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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2197

Mr SCHOLES (Minister for Defence)(6.54) —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 the Parliament; Improvements to On-Base Housing, RAAF Base, Darwin, Northern Territory.

The proposed work is to refurbish 248 on-base married quarters which are presently below acceptable maintenance and structural standards. The work to be carried out involves general repairs to improve their livability and various structural improvements to increase resistance to high winds. In 1974 Cyclone Tracy destroyed most of the operational, technical and domestic support facilities at the Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin. Some facilities, including 73 on-base houses, suffered severe damage and were subsequently demolished. The remaining houses suffered varying degrees of damage and were capable of restoration. They were immediately protected against the weather and repaired during 1975-76. Further work to improve the houses has been postponed because of uncertainties about the future of RAAF Base Darwin and its longer term housing needs.

With the establishment of the F/A18 fighter base at RAAF Tindal, RAAF Darwin will revert to its previous operational role prior to the arrival of 75 Squadron from Butterworth in August 1983. Consequently, there will be a continuing need to house RAAF personnel in Darwin.

The extent of the work planned to be undertaken is dependent on the age, condition and type of house. The Public Works Committee, in its report on the proposal, has recommended a substantially different solution involving the upgrading of only 148 houses to a higher standard than proposed and the construction of 100 new houses. The Committee has reported that the cost of such work would be in the order of $12.2m not including additional leasing and further improvements recommended by the Committee. This compares with $8.7m estimated for the upgrading of 248 houses as originally proposed.

The Government has decided that the Committee's recommendations warrant further consideration, and therefore proposes to the House that approval be given to proceed with the upgrading of only 148 houses this time. This upgrading would be to the additional requirements recommended by the Committee for internal upgrading of the houses. The Government undertakes for the departments to report back to the Committee as soon as possible on the cost and desirability of proceeding with the external works recommended by the Committee which involve improvements to water supply, boundary fencing, and sealing of areas underneath houses. The report would also canvass the broader question of the provision of new houses versus further upgrading.

It should be noted that by the time the Committee is re-formed in the new year, work will have commenced on only a small number of the houses. This preliminary work will provide valuable data for further consideration of the balance of the works by both the Government and the Committee. The estimated cost of the scope of work recommended to proceed at this time is in the order of $5.2m not including the additional internal work recommended by the Committee. The proposal I have outlined will enable a start to be made on this most important project and, if the House agrees to support this motion, planning can proceed. In commending this motion to the House I wish to thank the Committee for the very prompt manner in which it has conducted its inquiries and tabled its report . I also congratulate the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) for a successful campaign to get this work done after years of procrastination.