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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3699

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (09:55): On behalf of the Special Minister of State, I move:

That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to Parliament: Construction of projects two and three of the Christmas Island new housing program.

The Christmas Island New Housing Program was approved by the government in May 2010 to address a critical housing shortage on Christmas Island, with a total budget of $26.6 million comprising $25.1 million administered capital and $1.5 million for departmental and administered expenses. The housing program was approved as part of a $97.3 million package of measures to address the pressures being placed on the critical infrastructure on Christmas Island due to increased immigration activities on the island. The package was approved in two parts: $50 million in December 2009 and a further $47.3 million in May 2010.

The cost of rental accommodation on Christmas Island has increased considerably. The rental cost increase is estimated to be more than 50 per cent. I know this from my observations of the island for over 25 years. These rental increases have created enormous pressure. They are directly impacting on ordinary workers on minimum wages, with rental costs becoming beyond the reach of locals on low to medium incomes, and this is a matter of some concern.

The Christmas Island New Housing Program has as its objective to reduce the number of houses leased on the private rental market to accommodate Commonwealth employees. The impact of this program on the private rental market is expected to be an increase in the supply of rental housing and lower rental costs, making accommodation more affordable to the local community.

Project One of this program was notified to the Public Works Committee as a medium work on the construction of 16 dwellings and associated infrastructure, commenced in September 2011, with a contract value of $11.4 million. The department has also purchased two established houses on Christmas Island at a cost of $0.950 million. Other costs including project management and professional fees total $1.65 million.

Project Two, estimated at $7.9 million, is to design and construct 14 dwellings at Drumsite village on the remaining portion of the site adjacent to the Project One site. Project Three, at an estimated $1.7 million, comprises the design and construction of a number of large family homes containing four to five bedrooms in an established part of the Silver City residential area. An amount of $1.5 million has been set aside to cover contingencies and cost escalation.

In its report, the Public Works Committee recommended that these works proceed. Subject to parliamentary approval, construction will commence in May 2012 and is programmed for completion by June 2013. On behalf of the government, I thank the committee for its support and I commend the motion to the House.

Before I sit down, I think it is important that I make a couple of observations about this. As I say, I have been visiting this island since 1987. Its economy has waxed and waned depending on particular circumstances. The backbone of the economy has been, up to date, a phosphate-mining operation, which employs around 200 people. But, with the development of a detention facility on Christmas Island, the economy changed substantially. Whilst before its establishment accommodation was easily available and at a reasonable rental cost, and even purchase prices were affordable, with the impact of a large population moving onto the island to work at the facility and associated organisations which were indirectly and directly related to it, accommodation became at a premium, and of course the cost of building on Christmas Island is substantially different from the cost of building on the east coast of Australia, given its location and the difficulty of accessing particular goods and services. This expediency motion is very important so that we can provide opportunities for people on Christmas Island to access the private rental market because at the moment they have been squeezed out by the need to deploy Commonwealth employees and contractors to Christmas Island to service the immigration detention facility. This has meant that locals have been unable to get affordable accommodation. It is something that we are obviously keeping our eyes on, but it is very important that we support this particular motion and I commend it to the House.

Question agreed to.