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Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Page: 185

Mr BILLSON (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (11:42 AM) —in reply—I would like to thank the member for Barton for his considered contribution and I welcome his sincere, genuine and ongoing interest in the welfare of our Defence Force and its members and in its important work. I thank him for his comments.

In summing up on the Defence Housing Authority Amendment Bill 2006, let me reiterate some of the key points. This bill will help to underpin the long-term viability of the Defence Housing Authority as a government business enterprise. The existing DHA Act is 19 years old. It requires updating to better reflect the current governance arrangements that are to be applied to the DHA. The proposed amendments are supported by both the shareholder ministers and the DHA itself.

The amendments reinforce the government’s clear and ongoing commitment to provide quality housing and housing related services to defence personnel and their families. As the member for Barton mentioned and as is very clear in my role, the link between support for Defence Force members and their families and the important role that appropriate housing plays is very clear to the government and is very much a priority and a focus for me. This is also why these amendments allow DHA to expand its commercial base to include other government agencies whilst ensuring that the interests of Defence are safeguarded. The expansion of DHA’s client base and services will enable it to provide a more diverse range of services to Defence and will assist it in competing more effectively in the marketplace for new accommodation projects, and I remind the House of the ongoing efforts of the government and the DHA to constantly review and improve the housing stock available for ADF members and their families.

The bill also proposes amendments that will expand the scope of the DHA and increase its operations beyond defence. DHA will be able to provide housing and housing related services to other Commonwealth agencies, and ancillary services to both Defence and other Commonwealth agencies. The ability for Commonwealth agencies to utilise DHA’s expertise in the provision of housing and housing related services has the potential to benefit the whole of government.

The changes to the structure of the DHA board will provide a more commercial focus and will better reflect the best practice outlined in the Uhrig review. The member for Barton mentioned some of those changes. For those who are interested in this subject, the new board will in fact have a nominee representing the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force, so that direct link with the client group, if I could put it that way, is reflected in the board itself.

The member for Barton also mentioned the issue about Defence Families Australia’s representation. Let me just draw out what is embodied in this bill, and it is in line with the Uhrig review recommendations. Those representative roles for Navy, Army, Air Force and Defence Families Australia will be appointed to the advisory committee. As the member for Barton would know, the decision to restructure and reform DHA presents board members of DHA with corporate governance responsibilities which go to the wellbeing of the entity itself. Therefore, those people seeking to play a key advocacy role in arguing and pressuring and raising issues is potentially inconsistent with the governance responsibilities and the directors’ responsibilities on the board. So what we have done—and it has been recommended in the Uhrig review and I think it will be a very effective method—is establish this advisory committee, including representatives from Navy, Army and Air Force and Defence Families Australia, as the primary vehicle for representation of the defence and defence families community to the DHA board.

That committee will assist and support the board in its primary role as the provider of housing to meet the operational requirements of defence, but not lead to a confusion between the role of directors that goes to the welfare, viability and ongoing responsiveness of DHA and the advocacy role of the advisory group. That group can stridently and with great vigour put its case through the advisory committee to the DHA board. I also meet regularly with Defence Families Australia and other interest groups, so there is plenty of opportunity for those avenues to provide feedback and insight and for the views of the families themselves to be factored into the operations of DHA. So the concerns there are noted. We have tried to take account of them and provide those advocates with a strong advocacy role, and not have that cluttered or confused with the specific responsibilities of directors which go to the welfare and wellbeing of the entity. We think that will work quite well, but we will certainly keep on an eye on that and make sure that the defence community’s voice is heard loudly and clearly in the deliberations of DHA.

The bill proposes amendments that will improve the harmonisation between the Defence Housing Authority Act 1987 and the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. The DHA governance arrangements will be more closely aligned with those of other government business enterprises. The bill is an investment and an assistance to ensure the long-term viability of the DHA and to support the DHA in making sure the defence community has the housing stock and support it needs for its crucial role. I welcome the input of the member for Barton and thank him for his encouraging remarks. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.