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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2158

Mr SPENDER(11.39) —An amendment has been circulated by the honourable member for Hume (Mr Fife), who is not well today. He has a virus and cannot be present. I therefore move:

Clause 12, page 7, omit paragraph (e) of sub-clause (1), substitute the following paragraph:

``(e) 3 members from the private sector, 1 of whom shall have experience in housing finance and another of whom shall have experience in housing project development.''.

It is an amendment to clause 12, sub-clause (1) (e) which, in place of the paragraph that appears in the Bill, seeks to substitute these words:

. . . 3 members from the private sector, 1 of whom shall have experience in housing finance and another of whom shall have experience in housing project development.

In order to explain briefly to the chamber what this amendment would achieve, it is necessary to go to clause 12. That clause sets up the Authority. There has already been debate about the Authority and what it is to do. I do not think anything more needs to be said about it. The Authority is to consist of a number of persons who are identified in the sub-paragraphs of clause 12 (1). As clause 12 (1) (e) now stands it would provide, in addition to the various particular individuals who are identified in earlier sub-paragraphs, three other members. It does not say what the qualifications of those members should be; whether they should be, for example, members of unions, retired members of the defence forces or anything else. What the honourable member for Hume seeks to achieve by his amendment is perfectly plain. He seeks to inject into the Authority a private sector component which would otherwise be missing. In his speech on the second reading, he said:

in Committee, on behalf of the Opposition, I will move an amendment to the effect that the board should comprise at least three members from the private sector, one of whom shall have experience in housing finance and another of whom shall have experience in housing project development.

I ask the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley): Is that not a perfectly sensible proposition? Is it not sensible that we should provide that persons with those qualifications be specifically included on the Authority?

We address this clause and the Bill as a whole in the circumstances of a deplorable and catastrophic drop in the number of defence personnel. The Minister has just told us that the Army is nine personnel over the level that is desired to be achieved. But all of us know that for months there has been a departure at levels that cannot be sustained of experienced non-commissioned officers and middle-ranking officers who make up the core of any fighting force. We need to look at this Bill in the context of four years of this Government and the collapse of its budget strategy. The Minister, in winding up the debate on the second reading, said one or two things which are of particular interest when we look at this Government's record in economic management. He talked about meandering around the place.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! I draw the attention of the honourable member for North Sydney to the word `meandering'.

Mr SPENDER —Yes, but the point is that we are dealing with the Bill as a whole.

The CHAIRMAN —We are dealing in Committee with the Defence Housing Authority Bill, not the Government's economic policy.

Mr SPENDER —Yes, but the Minister referred to the Government's economic policy and extolled it. It seems to me, and it must be the case, that if the Minister when addressing the Bill on the second reading--

The CHAIRMAN —A second reading debate is normally a little different from a Committee stage debate where one is dealing with the minutiae of a particular piece of legislation. The honourable member might take on board my proposition.

Mr SPENDER —Mr Chairman, I take on board your proposition and I note it as it passes by, with all deference to the Chair. But we are, of course, dealing with the whole of the Bill.

The CHAIRMAN —And we will deal with this Bill.

Mr SPENDER —We are dealing with a government which has been in power for four years and whose economic policy has collapsed. That is the reason why we will have a mini-Budget in a few days. We are dealing with proposals to spend money on housing.

The CHAIRMAN —The honourable member will relate the mini-Budget to the Defence Housing Authority Bill.

Mr SPENDER —I will, indeed, Mr Chairman. If we are to build houses for defence forces we need money. One of the things this Government is doing is looking around for money that it is not going to spend. It needs savings. We see daily in the papers reports of rumours of what the Government is going to do and just how much it is going to slice. Now it appears-it has not been denied so far but, who knows, perhaps we will get a denial today-that a major cut will come out of defence. From where will it come? I do not know. I do not sit around the Cabinet table although there are very good prospects that I will be doing so within 12 months. But the Minister sits there and he knows what has been looked at. I would take a fair shade of odds that one of the things that have been looked at is the allocation on housing and anything that can be cut from the defence budget. When the Minister said that there is the possibility of cuts, I thought it was quite delightful. It is not a question of the possibility of cuts; it is a question of the reality of major cuts. The odds are that major cuts will be felt in housing proposals for the defence forces. I hope that is not so. The Minister, as he addresses the House, can assure us that that will not be so.

We understand that housing plays a crucial role. The Minister has pointed out the reasons for that. The shadow Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, the honourable member for McPherson (Mr White) who is one of the very few people in this chamber with a long, distinguished and gallant career in the forces, was able to speak with great personal knowledge of the problems of defence housing. Obviously, if these days we cannot provide adequate housing-and anyone who has visited a defence base knows the standard of housing-it will be extremely difficult to attract people into the defence forces and keep them there.

Therefore, we put to the Minister and the Government that the proposal which is advanced by the amendment which was prepared and was to be moved by the honourable member for Hume is sensible. We need as much private sector housing and financial expertise as possible on the Authority because it will obviously play a crucial role. Instead of leaving this matter wide open so that we could have, for example, as the three other members three retired members of some favoured trade union, we should nominate in the Bill three members from the private sector, one of whom shall have experience in housing finance and another of whom shall have experience in housing project development, to bring the private sector and its efficiencies into the operations of this Authority.