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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2113

Mr STAPLES(8.23) —It is with great pride and pleasure that I rise to support the Defence Housing Authority Bill 1987. There are a number of reasons to be proud of this Bill and I am also proud of my association with the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley). Not only has he shown a commendable and unique understanding, in Australian Government terms, of the strategic and equipment needs of the armed forces but also-this is very important in this Bill-he understands and is involved with the personnel in the defence forces who are under his charge. The work of the Minister for Defence is also ably backed up by other Ministers, particularly the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) and the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) who are providing an all-round effective Defence Force and defence capability for Australia.

I also remind people at this stage, as the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) is at the table, that he is also Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence in personnel matters. We all know, especially those with the Defence Force establishments in our areas, the amazing lengths to which the Minister goes to ensure that personnel queries are satisfied. This very powerful and capably co- ordinated and integrated approach to defence is again shown tonight in this Bill-the Defence Housing Authority Bill 1987.

Defence is not just hardware; it is not just policy, industry or the care of past service personnel and their families. Defence is very much about the ordinary soldier, sailor, Royal Australian Air Force person and his family in most cases. We are dealing here with people. It is quite amazing to hear those opposite, particularly the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Webster) who just spoke, talk about their concern for Defence Force personnel, about raising their pay, fixing up their houses and about all of the service conditions. Defence Force personnel know full well and other people in the community should also be well aware of what the Opposition, when in government, did to Defence Force pay, the way its Ministers held back pay by veto and how it let Defence Force housing fall into total disrepair and quite disgraceful conditions. This Government has certainly taken the bit between its teeth to address those areas.

In terms of housing, this is a very important day for the Opposition. Both parties-I presume there are still only two parties-talk about housing. My goodness gracious, my golly gosh-honourable members can believe me when I say that-they are talking about housing and yet they cannot even keep their own house in order. Tonight we will see the end of the coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party-its Queensland members and its southern members. What real policy will we hear tonight? Will we hear the Liberal policy, the Queensland National Party policy, the southern National Party policy the wet policy or the dry policy on Defence Force housing? That is what the people of Australia have to contend with and that is what the people of Australia and Defence Force personnel will have to make up their minds about. There is no comparison; there is no credible Opposition that will provide for the ordinary service people and their families a comprehensive, complete housing policy. It has failed to provide their policies in any other area.

A large majority of honourable members on this side of the House have Defence Force establishments in their electorates. There are many Defence Force establishments in Australian Labor Party electorates with their attendant housing problems. As a result of many individual approaches, indeed joint approaches in the past, the Defence Force Action Committee-one of its founders, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Tickner), is in the chamber, as is the honourable member for Scullin (Mr Jenkins)-has brought forward to the Minister issues of concern which are related to not only housing but also education, postings, work opportunities for spouses of Defence Force personnel and other personnel matters. The Government's Defence Force Action Committee-there is only one-welcomes this Bill and the improved housing that will result from it. We need an improved standard of housing because in many cases while there is good housing in our areas there is also extremely poor housing as we all know. That housing has been there for a long time under many years of Liberal-National Party governments and we are trying desperately to address that situation. This Bill will certainly help in that regard.

I also bring to the House's attention in relation to housing and service conditions for Defence Force personnel and their families the recent announcement on 13 April by the Minister of the establishment of the Australian Defence Families Information and Liaison Staff which will, as is usually the case in military terms, be signified by the acronym of ADFILS. It will provide community development, education advice and family liaison services to support service families. As it comes into operation over the next year or so I am sure that it will ease problems and assist people in dealing with some of their housing difficulties as well as problems involved with just living and working in the armed forces.

I very much appreciate the initiative of the Minister in my electorate. On several occasions he talked to Defence Force personnel and their spouses. From that we have seen some very important initiatives as he has picked up the same messages in other electorates in which the Defence Force is located such as Holsworthy in the electorate of the honourable member for Hughes. We have seen the Hamilton review and the Mills report on the effect of postings on the children of service personnel. Honourable members opposite have been in this House long enough, and their predecessors were in government long enough, to know that these issues have been around. The same issues-postings and education-have been talked about for many years. But they criticise this Government for what it has not done in terms of Defence Force personnel and their families. They had years and years, decades, of opportunity to address these problems. They failed to do so because they really did not care. It is as simple as that. This Government cares and the members of the Defence Force Action Committee care, because we are dealing with people in our own electorates. We will use the Hamilton report and the Mills report to ensure that our constituents get a much better deal and a much better standard of living and conditions of service during the time they spend in the Services.

I pay tribute tonight to the Watsonia South Primary School and the Macleod High School. I refer particularly to the Watsonia South Primary School, which has a very high percentage of children from service families. It has done, and continues to do, a great job, particularly in the area of language. I am very proud of its efforts. The whole system is a credit to the staff and to the openness of the education system in Victoria, particularly because of school councils. The work that is done to ensure that children of service personnel have a good continuum of education is a credit to the parents, the school and, indeed, the young people themselves. This is an important matter associated with housing. The son or daughter of a service person is very much affected by housing and the way in which the families must move around the country. It is very important, in terms of the education system and the building up of friendships, as well as the introduction into new schools, that they feel happy at home and at school. Good, comfortable, reasonably priced accommodation is critical. I believe that this Bill will assist in this regard.

This Bill, which will establish the Defence Housing Authority, will create a new autonomy for Defence Force housing management. That is very important. There are expectations in the Defence Force area, and I believe that those expectations will be gradually, over time, matched and met by the Defence Housing Authority. I believe that the removal of the administration of Defence Force housing from the Department of Defence will lead to better housing, better maintenance and attention to other housing problems. That is not a reflection on the officers who have handled Defence Force housing in my area. They have done a wonderful job as they struggled against a very awkward system. I believe this Housing Authority will overcome that problem.

It should be noted that the Defence Housing Authority will need to be fully supportive of the defence forces' operational needs. Reference has already been made in this debate to the needs that will be generated by our new defence poli-cy, particularly those created by the two-ocean Navy. The honourable member for Brand (Ms Fatin), who is also a member of the Defence Force Action Committee, will be very much involved in this area in the future, as she is now. She is held in high regard in this Parliament. She cares very deeply and does a lot of work for her constituents in Western Australia. The honourable member for Hume (Mr Fife) raised concerns that he has about the board of management. I believe that the board, as proposed by the Minister, in the form in which it will be put together, will provide very adequate skills to ensure an efficient and progressive Housing Authority. It is not so much a matter of what those people are, but who those people are. I have great confidence in the Minister to provide very thoughtful and very aware people in this role.

The corporate plan, the Housing Authority, I believe, will give a very firm basis in effective financial management and provide what we need. (Quorum formed) Here we go again! This is the only thing that honourable members opposite can do now. There is a range of parties which are totally splintered and there is total disruption. All they can do now, in terms of being involved in the Parliament of Australia, is to call quorums. What a miserable situation we have! When they call a quorum, only about seven or eight Opposition members come into the House. I presume they are all shadow Ministers, and the other 50 to 60 shadow Ministers are running around, looking for something else to do. It is a sad situation. They have wasted more of my time, as they wasted the time and opportunities of the Australian people when they were in government. It is a sad indictment of this Parliament and the political situation in Australia that they have fallen so low in so short a time, because they do not have the leadership, the policies or the guts to create a credible opposition to this very effective Government.

Mr Deputy Speaker, my time has nearly expired. I point out finally, as I have had time taken from me, that we are very concerned about housing for Defence Force personnel. This Bill certainly shows that that is the case. The Defence Force Action Committee will ensure, in consultation with the Minister and the people in our electorates, that very good housing is provided as a result of this legislation. The situation for these people is very important. They must travel around quite often to different States of Australia, which have different education systems, and they must leave their friends, and so on. I mention at this point that the Minister is very concerned about the effect this has on service personnel and their families. He has just received a report from the Chief of the Defence Force that will allow the defence forces to lengthen the duration of postings and to ensure that fewer short term postings occur. It is very important to allow people to become better established in the better homes that we will provide. Their children will receive a better education, they can keep their friends, and spouses can work in the broader community and be better involved. There are no quick fixes and no band-aid solutions to service wastage and improved service life. It is all about structural development. This Government is about structural development. This Bill shows that we will improve Defence Force housing. The commitment to provide $750m over the next 10 years is a clear example of that. I commend this Bill to the House.