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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2534

Ms FATIN(8.20) —Previously we were discussing the most significant statement concerning Australia's defence ever submitted for the scrutiny of the Australian people. Tonight I want to continue the remarks that I made on that occasion. Another indication of the massive development involved in this whole project is the number of Navy houses which will be required. News about new Navy houses has always been welcomed by the local community, for obvious reasons. One has only to think of the various tradespeople and contractors for whom a project of this kind generates employment. So far in the Rockingham area we have built 380 new houses for naval personnel. The relocation of half the fleet over the next 10 years means that a further 690 houses, in addition to the 380 houses that already exist, will be required.

While on the subject of defence housing, I would like to pay a further tribute to the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) for the improvements being effected under his guidance in the general standard of Defence Force housing. Actually, the standard of accommodation already provided at HMAS Stirling, which is in my electorate, is very high, and this is acknowledged by the service families who live there. It is a sad fact that this is not the case in other parts of Australia, where Defence Force families have had to face poor living conditions because of neglect and underfunding in previous years. This is an area of the Defence portfolio in which priorities were desperately in need of reordering when this Government came to office four years ago.

I am pleased to note in the White Paper that the 1986-87 Budget provided a real increase of 17 per cent for defence housing and that some $750m will be spent Australia-wide on new housing over the next 10 years. I also welcome the creation of the new Defence Housing Authority, which will begin operating formally on 1 July this year. The Authority is already operating on an interim basis, and recently held some extremely productive meetings in Rockingham. I was particularly pleased that members of the Authority were able to hold discussions with some of the wives of HMAS Stirling personnel, who had very valuable contributions to make on the subject of improving accommodation at defence establishments around Australia. One further major initiative taken by this Government deserves mention in the context of this White Paper.

Mrs Darling —What's that?

Ms FATIN —It is the commissioning of the survey by Sue Hamilton from the Office of the Status of Women on the problems faced by Australian Defence Force families. I am sure that the honourable member for Lilley will be aware of those. Sue Hamilton's report, which I commend to honourable members, identified deficiencies and problems in the support available to service families and made recommendations about how these might be redressed. In response to Mrs Hamilton's report, the Government has already set up a national consultative group of service spouses. I had the pleasure recently of meeting the chairperson of this Committee, Mrs Val Lawrence, when she joined me and my colleagues on the Government members' defence force action committee to discuss many matters relating to defence families. This year the Government will also establish a defence families information and liaison service.

Mrs Hamilton's report found other areas of concern, such as the length of postings, disturbance allowances and removal for separated spouses. All these conditions of service and Mrs Hamilton's recommendations are under consideration by the Government, and I know that the Minister is examining the situation with a great deal of sympathy. It seems to me that the strength of the Government's commitment to provide support for the families and dependents of members of the Defence Force is particularly significant in view of the fact that the new strategy for the defence of Australia involves the redeployment of so many people. I referred earlier to the fact that the impact on families on large scale relocation to the north of Australia would need to be very closely monitored.

All the questions about which the defence families in my electorate are so concerned will be particularly pressing in an environment with no existing infrastructure. Issues like child care, schooling and assimilation with local communities will need to be addressed with a great deal of sensitivity if the very real needs of families are to be treated as seriously as they should be in this whole exercise. I feel confident that the steps already taken by the Government in this regard are gradually beginning to provide the kind of assistance which defence families have long needed. I am equally sure that these support systems are going to be relied on heavily as the proposals under consideration here tonight come into effect.

As honourable members will know, the Sex Discrimination Act specifically exempts combat and combat-related duties in the defence forces on the understanding that as many positions as possible should be open to women while still maintaining combat preparedness. Prior to 1984, when the Sex Discrimination Act and new Defence Force employment policies were introduced, the proportion of women in the Defence Force was 6.5 per cent, and women were pretty much confined to the traditional areas of female employment. Under the equal opportunity policies of this Government, this percentage has increased quite significantly. The Minister has expressed a commitment to expand employment opportunities for women in the Australian Defence Force, and the Government will continue to make available as many positions as possible on merit. Close study of the paper under consideration indicates clearly that this Government has been successful in developing a coherent and rational policy for the defence of Australia as we move into the twenty-first century. I commend the White Paper to the House and I congratulate the Minister for Defence on its presentation.