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Monday, 30 November 2015
Page: 14032

Mr CHESTER (GippslandAssistant Minister for Defence) (12:43): I welcome the opportunity to speak in relation to the Defence Legislation Amendment (First Principles) Bill 2015. Of course, following the honourable member for Paterson, it would be timely for me to reassure him and other members affected by the Williamtown contamination that the government and the Australian Defence Force are taking their responsibilities very seriously.

The concern raised by the honourable member and other members in this place have been the subject of a great deal of investigation by the government. It is a legacy issue that this government is dealing with here, dating back many decades. It is one that will take a considerable amount of effort not just in the Defence space but also in the civilian space as we start looking at the use of aqueous film-forming foam as it has been used throughout Australian history. I can assure the member that it is something the minister, Marise Payne, and I are taking very seriously, and we are working with him and his constituents to achieve the best possible outcome.

Specifically in relation to the legislation before the House, it is important to note that the legislation follows the recommendations from the First principles review—creating one Defence, which was commissioned by this government in 2014 and released in April 2015. The review found there was a proliferation of structures, processes and systems, with unclear accountabilities which, in turn, caused institutionalised waste, delayed decisions, flawed execution, duplication, overescalation of issues for decision and low engagement levels amongst employees in parts of the organisation. The review proposed substantial change across Defence to ensure it can deliver on the future requirements which will be outlined in the government's upcoming Defence white paper.

As part of the first principles review and the legislation before the House today, the passage of this bill will ensure that, for the first time, all three services of the ADF will be incorporated under one act, the Defence Act. That is historic because until now each service was recognised separately in legislation in recognition of their different histories. So, in speaking to the legislation before the House, I want to draw attention to one aspect of the first principles review: the support required to meet Defence's future capability needs through the Defence estate.

The Defence estate—as you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, in your own electorate—is a complex beast and it has been the subject of significant discussion and debate in recent times. The former government commissioned the Future Defence Estate report in 2012. This government is committed to ensuring we provide for significant savings for Australian taxpayers through a smaller and less dispersed Defence estate while still, obviously, meeting the capability needs of a modern Australian Defence Force. The key factor in terms of what has changed in recent times regarding the Defence estate, from a government perspective, was a decision to ensure that any proceeds from consolidation of the Defence estate would be reinvested in defence itself. So this should not be seen through the prism of a budget saving or a finance measure. It is all about making sure our Defence estate is efficient and needs the future needs of the ADF. One of the other things I want to do in the context of my contribution today is reassure affected communities that, when we are talking about the consolidation of the estate, this should not be seen as a threat. In many cases it is a repurposing of an existing asset in a way that will allow it to make a far more significant contribution to a local community into the future.

My objectives in negotiations with local councils, state government and local communities when we are talking about the consolidation of the estate provide three broad parameters. My first objective is, quite naturally, to obtain a good return for Australian taxpayers and give them a fair return from a parcel of land that they obviously own. The second objective is to make sure that in doing the negotiations we maintain and enhance, wherever possible, the reputation of the Australian Defence Force, keeping in context that the ADF has been in many of these places for decades and has had a very good working relationship with the host community. We want to enhance that reputation into the future. Finally, I want to make sure we work in partnership with the local members of parliament. Whether they be from the coalition side, from the Labor benches or from the Independents, I want to make sure we work in partnership with them as much as possible—and with their local councils and their state MPs—to deliver the best possible result for their local community.

I would like to take the opportunity, in the context of the legislation before the House, to reflect on some current progress in relation to the Defence estate consolidation. The government has taken the view, in support of the first principles review team, to assess the consolidation effort on a case-by-case basis rather than trying to put forward whole blocks of property for disposal. We have worked in a coordinated and cohesive way to put forward individual parcels of Defence estate for consolidation. I will take this opportunity to update the House on a couple of the more significant parcels throughout Australia.

One is the Bulimba Barracks site on the Brisbane River, which I have worked on with the member for Griffith in recent times. On 20 March this year the government announced that Defence will dispose of the majority of the Bulimba Barracks in Queensland. However, a portion of this land will be retained for use by the naval cadets who are on site. It is in the order of a 20-hectare site, and Defence has been working very closely with state and local government throughout the year, including through the preparation of a master plan for the Bulimba site. We continue to have very productive negotiations with the state government and local council in that regard, and we are confident and hopeful that within months we will be able to progress a sale for this site for the benefit of the local community.

Across the other side of Australia, another very substantial site—again, in a waterfront location—is the Leeuwin Barracks at Fremantle. I have worked with the member for Fremantle and had several discussions with her in this place about the future of Leeuwin Barracks. Defence has indicated that Leeuwin Barracks is surplus to Defence requirements in the future and will be sold. We have not progressed as far with this negotiation or discussion with the local community as we have with Bulimba, but Defence is now working to ensure that ADF personnel and public servants associated with Leeuwin Barracks are aware that it will be sold. The nearby Irwin Barracks will be the subject of significant redevelopment to accommodate the staff required into the future. Leeuwin Barracks is on a 14-hectare site. It is on the southern banks of the Swan River in East Fremantle, about 16 kilometres from the Perth CBD, so obviously it is a very sought after site. We are working to make sure not only that the state government is involved but also that the local council, the East Fremantle local government area, is aware of our ambitions to sell the site. We are seeking opportunities to make sure that the precinct is developed well and sensibly and in such a way that the local community gets maximum enjoyment and benefit from it in the future, keeping in mind that we will be making every effort to retain the significant Defence heritage on that site, most notably a memorial to the young naval cadets who were the subject of some serious abuse in the past. So the need is there not only to be sensitive to the previous use of the site but also to look at ways we can work with the community to ensure that the Leeuwin Barracks site is well managed and well used into the future.

A smaller site is the Pontville Small Arms Range Complex in Tasmania, which is an approximately 517-hectare site. A lot of it is open grassland. It will be sold in two stages. It is a 2.8-hectare area on the western side of the Midland Highway which is currently on the market. Expressions of interest for stage 1 closed earlier this month and bids are now being considered for that that particular site. I would like to acknowledge that the member for Lyons has worked very closely with his local community, the state government, the local council, community groups and various interest groups and has advocated very strongly on behalf of his community to try to find a suitable buyer that will maximise the use of this site in the future.

The Pontville site is listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List as one of the sites used for training of the 1st AIF in August 1914. The heritage listing also includes natural heritage values on the site with remnant grassland and grassy woodland communities. I think the negotiations on that site will take some time. As I said, there have been several organisations that have expressed an interest and we will be proceeding to an open sale of that site within months as well.

Another site which is of significant interest is the Inverbrackie site. Defence determined, and the government agreed, that Inverbrackie in the Adelaide Hills is no longer required to meet the future capability requirements of the ADF. Defence is currently undertaking due diligence before this site, which is about 22 hectares, is sold. This site is about 37 kilometres from the Adelaide CBD. I have had some discussion with the local member, the member for Mayo, about this. Again, he is keen to work with his community to achieve the best possible outcome as we repurpose a site which has served the community well in the past and will continue to serve the community well into the future.

Another Brisbane site which I omitted to mention previously is the Witton Barracks location in Brisbane where the member for Ryan and the Brisbane City Council have been keen to reach a resolution which is mutually beneficial for Defence and the local community. There is an off-market bid for that site which is being progressed through the usual channels within the government at the moment. I would like to commend the member for Ryan in particular for her diligence in pursuing an outcome on this particular site. It is one that I think will meet the needs of the Brisbane community and meet the infrastructure requirements for the local community in the future whilst also preserving the heritage of that important site from the ADF's perspective.

On a smaller scale, in the last 12 months through my office the consolidation has included one site in my own electorate—that being the old Darriman naval transmission station site or Omega Tower, as it is known locally. It was actually the scene of a tragic death in January 2014. A decision was made at that time that the tower was surplus to Defence's needs. There was no ongoing requirement for the tower. It was the subject of a demolition earlier this year and that site has been sold. I think it will primarily be used for local grazing in the future.

Another site which I would like to congratulate the member for Page on and which we worked very closely on is the Casino Drill Hall. It has been returned for community purposes after a successful negotiation between the local council and Defence on an off-market sale, with the support of the Minister for Finance.

So the activity in relation to Defence's estate disposals is continuing. It is on a case-by-case basis. There will be other examples of property which are identified as being surplus to Defence's needs that will go through that process of negotiation—first of all, seeking opportunities for off-market sales with local governments or state governments, as is appropriate, and, if they are not required for those purposes, we will proceed to private sales.

I would like to thank the Defence department officials who have worked very closely with me on these issues. Lorraine Holcroft and her team and Steve Grzeskowiak have been very diligent in pursuing these individual property disposals. It has been a good example of how when we work in partnership with local communities and local members and put all the politics aside we can achieve good outcomes for the Australian people.

One other point I would like to make in relation to the legislation before the House is that it makes provision for the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force cadets in a new part of the Defence Act whilst still retaining the existing provisions with regard to the relationship between the ADF and Defence Force cadets. Defence Force cadets and their instructors are not members of the ADF, although they do enjoy the support of ADF members. The Australian Defence Force cadets number in the order of 25,000. Army obviously have the greatest proportion with about 15,000 or 16,000 cadets. It is the key youth development priority for the Australian government, as indicated by our expenditure in that regard. The Australian government—both this government and the previous government—strongly support the youth development initiative driven by the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force cadets. I am very keen to see the program expand in the future.

Early this year I had the opportunity to travel to Weipa to open a new Air Force cadets unit. It was great to see the young Aboriginal kids in particular having their first opportunity to access all the benefits that the cadet program offers to them. It was terrific to see young people from, in many cases, low socioeconomic backgrounds getting the chance to put on the uniform, go on parade, learn about teamwork, learn about leadership and learn new skills that I am sure will help them in their future careers.

I stand here as a very strong supporter of the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force cadets, and I encourage local members from across Australia to take the opportunity the Christmas break presents to them to visit their local cadet units and get involved and have the chance to see exactly what they do in their communities. We obviously see them most prominently every Anzac Day, but throughout the year the cadets are very active in their communities. I encourage local members to support them whenever they can.

We all recognise that investing in our young people and helping them achieve their full potential is critical to the future of our great nation. I pay tribute to the cadets themselves, to their instructors and to their families and friends who support the cadet units for the work they are doing in support of young people throughout Australia. With those comments, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak and I commend the bill to the House.