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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1953

Mr BEALE(12.08) —I thank the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) for making available to me the details of the motion for the construction of new operational and support facilities at the Royal Australian Air Force base at Townsville. The Opposition supports this motion. It believes that one of Australia's defence priorities is the upgrading of this facility at Townsville and that helicopters are essential for the defence of our country. Much of the Minister's speech was spent discussing the housing position, which gives the Opposition an opportunity to comment briefly on the general standard of housing for our defence forces. Housing has been a significant factor in the decline of service morale, as reflected in the current high wastage rate which has brought the strength of the armed forces to its lowest figure since the Vietnam war. Of the 22,000 houses in the total defence housing stock, close to 15,000 are considered to be below Commonwealth housing standards. The coalition has a commitment to improve defence housing by freeing up financial arrangements and working more closely with the private sector.

The broad aims of improved housing, improved efficiency and greater private sector involvement would be facilitated by delegating responsibilities covering housing to base commanders. The coalition would also welcome any provision encouraging and assisting home ownership among the members of the defence forces. Furthermore, attempts to privatise the defence service home loans scheme have not been successful, according to industry sources, because the administrative costs of the scheme under existing or proposed arrangements are simply not commercial.

The Minister should give some attention, firstly, to the question of when the houses that it is not proposed to proceed with at this stage will be constructed and, secondly, to whether it is truly economic to upgrade the 42 existing substandard houses. During a recent visit to Hols- worthy, the Army camp near Liverpool in New South Wales, it was put to me that the seemingly prohibitive cost of renovation of substandard houses was such that it would be more economical to build new ones. The Minister should tell the House when this matter will be addressed in a supplementary submission to the Committee. The Minister will note that the cost of the 70 houses to be constructed at a later time is presumably the difference between $20.7m and $19.3m-$1.4m-that is, a cost of nearly $100,000 per house. This appears high. In moving the motion, the Minister said:

The design of the facilities was undertaken by my Department with assistance from private consultants. Construction will be contracted to private enterprise.

For about 18 months now, in response to motions of the type that has been put by the Minister today, I have been constantly reminding him that the private sector should have the maximum involvement in the design and construction of these sorts of facilities. I am delighted to see that at last now the Minister is advising me, the House and the Australian people of the involvement of the private sector, and I welcome those additions to these motions. However, I continue to encourage the Minister to maximise the amount of private sector work in the design of the facilities. The Opposition supports this motion on the development of heli- copter facilities at RAAF Townsville.