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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2149

Mr COWAN(10.39) —The Defence Housing Authority Bill is an indication of the concern of the Government, and I am sure of many people, with respect to defence personnel housing. I have listened attentively to those who have spoken on various aspects of their concern in relation to the problem. I suppose that for many years there has been a feeling both within authorities and maybe in the community that, to some degree, defence personnel, together with members of the police forces, are undertaking a particular duty within the community and that over the years many of these people have perhaps been underpaid. This perhaps does not apply so much to recent times but may certainly have been the case in years gone by in relation to the duties that they undertake on behalf of the people for whom they are responsible.

We must appreciate that those people who are involved in the Services are continuously moving from place to place. In fact, the Royal Australian Air Force base at Williamtown is situated in my electorate of Lyne, and I am very conscious of the fact that whenever one visits the base, when one is invited to do so, one always meets new faces. That is an indication of the degree of transfer and large turnover of both men and women who are involved with that arm of the Services. Undoubtedly, that which applies to the RAAF also applies particularly to the Army and maybe also to the naval services of Australia.

For approximately four years I was a member of the Public Works Committee of the Parliament. Accordingly, I had the opportunity to travel around Australia to assist in the conduct of hearings that took place in respect of the installation of various defence establishments throughout the country and Defence Service housing.

I recall in those earlier days that very little reference was made to the actual design of homes and those extra little necessities that are important to the housewife. There was very little reference to the people who were going to live in the homes, that is, the men and women and their families. It was our policy and wish at the time that, on each occasion when we were to investigate the provision of housing, at least the wives of the servicemen should be represented.

I note that the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) is in the House. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Public Works Committee and I know that members of the present Committee have interested themselves along these same lines. Interested parties were able to appear before the hearings and they were able to say to us: `Well, these are the little changes that we want to see made to the houses that are to be built by the Defence Department and the Department of Housing and Construction'. They were able to point out to us many important small features, such as a laundry being situated downstairs, the provision of a playground for the children, the situation of power-points within the house, the size of the bedrooms, the provision of adequate cupboard space, the design of the kitchen-and many other factors that make life much more comfortable for the servicemen and women and their families. I think that that was a great step forward.

Whichever authority or department is in charge of the provision of housing, it must be prepared to confer, first, with the private sector and, secondly, with those people who are going to live in those homes. I know that the second reading speech of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) and the explanatory notes of the Bill indicate that this has been allowed for. I hope that it does occur, as it is a very important to servicemen. I think I am correct in saying that service personnel have very much larger families than those of other Australians. I do not know why this is so-perhaps they feel a responsibility to their nation and to the monarchy and want to ensure that they provide sufficient personnel for the future development of Australia. I think that they are very loyal citizens indeed, and I give them great credit for that. Therefore, this country, no matter which government is in power, has a great responsibility to its service men and women to see that they are adequately housed in the community.

My mind goes directly to areas within my electorate. I think in the one town of Raymond Terrace there would be 700 service families. Many face great problems because their rentals are reasonably high. Some are paying off homes. Some of the servicemen's wives have to go to work, yet they have three or four children to keep. They are very dependent upon day care and they believe that pre-schools and day care centres should be established to help them so they can live a normal lives and meet the growing cost of living generally in this country at present. It is important that the Authority, when it is established, has a realisation of this. Not only am I very concerned about the design and efficiency of the proposed Authority; I also sincerely hope that it will not be instrumental in having service people pay additional rentals. Of course, as the honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp) said, there has been a recent rise of 7.5 per cent in the rentals for these homes. Let us keep in mind that service salaries are not very great. If one looks at the salary that a serviceman or woman receives and compares it with other industry salaries around Australia, and maybe those in the Public Service, one sees that it is rather inadequate. Yet these people are fulfilling an essential purpose for this nation. I therefore want to give the warning that we do not want to create a monster that in time will produce a situation in which the government of the day says to service personnel: `The Authority is not raising sufficient funds either through the disposal of existing property or by the income that it is actually receiving in rents. Therefore, these rents have to go up'. In such a situation we would see a continuous rise in rental costs for service personnel. All of us know very well that today the morale of the services is not as good as we would want it to be. I believe that one of the reasons for that is simply the accommodation aspect.

I know that we have suggested certain amendments to the legislation. I hope that some of the issues I have raised do not become reality and that over the years we do not see arising the position I have outlined. I think I am right in saying that the Labor Government in New South Wales set up a Land Commission whose responsibility was to purchase and develop land and to sell it at low cost to young home buyers. That has been an absolute calamity for that State and certainly for those young people who wanted to purchase land on which to build a home. They have found that there is no competition by private developers in the development of land; the Government has taken that away. But the cost of providing the services to these Landcom areas is very high. I have been told that it costs $9,000 to put on water and sewerage in the western suburban areas of Sydney-it might be well beyond that now-because the local authorities have said that they have to do that work. One could get a private plumber or some other person to put those services on for $2,000, $3,000 or even $4,000. All these extra costs are adding on to total costs. I hope I am correct in what I say. I believe I am from the observations that I have made.

What I am telling the Parliament is this: Once we establish an authority such as this it becomes a little bureaucracy of its own, no matter who is on it. This pushes out the private enterprise side, including the private builder. Do we wish to do that? I know that the Bill stipulates that there can be some co-operation so far as joint ventures are concerned, but this does not always work out. We do not want to see another authority established that eventually will not be efficient, that will have a large staff and that will push private enterprise into the background in providing accommodation. We do not want a situation in which the servicemen, the people at the end of the line, will not be able to receive the facility that I know the Government is honest about trying to provide at this time.

Furthermore, every Australian has the ambition to own his own home. Of course, it is not possible always or practicable for service personnel, particularly in their younger years, to own a house if they are transferred from one area to another every 12 or 18 months.

Mr Nehl —Very difficult.

Mr COWAN —As the honourable member says, it is very difficult. The children of service personnel have to leave their local schools. Service personnel have to arrange for furniture to be moved. Very serious problems exist in the living conditions of these people. This is why it is important that their accommodation be adequate for their demands. It must be in line with the standard of accommodation that ordinary people who live in the suburbs or little country villages would expect. These problems have to be addressed by the government responsible. They should not be treated just as a matter of course but as a matter of great responsibility to the people concerned.

Mr Millar —And with urgency.

Mr COWAN —As the honourable member for Wide Bay says, this matter should be treated with urgency. I said earlier that the Public Works Committee had looked at housing in Darwin and Townsville. Even at the Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base in my electorate the Committee saw great problems in respect of accommodation provided by the New South Wales Housing Commission. However, once there is a complaint, whether it be about a power point, or a gate that has fallen off, it takes so long under the present machinery to get the most minor problem attended to. So I hope that efficiencies will be created by the setting up of this new authority and that these sorts of problems will be overcome.

Members of the National Party of Australia, who represent country areas, sincerely hope that great freedom and flexibility will be given to the little builder around the place who employs three or four people and to the little developer who can provide 20 or 30 blocks of land at a reasonable price, carry out a subdivision in accordance with the wishes of the local council and see that the work is done properly. I hope that these people will be free to manoeuvre so that they can provide the essential requirements of defence personnel. I believe that we must encourage the private ownership of homes as much we possibly can. We have to ensure that people who want to purchase a home-even though they know they may have to sell it again within a few years-are given the opportunity to say with pride that the houses they live in are theirs. I am sure that that is what we want to see.

I have spoken about the fundamentals of this problem. As I said earlier, I appreciate that the Government is making an honest attempt to address the problem. I have raised a few simple matters. I have pointed out that paramount in the minds of people who are going to occupy homes is the peace of mind that the homes are livable, that the rentals will not be too high, that wives will not be forced to go to work and that a serviceman will be able to come home after his day or night's duty and know that his wife and family are happy in their accommodation. These are the fundamental responsibilities of government, no matter which party is in office, and it is our duty to provide such accommodation.