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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2116


Mr TIM FISCHER(8.40) —I want to make it very clear tonight that I have pleasure in rising to support the amendment moved by my colleague the honourable member for Hume (Mr Fife) to the Defence Housing Authority Bill. I do so in the knowledge that members on the left hand side of the Speaker will vote as one on the Bill and the normal co-ordinated liaison will be accorded on this side of the House.


Mr Milton —On a point of order, I should point out that the honourable member is speaking at the dispatch box. He is no longer a member of the front bench. He should be sitting in his normal place on the back bench.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! No announcement has been made to the House. The Chair is not aware that there have been any changes in the Opposition. No official announcement has been made to the House. All the Chair is able to do is take note of what is said in the House. The honourable member for Farrer is within his rights.


Mr TIM FISCHER —Thank you very much for a very wise ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let us all be clear that it will be the other dispatch box from which all the members on the left hand side of the Speaker at the moment will be speaking after the next election when this Government is thrown out of office, when the Hawke Labor Government is defeated by the largest majority ever in voting for members of the House of Representatives. It ill becomes the honourable member for Hunter (Mr Fitzgibbon), who is trying to interject, because he told his electorate that he was not good enough to front at a veterans and pensioners seminar last Monday. He had to call in the big gun from the neighbouring electorate of Charlton. He trumped up an apology. He was not game enough to appear before the grey power of his electorate so the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) had to come in.


Mr Fitzgibbon —I take a point of order. The unfortunate circumstances of the day have caused the honourable member for Farrer to take leave of his senses.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —If the honourable member for Hunter wishes to make a personal explanation he may do so at the end of the speech by the honourable member for Farrer. If he has a point of order he might quickly get to it.


Mr Fitzgibbon —I hope it is through being misinformed, but the honourable member for Farrer is lying.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Hunter will withdraw that statement.


Mr Fitzgibbon —I should have said that his handling--


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will withdraw his statement.


Mr Fitzgibbon —I withdraw that statement and substitute `dealing lightly with the truth'.


Mr TIM FISCHER —Clearly we won that round and the honourable member for Hunter will soon be out of this place.


Mr Robert Brown —I take a point of order. I am aware of the fact that in a human and understandable response to the accusation that has just been made by the honourable member for Farrer the honourable member for Hunter called the honourable member for Farrer a liar. I am not going to call him a liar. I only say that what he said was incorrect.


Mr Porter —If they want to make--


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Barker is not helping. If the honourable member for Charlton has a point of order he may proceed.


Mr Robert Brown —There is a standing order, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that says that members of the House cannot deliberately mislead the House as the honourable member for Farrer quite clearly is doing now. The honourable member for Hunter is correct when he calls him a liar.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. I ask the honourable member for Charlton to withdraw that remark.


Mr Robert Brown —I withdraw.


Mr TIM FISCHER —I find the comments of the honourable member for Charlton offensive. I stand by what I said-that he represented the honourable member for Hunter at a function involving pensioners and grey power in Cessnock earlier this week. Deny it if he will but the meeting was told that and that the honourable member for Hunter had apologised for not attending the meeting.


Mr Robert Brown —I take a point of order. The honourable member for Farrer apparently indicates that he is quoting from a media report. When he does such a thing he has a responsibility to vouch for the authenticity of the media report. I ask that he indicate the name of the newspaper from which he is quoting, the date of the edition and the page from which he is quoting.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr TIM FISCHER —Now that the honourable member for Charlton has lost that round and the honourable member for Hunter lost the previous round, may I return to the Defence Housing Authority Bill.


Mr Fitzgibbon —I take a point of order. I believe that this is a House where truth should be told. My point of order is that what the honourable member for Farrer has said is total nonsense and he should withdraw it because I find it offensive.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. I also remind members of the House that they might recall that vexatious points of order are not in order.


Mr TIM FISCHER —For those listening in from across the nation perhaps I should remind them that we are considering the Defence Housing Authority Bill and that members of the Liberal Party and the National Party will vote as one on this legislation. In the normal course of events whatever else has happened in Parliament House this day ought to be seen in perspective. There will be the normal exchange of preferences between the Liberal and National parties and the normal maximisation of liaison and co-operation between the Liberal and National parties. The action which will be taken by the Opposition on the Defence Housing Authority Bill will demonstrate clearly the purposeful way that those on the left hand side of the Speaker will convince the nation that this Hawke Labor Government deserves to be thrown out of office at the next Federal election.

There is no greater problem facing so many married soldiers, sailors and airmen than the state and condition of defence housing around Australia. Undoubtedly, any review of the reasons for the record rate of resignations from our armed forces would highlight the condition of housing as a key factor in the resignations of members of the Army, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Royal Australian Air Force. This Government is responsible for a record rate of resignations. For the first time in many years the numbers in the armed forces have dipped below 70,000 personnel. The reasons relate to morale and to a large extent to the condition and standard of defence housing. They also relate to the decision of the Government to cut by 2 per cent certain Defence Force retirement and death benefits payments. They also relate to general pay and work conditions in a competitive economic situation where, for example, refuellers who are technically qualified can go out into private enterprise and be paid a great deal more by working for Ansett Airlines of Australia, the Department of Aviation or whomever than they can by working as refuellers in the Air Force. That is a problem that is not easily addressed, and I acknowledge that.

But housing is very germane-it is a key-to the state of morale of our armed forces. The standard of housing for defence personnel varies greatly across Australia. Albury-Wodonga has the fourth largest military complex in Australia. That necessitates a large amount of housing for defence personnel of varying types. The majority of it is in Wodonga in the electorate of my colleague the honourable member for Indi (Mr Ewen Cameron), who has made many representations about this matter. I want to say that there are houses there which are utilised by all ranks, including officers, which, for example, do not have adequate hot water systems. In the cold winter months of June and July in Albury-Wodonga to have a young family of a married lieutenant, captain, sergeant, corporal, lance-bombardier or a private living in such conditions in this year 1987 is totally unsatisfactory. That is the reality of the situation. That is an horrific situation which is contributing to the rate of resignations of members of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

We have this Bill before the House tonight to create yet another government instrumentality-the Defence Housing Authority-to take a series of initiatives in this area. I was pleased that the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) recently visited Albury-Wodonga and met the wives of many of the armed forces personnel. He visited Latchford Barracks and held a number of discussions. I am very appreciative of the fact that in his busy schedule he made that visit to inspect some of the housing conditions and to give some assurances about the local situation. But of course the stock answer that he trotted out in a lot of those discussions was that the solution rested with this Defence Housing Authority Bill. I do not think that we can be quite as confident as the Minister. I think that the remarks made by my colleague the honourable member for Hume (Mr Fife) and the amendment moved by him on behalf of both the Liberal and National parties point the clear direction on this issue and it is one that I commend to the House. Indeed, the Minister said in his second reading speech that he did not believe the Defence Housing Authority would necessarily run up a large bureaucracy. He said:

I expect the Authority to have a fairly small permanent staff as it will probably engage the private sector to undertake aspects of its operations.

Those are grand words but it remains to be seen whether the Authority adheres to that aspect of the Minister's second reading speech or whether, like a lot of quangos, it becomes an indulgent authority which finds reasons, good and not so good, to expand its staffing establishment, to grow like Topsy and suddenly become a much larger body than the one intended in the Minister's speech to this Parliament. I think it is necessary and important to highlight to the House the Minister's words and, in doing so, to highlight to the nine new members of the Authority that the Minister said:

I expect the Authority to have a fairly small permanent staff.

Let us hope that the Authority will stick to that, that it will be a lean, efficient and effective operator which boosts the housing conditions of our armed forces personnel across Australia, particularly at Albury-Wodonga, but also at all other military areas around the country. I believe that the chances of this happening are slim. Members of the Opposition will closely monitor the performance of the Defence Housing Authority.

I also wish to highlight three other aspects arising from the Minister's speech. He said:

The Government believes there are three essential elements necessary to remedy the problems. There must be a guaranteed level of funds committed to Defence housing. There must be business enterprise and expertise brought to the management task. There must be a single organisation established . . .

I want to focus on that first point about a guaranteed level of funds being committed to defence housing. At the moment I am reading the memoirs of one James Killen, who was Minister for Defence for several years during the second half of the 1970s and into the early 1980s. He worked very hard as Minister for Defence. In those memoirs he reflects on the fact that certain undertakings given in respect of defence expenditure and allocations by the Government to various aspects of defence were ultimately compromised and that that created enormous problems for the Government, for the viability of the defence forces and for morale within the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Minister has said that there will be an investment program totalling $750m over the next decade to solve this defence housing problem. Those are admirable words but I point out to the House that he and his predecessors have often given commitments, produced figures and more recently produced white papers, but in reality the processes of government, in preparing budgets, mini-budgets and economic statements such as the one that will be given on 13 May in this House, are quite different from the objectives referred to by the Minister when he talked of solving the housing problem. Thus this figure of $750m over 10 years to deal in particular with the 6,000 worst houses remains to be seen. It is a figure that the Minister has presented to the House, but it remains to be seen whether it eventuates in reality should this Government continue beyond the next election. The reality is that this Government will not continue beyond the next election and it will be a Liberal-National Party government which will offer a clear-cut alternative to this nation. It will also offer a clear-cut alternative for overcoming the defence housing problem, the morale problem of members of the Army, Navy and Air Force and the related problem that that brings to veterans who have found their Defence Force retirement benefit payments reduced by this Government as part of a wide range of cutbacks and changes which it has perpetrated on defence and ex-service personnel, veterans, war widows and other categories of pensioner, contrary to the statements made by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) and others about the Government looking after these groups in the community.

I sound a note of warning in respect of the Defence Housing Authority Bill. I support the amendment moved by my colleague, the honourable member for Hume, and I believe that this Parliament needs to be very vigilant in relation to the performance of the new Defence Housing Authority which will be created by this legislation. It will need to see that the Authority's performance matches the rhetoric and that there is a genuine improvement to the homes of airmen, sailors and army personnel across the nation. Because many of these people have young families I can do no better than remind the House of a very honest comment made by Senator Button on 24 February this year when he said:

Families with young children and wage earners generally were worse off as a result of Hawke Government policies.

That is a quote from Senator Button. He said that families with young children and wage earners generally were worse off as a result of Hawke Government policies. That was the Government's leader in the Senate putting the position honestly in relation to families with young children. So many families with young children contain Army, Navy and Air Force personnel who have married either just before or shortly after joining the armed forces. They are in difficult housing conditions and they face a deterioration in their living standards as declared by Senator Button, who went on to say that it was true that most people in the community were relatively worse off under the Hawke Labor Government because, in part, of the dramatic decline in Australia's national income. He concluded:

But I concede that those families are probably worse off as other sections of the community are also probably worse off. I am sure that while some families are relatively worse off, families with young children . .

Those were the people whom the Minister singled out as being particularly subjected to the brunt of the Hawke Government's policies. I point out to the House that this Bill relates particularly to families with young children who are often living in atrocious conditions around Australia and who now hopefully look forward to an improvement in their defence housing conditions as a result of this Bill. That will not be automatic and it will be the responsibility of this Parliament to ensure that the Defence Housing Authority measures up to the task ahead.