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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2129

Ms JAKOBSEN(9.56) —I am very pleased to speak on the Defence Housing Authority Bill tonight. I would also like to mention, as did some of my colleagues earlier in the debate, the establishment of the Australian Defence Families Information and Liaison Staff unit which is a very big step indeed along with the recommendations of the Sue Hamilton Review of Effect of Service Life on Spouses which other members, including members of the Opposition, mentioned tonight. Defence housing has been the subject of several inquiries in Australia, the most recent of which was the task force on Australian Public Service and Defence Force housing programs. The task force pointed to the problems caused by the division of responsibility between a number of agencies and claimed that such arrangements render effective decision making and prompt action difficult, if not impossible.

The task force was also critical of the standard of repairs and maintenance and the rundown state of much of the housing stock. Most of the current defence housing stock was acquired in the 1950s through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. This arrangement quickly provided much needed housing in areas that are now seen as housing estates and, generally speaking, are rather depressed areas. Although this system still exists it is no longer the major source of new housing in Australia for defence service families.

The dwellings that were built under this scheme are owned and maintained by the State housing authorities which are paid an economic rent by the Federal Government for the dwellings occupied by service personnel according to a formula which takes into account the cost of components for repayment of loans, interest, maintenance, rates, taxes, insurance and administration. Rent payable by the Federal Government on CSHA dwellings is an economic rent determined by each State after taking into account a number of these cost components. One of the components in the economic rent formula covers maintenance expenditure. Accordingly, funds to cover repairs and maintenance are limited to those provided through economic rents. This has really been the heart of the problem which has been faced by defence personnel in that the money was not available through the system that previously existed to repair their homes.

In 1977 the Garland Committee, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure, recommended the virtual cessation of the physical provision of housing for the Defence Force. Although this recommendation was not taken up by the Government of the day the report caused a virtual cessation of new housing construction and acquisition for about five years. Obviously this meant a rundown in the Defence Force housing stock. The age and type of construction of much of the stock makes housing very unpopular with Defence Force tenants and this matter has been raised with me by a number of my constituents. The honourable member for Hughes, (Mr Tickner) and the honourable member for Jagajaga (Mr Staples) raised this matter earlier in the debate. We have been very involved with the Defence Force tenancy people in trying to isolate their problems and find ways that the Government might be able to deal with them. As I mentioned earlier, in the past the level of funding was not always sufficient for adequate maintenance of the regular stock turnover or for the expansion of the housing stock where there were shortages. Funding priorities have been governed by overall defence priorities expenditure. In effect, the findings of the task force have confirmed many of the complaints that service personnel and their families have raised with members of parliament. Wives of service personnel living in my electorate have complained to me about the standard of accommodation offered to them around Australia, particularly in Western Australia. For instance, although this is not one of the major complaints, small things such as the fact that a hot water tap is not available in the kitchen of a house and that water for the dishes must be carried from a hot water system in the bathroom is perhaps a way of measuring how inconvenient some of these homes can be. If they are not actually falling down around one's ears, there are these small inconveniences which make living very difficult.

Other homes which people have lived in still have wood-burning coppers in the laundry. I know that some of these facilities are still being used in country areas of Australia. I do not put them down as a means of achieving an end, but certainly in metropolitan Australia these are not common facilities. We ought to be providing our defence service personnel with better accommodation. While this limitation in itself may not condemn the accommodation as substandard, it is an indication of just how far behind the times some of the housing stock is. How much would it cost to have a water heater or an urn of some sort installed near the kitchen sink? Is it any wonder that so many defence service families have opted for private rental in non-service housing in non-service areas rather than have to put up with this sort of shortcoming? These families are not demanding up-to-the-minute homes with every modern convenience, but they do expect to have a standard of accommodation which equates with that occupied by most other families in the community. This is not an unreal expectation, and I am pleased that the legislation before the House endeavours to address their needs in a constructive manner. I point out at this stage that some honourable members opposite who have spoken have pointed to the Sue Hamilton report as if it had sprung out of the blue. That report came about because the Government and the Minister were so keen to assess the needs of service personnel and ensure that there was a discussion going on around the nation for quite some months to determine their needs.

Some of the complaints outlined by service tenants are very familiar to me, not only as a result of having discussed them with my constituents. My father was in the Services in New Zealand. I still vividly recall the early days of my childhood in a `navy street' in a suburb of Auckland. From my recollection of that time I can corroborate claims that there are a great many social problems associated with service housing developments where they resemble ghettoisation, and the planners of the new Defence Housing Authority must be aware of this potential for social problems when they are considering the relative value of competing plans and proposals.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to assume that all service personnel should live together because they work together. Financial considerations also tend to take precedence, and it may be cheaper for the Authority to buy one large tract of land for development than to build or buy houses in a variety of areas. I remind it of the experience of State housing commission developments which have opted for this approach, and suggest that many service families would prefer to have their homes away from the people with whom they work every day, to enable the development of more normal home lives and social relationships.

The number of latchkey children in some housing developments is very worrying for a number of reasons, many of which could be minimised by more sensitive planning policies. For instance, the Authority cannot afford to overlook the fact that many of the families of service personnel experience problems more commonly associated with single parent families. Given the extended absences of one parent, the other is left to manage alone, often on a low, inadequate or spasmodic income. As a consequence of these circumstances and the need to earn more money to sustain the household, as well as a requirement for some autonomy in their own lives, many partners of service personnel seek paid employment outside the home. Unless child care services are constructed in conjunction with the service housing development, the planners will be running the risk of institutionalising social problems such as untended children, especially in the circumstances pertaining to service families, whose very mobility dictates that they have moved far away from any extended family support which may exist elsewhere in Australia. There is also, needless to say, a high rate of marriage breakdown amongst such families for associated reasons. Another aspect of service lifestyle which has exacerbated the difficulties associated with the provision of housing appears to me to be the rank system which prevails within the Services and which endows attendant privilege in housing terms. I recognise that there probably is not much we can do about that.

This Bill is part of the Government's strategy to overcome longstanding deficiencies in the quality and standard of defence housing. It is an acknowledgment of the Government's obligation to provide adequate, affordable accommodation for its employees who, because of the demands of duty, are located where housing is inadequate for a number of reasons. The Government recognises its duty as an employer to minimise the disruption experienced by defence personnel and their families who suffer housing upheavals as a result of frequent and necessary relocation.

As the Minister pointed out, the Defence Housing Authority is to be responsible for the provision of housing for families in the Defence Force and, in certain circumstances, defence civilian personnel. The Authority is to have experts from the private housing field on its board of management. It will have autonomy in making arrangements for the construction, upgrading and maintenance of defence housing. It will also be able to sell stock and retain the proceeds of these sales. Although the Authority's planning must be consistent with defence planning, it is to be independent from the Department of Defence. My colleague the honourable member for Brand (Ms Fatin) will no doubt be taking a special interest in this Authority's operations, given the proposed Rockingham development with the two-ocean Navy proposal. Our Government is committed to an expanded defence housing program that over the next 10 years will lead to a greatly improved housing stock which meets current community standards. Within overall Budget priorities, the Government will aim to provide the Defence Housing Authority with the funding, additional to its guaranteed income, which is needed to meet this objective. The Minister and back bench members of the Labor Caucus have taken a great interest in the state and welfare of defence families in Australia. I commend the Bill to the House.