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Wednesday, 7 February 2001
Page: 24166

Mr HARDGRAVE (10:40 AM) —I am very pleased to associate myself with the Defence 2000: our future Defence Force white paper, which was presented to the parliament by my close friend the honourable John Moore, the former member for Ryan—the electorate next to mine—who was my colleague for a number of years. I think the white paper will stand as testimony to John Moore's great abilities as an administrator of important issues and important portfolios during his time in parliament and to his understanding of key aspirations in our community.

The white paper was prepared by a consultation team that went into the community to seek their aspirations and record them accurately. And what a consultation team it was, comprising the honourable Andrew Peacock AC as chair and another friend, former colleague and in fact employer, Dr David MacGibbon. He is a former Queensland senator of long standing and a tremendous advocate of the need for proper defence facilities in Australia. I am sure that David MacGibbon feels very pleased about being associated with a report that pulls all of these vital elements together and illustrates clearly a future direction for defence. A former Labor senator, Stephen Loosley, was also on that team.

Community consultation is very important in these sorts of processes. One of the things that came out of that process—it has been very obvious to me and, prior to the 1996 election and since becoming the member for Moreton, I have advocated that this suggestion become a reality—was the proposal to give cadets some of the standing and purpose that they deserve in the defence vote. One of the key tasks that John Moore undertook when he became defence minister—aided especially well by his parliamentary secretary, Eric Abetz, who has now been appointed Special Minister of State—was to have cadets drawn out and specifically allocated funds as a line item in the Defence Force budget so that the Defence Force could give cadets not just what was left over but specific resources.

The white paper points out that 25,000 cadets in 417 units are established in communities throughout Australia. Page 73 of the report quite rightly points to a tangible link between the ADF and the Australian community at large. The cadet system, in reality, is very patchy. In my electorate the cadets rely heavily upon the good deeds of and donations from Yeronga-Dutton Park RSL or Sunnybank RSL—$100 here or $300 there—to help them meet costs. The 12th division cadet unit, which operates across the southern suburbs of Brisbane, is split into three separate groups. If it were at full strength, it would have 150 cadets plus staff. At present there are 120 cadets plus nine staff. There are three separate units in three separate areas and they come together only on weekends. One of those units is located at Nyanda State High School in my electorate, and it is coming under pressure from one man opposite the school who complains about the noise that the cadets make over a couple of hours each week as they meet and practice marching, parading and other such things.

Mr Deputy Speaker, like most members in this place, you will appreciate how vital the cadets are as a signal to young people. As the report says, ADF cadets have been a valued and strongly supported commodity within the Australian community. I am very pleased to be part of a government that realises the importance of cadets by allocating $30 million by 2002 specifically for cadet purposes and providing them with a direct capital injection. That is certainly very necessary. The 1999 ADF census showed that 22 per cent of full-time ADF personnel and 25 per cent of reservists were once cadets. The cadet system is worth supporting when one considers the amount of money that is spent on advertising to get people to join the armed forces. Cadets constitute roughly one in four of our Defence Force personnel and are a worthwhile investment from a recruitment point of view—not to mention the personal discipline and responsibility that inspires young people to join the cadets.

I think of 1st Flight, which meets at Macgregor State High School but has been shuffled from one room to another. Its armoury is being moved here to there; its meeting places have been moved from here to there. I am left feeling very disenchanted with the approach of the Queensland government, and particularly its education department officials, who basically see cadets as a warmongering facility instead of a great operation for young people. The old leftie style approach to the cadets which seems to pervade the Queensland government is something which I think would be condemned by everybody.

The cadets part of the white paper is, to my mind, a fulfilment of a policy that I was very proud to espouse prior to my election to this place in 1996. I am frustrated that it took a white paper and a defence minister having to assert his complete control over a department to bring about this kind of development and to beat back the very defensive attitude to change that the Department of Defence had.

One of the other matters I want to raise in connection with the Department of Defence and matters contained within this report is the disposal of defence department properties. I believe fully that there needs to be a change to the Defence Act to force defence department officials to consult far more widely than they currently do when they are disposing of properties. Essentially, what happens now is that the Department of Defence is obliged to consult with the community only when something with a heritage value listing is involved. In my electorate, when the long established, heritage listed property of the old 1st Military Hospital base at Yeronga was disposed of a few years ago, Defence went into overdrive as far as consultation was concerned and a fine process of public consultation brought about a pretty good result on the site. But when you contrast that with what is happening with the disposal of the former Annerley Army Reserve depot, in Dudley Street East, you are left scratching your head in wonder. Defence is not consulting widely. Rather, it is doing all it can to avail itself of the sale of the property and is disputing claims of any heritage value associated with the site. When I first raised this issue with my local community, I believed the consultation process that had been undertaken at Yeronga would have occurred with the sale of the Annerley site, but it has not. I am left very disappointed by what has occurred. But the Defence bureaucracy is simply administering the act—an act which desperately needs a change.

I pay tribute to the members of the Supporters Protecting Annerley's Culture and Environment, SPACE, a group which grew out of concern that the disposal of this site in Dudley Street East was the last straw. The suburb of Annerley has had a noble history. It is quite inner-city, in Brisbane, but it has been under huge pressure over the past decade by a city council in Brisbane which has set about intensifying the density of housing in the area, essentially loading more and more people into less and less space. People are fed up with clogged streets and with other facilities being under pressure from having too many people in too small a space. This group said, `We do not want high density housing on this army site. We want to keep it. We want to save it.' That is a view that I support wholeheartedly, as I have said on the public record on many occasions, including just the other week before a Senate hearing in Brisbane on this matter.

But when the Lord Mayor of Brisbane appeared before that committee he basically let down the local community. Prior to the Brisbane City Council election last year the council had been working very hard to continue to intensify the housing density approach on the town plan on this particular site thus leaving Defence no other alternative when they sold the site but to seek its sale to some housing development proposal. I felt the Lord Mayor had a great opportunity at the most recent Senate hearings to put the case for what the local community wants. The local community would like to see the site preserved as a defence establishment while bringing together a number of the strands contained within the white paper for the proper commemoration and remembrance of defence history in Brisbane and also defence future in Brisbane, namely the cadets. This is a matter I intend to talk about with the new parliamentary secretary for defence, our friend and colleague the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson, in about 40 minutes. I have an appointment to see him this morning and I want to raise this matter directly with him.

I would like to tell the House what SPACE's proposal is. It brings together a number of groups in our community who are desperately looking for space of their own to do things in. It wants to bring in the Victoria Barracks Historical Society, a group which has had a long association with the Annerley site and believes a great deal in its value as far as cultural and social history is concerned. A constituent of mine, Leo Walsh, has spoken to me about a proposed Queensland military memorial museum and that four other groups would come to a museum on this Annerley site. It is envisaged that the museum would become a tourist and education attraction in combination with re-enactment groups and that there would be a gun park on the site. A number of guns would be located there—I am talking big guns, cannons.

The Living History Federation is a group with 19 groups within it. It covers a wide variety of military history. It needs space for training facilities. It receives no government funding. It plays at festivals and medieval tournaments. Any earnings are donated to charity. The old drill hall on the site at Annerley is tailor made to suit the group's needs. Open days and fairs on-site would also be possible.

As I have just told the committee, the 12th Division at full strength would have 150 cadets but currently it has 120 and is operating across three different sites and there are problems associated with each of them. There is a need for unity of those three groups. The Annerley site would allow for the amalgamation of those three groups and for a great sense of purpose to develop from there. This site has a parade ground. It has storage facilities. It has an old drill hall where generations of soldiers have come and gone over the years and until a few years ago called the place their home.

This is a site that has a very fond connection with the Department of Defence. The Department of Defence tends to be a very good neighbour indeed, and the local community would much rather see the site continue in that particular vein. So they are heartened by the $30 million commitment from the Howard government to cadets. They are heartened by what is contained within the defence white paper. The community group understands that the Department of Defence does not want to have to take money away from its true purpose in order to maintain old buildings and the community is looking for ways to form some sort of community trust to take over the site from the Department of Defence. Frankly, if this site is costing Defence $20,000 a year to maintain—20,000 negative dollars if you like—a $1 a year rent to the Department of Defence means that the Department of Defence is $20,000 and $1 in front on its current position. In other words, if the local community are prepared to take over this site, maintain it in proper repair, ensure that all of these different groups can come in there and grow it into something that gives some benefit to the local community, then we have got the best result. We have got the local community feeling that the Department of Defence is keeping something of value in their local community.

We have also the potential for young people and other generations to come to understand a little bit about our history, to understand that the muster which came from Warwick in the First World War and marched through my electorate into the City of Brisbane to go and fight at Gallipoli and other places camped in the area around this site. This sort of history should be preserved and also passed on to other generations. I believe that, all round, the community proposal is one that should be looked at. I believe that there needs to be flexibility brought into the process of disposing of defence properties, that the Defence Act needs to be changed, that consultation with the community needs to be a reasonable demand met by the Department of Defence and that it should not just simply be established heritage value with a site that triggers such consultation.

The regard that the community has for the Department of Defence should not be completely lost by the wholesale disposal of property. This property could turn out to be a windfall to the government. As a responsible member of the government parties, I would be happy to see proper allocation of funds that came from that windfall used to the benefit of the broad community.

But it seems to me that there is a growing concern about the loss of our cultural and social history associated with defence facilities that should not be traded off just for a dollar today. We should not turn our backs on those who have passed through the doors of the drill hall at Annerley, those who have marched and paraded on the grounds at Annerley. We should not turn our backs on their memories. We should have regard for them and consider what could be, for today and tomorrow. This defence white paper, to my mind, opens the door to those possibilities. I welcome what Minister Moore did. I welcome this white paper. I commend it to the House.