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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2125

Mr FITZGIBBON(9.36) —The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer) has now left the chamber but when he spoke earlier he made some remarks which were not factual. I do not intend to pursue the matter further at this stage because I am sure that the honourable member is indeed honourable and I am sure that he will apologise to me when he learns that the remarks he made were completely false.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of the Defence Housing Authority Bill 1987. This Bill is unique because this is the first time any government has come to grips with the vexed issue of satisfactory housing for our defence families. In the electorate of Hunter there are about 1,000 Department of Defence houses. These houses provide accommodation for families attached to the Singleton Army base or to the Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base. I am appalled that there has never been any previous attempt to formulate a cohesive plan to undertake the management of defence housing. Now, at long last, a Bill has been introduced to correct that deplorable situation.

The creation of the Defence Housing Authority is a crucial part of the Government's strategies to overcome the long-standing deficiencies in the quality and standards of defence housing. No one can deny that defence housing has deficiencies. Nor should one believe that the quality of housing is the sum total of those deficiencies. The report of the task force established to examine housing assistance provided to Defence Force personnel is indeed very revealing. The task force confirmed many of the complaints about housing expressed by service personnel and their families. It confirmed that many defence people are not getting the standard of housing that the good book says they are entitled to. Some people might say that some servicemen and some wives have expectations which are too high. Some might accuse them of whingeing. However, I would say that in the overwhelming majority of cases such criticism is far too harsh. I have seen defence housing that is very bad. Were I obliged to live in some defence houses, I would be whingeing too.

As I said earlier, the quality of defence housing is not the only problem. Equally disheartening for occupants are the complex procedures for carrying out repairs and maintenance and the resulting delays which are interminable. In Singleton in my electorate of Hunter, servicemen and their families are living in Housing Commission homes which are tiny and dilapidated. Parents and children are crammed into butter box sized rooms, some with broken doors and windows, sewerage pipe problems, sagging gutters and leaking roofs. Such conditions are not good enough and should not be tolerated.

The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) talked about belated reforms by this Government. Let me add that the houses in Singleton did not get into this condition overnight. They were like that in the good times when our economy was doing very well and those same problems were ignored by the then Government. There are 150 substandard houses at the Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base with more than 20 of those houses unfit for human habitation.

This Government inherited so much that is shameful from the Fraser-Howard years. I am afraid that defence housing is just one more example of coalition incompetence and neglect. But how could we expect the Liberals and the Nationals to be successful builders? Everyone knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Look at the sorry lot opposite, full of vindictiveness and jealousies, with more divisions than a picket fence, plunging to self-destruction. Sir Earle Page and Sir Robert Gordon Menzies would have wept for such a sorry bunch. What prayer can we offer to save those opposite?

Mr McVeigh —Oh, you would make us all cry.

Mr FITZGIBBON —For Tom's sake I offer this prayer: Dear Lord, bless this bunch while they ravage and crunch each other. But it is too late to save the Opposition; the degenerative process is too far advanced. The condition is terminal. I have just finished reading a Press release from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard). The coalition has formally split. It will make interesting listening in this chamber tomorrow when the split is formally announced, irrevocably and irretrievably.

Mr McVeigh —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) — Order! The honourable member might pay some regard to the requirement to be relevant to the question before the House.

Mr FITZGIBBON —I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr McVeigh —Mr Deputy Speaker, my point of order is that I was just going to draw your attention to the fact that we could give the honourable member leave to make that sort of statement, if he would like leave, and he can then come back to the Bill if that is in order.

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

Mr FITZGIBBON —The honourable member is very gracious but I will not take up his kind offer. However, it is not too late to save defence housing and its salvation is what this Bill before the House is all about. The Government is convinced that three essential elements are necessary to remedy the problems of defence housing. First of all, a guaranteed level of funds must be committed to defence housing and the Government will provide that. In bad economic times, when the economy is haemorrhaging, we will provide the income necessary for decent housing for our Defence Force personnel and their families. Equally important, for the first time business enterprise and expertise will be brought to the defence housing management task. The third element this Bill introduced to remedy the problems of defence housing is the establishment of a single organisation dedicated to the management of defence housing-an organisation which is free from bureaucratic control. The Authority will have experts from the private housing field appointed to its board of management. The calibre of the Interim Defence Housing Board is indicative of the talent which will be employed. We will not need to depend much longer on the Department of Housing and Construction to do refurbishing. It does refurbishing but at charges much higher than could be obtained on a commercial basis. The Defence Housing Authority will be structured on a commercial basis and the end result will be very significant savings by sub-contracting work to commercial enterprises.

This Bill brings business acumen and corporate planning to the aid of defence housing and the result will be greatly improved quality in Defence Force accommodation. This Government will progressively replace unsatisfactory defence houses and provide improved housing for defence personnel and their families. I believe that every member of the Opposition would recognise that the legislation before the House is not show pony legislation; it introduces real benefits. The Authority will be no toothless tiger. The Authority will be master of its own destiny in making arrangements for the construction, upgrading and maintenance of defence housing.

After years of neglect by coalition governments when the economy was going well this nation at last has a government that is conscious of the fundamental importance of good housing to the morale and well being of Defence Force members. This nation now has a Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) who not only cares about servicemen and their families but also has the will and the ability to address their long term grievances. This Government offers stability and security in defence housing. The Liberal alternative would increase defence housing rents by up to $70 a week. Privatisation proposals advocated by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) would add $70 per week to defence personnel rents.

Mr Tuckey —Rubbish!

Mr FITZGIBBON —Let me just tell the honourable member for O'Connor who so rudely interjected that the average rent now paid by 80 per cent of Defence Force personnel is less than $50 per week.

Mr Tuckey —And so it would stay under my arrangement.

Mr FITZGIBBON —I am sorry, but I must again remind the honourable member that very few people on that side of the House can get their figures right. Some time, somewhere, some place their Leader will explain to us his $16 billion credibility gap. We await that explanation anxiously. The average rent paid by 80 per cent of Defence Force personnel is less than $50 per week. This rent compares very favourably with civilian rents. Let us take as a comparison a three-bedroom home in Townsville. The rent for a civilian out in the market would be more than $120 per week.

Mr Tuckey —Yes, but that wasn't what I proposed.

Mr FITZGIBBON —Sometimes the honour- able member speaks in such a way that he is not always certain of what he says.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will ignore interjections. I remind the honourable member for O'Connor that, no doubt to his surprise, his interjections are out of order.

Mr FITZGIBBON —Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you for your forbearance.

Mr McVeigh —He is a former colleague of mine.

Mr FITZGIBBON —The honourable member said that he is a former colleague of his. How appropriate! I am glad that people opposite, in the midst of their woe and in their darkest valley of despair, retain some sense of humour. The Bill which we are now debating has been well received by senior management of the Defence Force, service personnel and their families. Almost universal praise has been lavished upon this Bill by those who understand it. It is hard to understand the opposition that is coming from members on the other side of the House. I can only suggest that it is because their powers of comprehension have undergone the same degenerative process as their unity and their good fellowship among each other. I know that this Bill will be well received by Defence Force personnel in my electorate of Hunter. I might add that it is a sad commentary and a reflection of the warped nature of the Opposition that it should seek to amend this splendid legislation. I have great pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.