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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2131

Mr BLANCHARD(10.07) —I rise to support the Defence Housing Authority Bill 1987. The main purpose of this Bill is to create a Defence Housing Authority which will be responsible for the management of defence housing. This is a forward looking step which will help to streamline existing arrangements. Since this Government was elected in 1983 it has been subjected to criticism from the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), who is the Leader of the National Party of Australia-at least, I think he is at the moment-for its alleged neglect of defence housing. Yet it was the coalition when in government which neglected and let run down the housing stock of the defence forces. What gall the right honourable member has to come into this House, as he has done in the past, and criticise the Government on its defence housing policy when the Government of which he was a member did nothing. In fact, for a short period when he was the Minister for Defence and responsible for defence housing, nothing was initiated under his portfolio responsibilities.

As the very excellent Minister for Defence, Kim Beazley, stated in his defence policy statement delivered on 19 March, the Government plans to spend $750m over the next 10 years on new housing for the Australian defence forces. In contrast with the abysmal record of the Opposition parties when in government, this Government is prepared to tackle the task of providing the necessary resources to improve living conditions. At the same time, the Government commissioned Sue Hamilton to look at the problems of service families, many of them living in defence homes. Her report-the Review of Effect of Service Life on Spouses-has been submitted to the Government and has been the subject of a debate in this House. Her recommendations, the implementation of which will assist in alleviating the problems that service families face, are being dealt with. I add that I have had the opportunity of seeing both the good and the bad in defence housing. The good is very good, but the bad would be more appropriate for a funeral pyre.

Recently, when in the Northern Territory on a parliamentary committee, I took the opportunity to visit Katherine and saw some of the new houses built for service personnel and their families stationed at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal. They were well designed homes bearing in mind the extreme heat conditions in Katherine. Once trees and shrubs grow, the suburb in which they are located will look very attractive.

On the other hand, in my own electorate of Moore in Western Australia, in which RAAF Base Pearce is located, the overall standard of housing is poor. This has led understandably to service personnel seeking their own accommodation away from the base and some travel up to 50 kilometres a day between home and the base. I do not blame them. From my discussions with other members of the Defence Force action committee, which consists of government members who represent electorates with a large population of service personnel and their families, I find that the condition of houses for personnel at Pearce can be replicated in many parts of Australia and in some cases the conditions are much worse than at the Pearce base.

Obviously there is a lot to be done and a long way to go before we can supersede the old and inadequate housing with new. But at least the Government is showing the way and this Bill is a result of its activity in this field. It was in August 1984 that this Government established a task force to examine the various Commonwealth programs for housing assistance for members of the Australian Public Service and the Australian Defence Force. Its mandate was to advise the Government on the most equitable and efficient means for meeting the Commonwealth's obligation for overcoming the specific housing disabilities arising directly from service in the Australian Public Service and the Australian Defence Force.

In January 1985 the task force published an interim report. That report made a number of very relevant recommendations and also contained a draft statement of government policy goals for the provision of employee housing assistance. The Government subsequently endorsed that statement. That statement made it clear that the basic goal is to provide the employee housing assistance that is required for the efficient and effective operation of both the Australian Public Service and the Defence Force and that is equitable, efficiently administered and cost effective.

There are a number of housing assistance schemes available to Defence Force personnel. They include provision of housing under the group rent scheme, temporary rental allowance assistance for private rentals, temporary accommodation allowance assistance for transit accommodation, home purchase or sale expense allowance, and home ownership assistance arrangements under the defence service homes scheme. The group rent scheme was introduced in 1976. It is not a good scheme. It has received negative criticism from all ranks within the Defence Force. Most understandably, the major criticisms have come from those in the lower ranks of the Services. As a result of the working of the scheme they have had to accept older and poorer housing. Many of the houses built in the 1950s were allocated from the State public housing programs and often lack amenities available in privately owned homes.

It is no wonder that this situation has not encouraged some service personnel to remain in the Defence Force, with a consequential loss of skilled personnel which it takes time and money to replace. It is because of the poor quality of the housing stock available that many service personnel are renting or buying their own homes. Of course, if they purchase their home in Perth they are disadvantaged compared with their service colleagues in other capital cities.

Debate interrupted.