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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 1048


Mr MILLAR —On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, I present the second report of 1987, relating to the development of new utility helicopter facilities at the Royal Australian Air Force Base, Townsville, and ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.


Mr MILLAR —I thank the House. In summary, the Committee's report recommends the construction of on-base helicopter facilities at RAAF Base, Townsville, for No. 9 Squadron, at an estimated cost of $19.3m. The construction of 15 new houses, estimated to cost $1.4m, should be deferred until Defence and Department of Housing and Construction have briefed the Committee on the general question of defence housing.

The proposal examined by the Committee involves the construction of facilities at RAAF Base, Townsville, for No. 9 Squadron. This Squadron is presently located in sub-standard facilities at RAAF Base, Amberley, and its Iroquois UH-1H helicopters will be replaced by Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters commencing in October 1987. One of the main functions of No. 9 Squadron is to support the Army's operational deployment force which is based at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville. In view of its close association with the operational deployment force it is considered prudent to locate the two units in closer proximity to enhance the capabilities of both units and to eliminate non-effective transit flying time between Amberley and Townsville.

The Committee examined the need for the proposed facilities, having particular regard to the implications of the recently announced transfer of battlefield helicopters from the RAAF to the Army. It is envisaged by Defence that the transfer will take place over a period of five years. The Committee was assured by Defence that the facilities proposed will be required and utilised regardless of which arm of the Australian Defence Force will eventually have control of battlefield helicopters. On the basis of assurances that the proposed facilities will be fully utilised, and that there would be no changes to the design of the scope of the proposed on-base work, the Committee concluded that the design and location of the proposed facilities are satisfactory.

The relocation of No. 9 Squadron from Amberley to Townsville will require the provision of an additional 113 defence houses. Defence propose partly to meet this requirement by transferring 42 surplus Army houses at Townsville to the RAAF, constructing 15 new houses for more senior ranks, and to provide the balance of 56 houses later. The proposed 15 new houses were a component of this reference.

The Committee questioned Defence and the Department of Housing and Construction about a number of aspects of the proposed arrangements, including the standard of the houses to be transferred from the Army to the RAAF, the cost of the new houses, the method of their delivery, their location and the extent to which representatives of prospective occupants would be consulted about design features. On the question of the standard of houses to be transferred from the Army to the RAAF, the Committee was advised that there is an ongoing program partially to upgrade existing defence houses in Townsville. About $1m will be spent on this during the present and next financial years. The Committee believes a return on the cost of partially upgraded existing houses is warranted.

The estimated cost of providing the 15 new houses is $1.4m; this does not include the cost of land. The Committee believes this cost to be too high and is unconvinced that the houses could not be provided at a lower cost using other methods of delivery. Accordingly, the Committee proposes to take further evidence on this aspect when Defence and the Department of Housing and Construction provide a general briefing on defence housing later this year in conjunction with a proposed reference on def- ence housing at Watsonia, Victoria.

The question of delivery methods, relative costs, standards of finish and the role of the new Defence Housing Authority will be addressed in more detail at that briefing. The Committee will then present a supplementary report on the Townsville houses at the earliest opportunity following the briefing.