed work was first referred to the Public Works Committee on 20 March 1986. Woomera is about 500 kilometres by road from Adelaide in the hot, arid zone of Central Australia. At present the village provides a residential base and support service for the Joint Defence Space Communications Station at Nurrungar and for defence activities in the Woomera prohibited area. There are moves for Commonwealth control of the village to be taken over by the South Australian Government. However, these moves do not impact on the need for the proposed 50 houses. Apart from 20 houses constructed in 1983, the existing housing stock at Woomera is old and in poor condition, requiring replacement. Twenty houses constructed in 1983 followed a pilot study which showed that new construction was more economical than upgrading the existing dwellings.

Although the Public Works Committee has supported the proposed construction of 50 houses, 43 three-bedroom houses and seven four-bedroom houses, the Committee's report recommended several amendments to the work's scope. The proposal, as submitted to the Committee, was for houses for civilian and service defence personnel in accordance with Australian Government employees' standards. The Committee recommended that larger houses be built to defence tropical scales. The Department of Defence has reviewed its requirements and will construct houses in accordance with its temperate rather than the suggested tropical scales.

The Committee was also concerned that economies of scale be achieved in the provision of houses at Woomera. To this end, consultations have commenced with other Commonwealth departments and statutory authorities such as the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services, Telecom Australia and Australia Post in respect of their housing requirements and funding arrangements at Woomera. My Department will continue these consultations in order to maximise the cost benefits to the Commonwealth through the co-ordination of contract arrangements. Co-ordination of the housing requirements of American personnel at Woomera is subject to the budgetary requirements of the United States, and it is unlikely that their requirements could be co-ordinated in the same time frame. The Department of Defence will continue to hold discussions with other users of Woomera village to cover maintenance costs. Current arrangements for maintenance of the village will continue, pending transference of Woomera to the South Australian Government.

Other matters raised by the Public Works Committee including the size of building allotments, soil tests, supervision of construction, provision of additional heating, and improvements to the 20 houses constructed after the pilot study, will be adopted to the extent that that is possible. My Department will inform the Committee of the outcome of the ongoing consultations and it will advise the Committee of the final design solutions for the new houses and the upgrading of the 20 pilot houses.

The original proposal as referred to the Committee was $4.1m at January 1986 prices. The estimated cost of the revised proposal for the 50 houses, including the upgrading of engineering services, landscaping and fencing, is $4.5m at November 1986 prices. This includes the upgrading of the 20 pilot houses at a cost of $60,000. When this House first referred the proposal to the Public Works Committee the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Beale) said that the average cost of the dwellings being built at Woomera would be $80,000, an amount he considered relatively high.

The per unit cost of the original proposal was $63,000. The honourable member for Deakin did not discount the project cost for the upgrading of the engineering services included in the work. This per unit cost of the revised proposal is $71,000. This is acceptable, given the Committee's recommendations for larger houses, the remote locality of Woomera and the additional cost of transporting the houses, labour and material to the site.

The honourable member for Deakin also asked that maximum input of the private sector be sought, and this has been done. The houses will be selected by private sector designs and will be constructed in factories before being transported in sections to Woomera. At Woomera the houses will be installed by the private sector. I stress that this private sector involvement is normal practice for the Department of Housing and Construction, a concept which the honourable member for Deakin seems to have a great difficulty in understanding. The honourable member also suggested that alternative financing methods be considered. The proposed method of financing is appropriate. It is anticipated that tenders for this work will be invited in April 1987, that the contracts will be awarded in July 1987, and that construction will be completed by the end of 1988. On average, a work force of 10 will be employed on the site. I would like to thank the Committee for the support it has given to this proposal, and I commend the motion to the House.