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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2171

Senator KILGARIFF(5.11) —It was heartening to see the report that was tabled in the Senate yesterday relating to the development of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal in the Northern Territory. The defence of our northern coastline has been going ahead in leaps and bounds in the last few years, and Tindal is part of this forward defence. I expect to see in the next few years another substantial base at Derby, which will be a bare base associated with Tindal. Tindal has been found to be a most suitable site for the development of a home base for the FA18 fighters in the north of Australia, and the first stage will cost some $167m. There is to be a further stage 2, which will pick up some of the elements of the RAAF which are at present stationed in Darwin.

There has been some feeling in the Northern Territory that perhaps the Federal Government will not go ahead with the Tindal base, despite the recommendations of the Public Works Committee. I suggest, now that this report has been tabled, that the Government come forward with a clear statement of intention regarding this base. I believe that the Government needs to give a firm understanding that the project will proceed according to the timetable, by announcing that development funds will be allocated in the coming Commonwealth Budget. It is also to be noted that in association with the development of this base the Northern Territory Government has identified some $100m for supporting projects to build up the facilities of the town of Katherine on a long term basis. Due to the huge outlay on the FA18 fighters, which will run into some billions of dollars, and the development of the defence facilities in the north, such as the patrol boat bases, the various airstrips, and now Tindal, an enormous demand is being placed on the defence vote.

One aspect of the defence vote about which I should like to speak further relates to defence housing. It is all very well to have this huge outlay in bases, modern equipment and so on, but what is needed is balance, and I am talking now of the necessity to upgrade defence housing. This issue came to my mind in the last few days after I had approaches from the people at the RAAF base at Darwin. The situation there is extremely difficult. It has been indicated that if Tindal is to go ahead there will be no funds for repairs and maintenance-R and M-for the houses at the RAAF base in Darwin. I will come back to that a little later.

Looking briefly at the background of defence housing, in the early to mid-1970s increased attention was given to defence housing because of the growing shortages and declining standards relative to community housing standards and the expectations of Service personnel. The problems were really identified then. A 1972 report from the Committee of Inquiry into Financial and Conditions of Service for Male and Female Members of the Armed Forces, the Kerr-Woodward inquiry, concluded that the availability, location and overall standard of defence housing were giving cause of considerable concern. In September 1976, the Garland Committee-the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure-initiated an inquiry into accommodation for married Service personnel. Part of that report which was issued in 1977, states:

At the . . . time it was recognised that special defence needs would require some on-base housing and that some housing would be needed in remote areas and where the private rental market could not meet requirements fully.

Current policies were then developed for defence housing. Significant amongst the decisions taken in the aftermath of the Garland Committee report were a continuation of the policy of providing housing for Service personnel; the waiving of the previous reliance on the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement as the prime method of provision, as it did not meet the requirements; provision of housing to be on the basis of the most economic means; and housing classified as unsuitable on grounds of size, quality or environment to be disposed of. As I see it, a listing of the stock shows that some 14,300 dwellings are below the 1972 standard, some 2,300 could be upgraded, leaving 12,000 which should be replaced. The replacement of 12,000 houses will be an enormous cost to the defence budget. There has to be a balance. If we are to have increased expenditure on equipment and new bases, which I support most strongly, at the same time we have to make sure that sufficient moneys are available within the defence vote to ensure that defence housing is equal to the task required of it. The housing has to be of sufficient standard to encourage defence personnel to go into these northern areas and give service there. The shortage has increased by some 1,600 houses in the past five years, due largely to a reduction of some 1,200 in the stock level over the same period. The 1,200 reduction has been due to an accelerated rate of disposal of unsuitable stock in recent years.

At any one time over the last decade 7,000 to 10,000 married Service personnel have accommodated themselves outside defence arrangements, that is, neither occupying defence housing nor being paid allowances for their accommodation costs. At present it is estimated that some 6,700 Service personnel own their own homes. About half of these are thought to be occupying homes in areas which coincide with their postings. So that is having the effect of easing the demand.

In 1978-79, as I said, $22m was spent to complete some 478 houses; in 1979-80, $7m was spent to complete 116 houses; in 1980-81, $8m was expended for the completion of 90 houses; in 1981-82, $16m was spent to complete some 246 houses; and in 1982-83, $21m was spent to complete 443 houses. As I understand it, it was indicated during the hearings of the Estimates committees some two weeks ago that some $30m to $40m a year will be spent on defence housing. So, in 1983-84 the projected figure is $34m to be spent on the completion of 500 houses. Of course, these new houses are not replacing those houses that are no longer used because of old age. Current defence housing planning is aimed at using the funds available as effectively and equitably as possible throughout Australia by providing additional housing where there is a shortfall and where suitable rental accommodation is not readily available, replacing as quickly as possible the worst of the 12,000 below standard houses that I have mentioned, and improving older houses which, because of limited funds, cannot be replaced for at least 15 years.

I note in a report that I have been studying that there is a five-year forward program. The current planning for the five-year period 1984-85 to 1988-89 provides for the following: Some 1,270 additional houses at an estimated cost of $94m; 1,640 replacement houses at an estimated cost of $118m; and improvements to some 2,700 houses at an estimated cost of $36m. This all sounds well and good , but when one takes note of the original stock of houses available and the number of houses that have to be removed from that stock because of age, one realises that a very big problem exists in relation to defence housing in Australia.

I come closer to home-as a senator representing the Northern Territory-and refer to the situation in Darwin. Darwin has been a very important Royal Australian Air Force base over the years. It has been given more prominence over the period of its existence. Of course, quite a large number of RAAF personnel are stationed in Darwin. Honourable senators will remember that Darwin was struck by a very serious cyclone, Cyclone Tracy, at Christmas 1974. A most difficult situation has developed there. Very strict building codes, based on a cyclone code, have been introduced to apply to houses built for the civilian community, if I can put it that way, in the Darwin area. However, in the centre of Darwin where the RAAF is stationed, there are something like 250 houses that are not built to cyclone standards. I believe this to be a very serious omission . If in future a cyclone of the intensity of Tracy should strike-of course, that will happen because there is a serious and intense cyclone in the area about once every 30 years-the RAAF personnel, their wives and children will be in the dangerous situation of living in these houses that are not built to cyclone standards.

It will be remembered that when Cyclone Tracy struck most of the damage was caused and people were injured and killed-60-odd people were killed in that cyclone-by flying debris. If a cyclone of the intensity of Cyclone Kathy which struck Borroloola a few weeks ago-it had an intensity similar to that of Cyclone Tracy-were to strike in the Darwin area, extreme damage would be caused to Darwin once again, and such damage would occur because so many houses in the Darwin RAAF base have not been constructed to cyclone standards. Just as debris flew over such a wide area of Darwin during Cyclone Tracy in 1974, the same thing could happen in Darwin again, but this time the debris would come from the RAAF base in Darwin. Apart from the people living on that base being at risk, the civilian population living in the vicinity of the RAAF base would be equally at risk.

Repairs and maintenance work on those houses at the base is overdue. Such repair and maintenance work has been curtailed because of the uncertainty of the future of the RAAF base in Darwin. As I said, now that firm plans are being made for the development of a major RAAF base at Tindal, it should be possible to set in train a management plan to upgrade for interim use the older RAAF houses at Darwin. However, it has been said that no funds are available to carry out repairs and maintenance work on these houses because of the possibility that moneys will be required to establish the Tindal base. It has been said that no money will be available to carry out repairs and maintenance on these houses in Darwin for the next five to 10 years. That is an incredible situation. I come back to what I was saying in the first place, that a balance is required in the development of our defence system in the north of Australia.

It is worth noting a description I have read of the situation at the Darwin RAAF base: Of the 300 houses on that base, 247 are in various stages of disrepair because of the lack of funds. Of these 247 houses, 36 were built during the period 1939-45, during the Second World War. All are seriously deficient in scales and standards. Most are not weatherproof and have significant electrical, water supply, drainage and sewerage problems. It has been reported to me that at times serious problems are encountered with the sewerage system on the base in Darwin. However, no money is available to carry out repairs and maintenance work on that system. I remind the authorities at this stage that they could have a very serious outbreak of disease on their hands, and I refer to typhoid. Most of the balance of these houses were built between the end of World War II and the late 1950s. These, too, are showing signs of the lack of repair and maintenance work and are classified as being below the minimum standard for the lowest rank. The number of members and dependants affected in varying degrees by poor housing standards is estimated at 950.

This gives some indication of the immensity of the problem. Those people are seriously disadvantaged by continual electrical or plumbing problems, and they have no privacy in their houses. In some 150 houses bedrooms are only partially partitioned; that is, the partition does not go right to the floor or to the ceiling. Honourable senators can imagine the lack of privacy that that creates. According to the local manager of defence services in the area, the problem is simply a lack of funds to carry out repairs and maintenance in the period 1983- 84.

While recognising the problems that the Government has with the huge capital expenditure required for the purchase of new equipment, FA18 fighters and the construction of new bases-all of which are most necessary for the defence of the north-at the same time I ask it to make available the funds necessary to upgrade Defence Force houses in the north. Many thousands of Defence Force houses in Australia need repair and maintenance; they are not up to standard. But I point out that in the north houses are prone to cyclone damage, as happened during Cyclone Tracy in 1974, and efforts must be made-and made soon-to remedy the situation. One cannot expect RAAF personnel and others in the Defence Force to move from the south to northern bases if houses there are not up to standard. I say emphatically that the housing standard in the north is not what it should be . There are difficulties in encouraging people to move voluntarily to those bases. Morale is not good in the RAAF base at Darwin or, for that matter, at other bases that suffer from the same problems. So I request the appropriate authorities to look into this matter and I do so for two reasons.

The cyclone period for Darwin for this wet season has passed but the next wet will come along in November-December 1984. Perhaps there will be another cyclone . A cyclone of the intensity of Cyclone Kathy, which devastated Borroloola some weeks ago, makes one realise what could happen in Darwin in the wet at the end of this year. One could expect extreme damage to houses on RAAF bases and in the vicinity of Darwin. There could be more deaths and injuries. I leave those matters for the authorities to consider and look forward to balanced development of the various defence bases in the north.