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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3035

Senator MacGIBBON (3.57 p.m.) —I support Senator Calvert's comments on the Defence Housing Authority annual report which was tabled today. The way the housing for the defence forces has been transformed by the creation of the Defence Housing Authority is one of the very few successes in the 10 years of this government. That, in no small part, is due to the calibre of the personnel who have been running the authority since it was set up. Some very successful commercial people have been involved in that.

  Anyone who has been visiting defence houses over the last 10 or 15 years would realise the enormous change that has taken place. Many of the defence forces' houses were in housing commission areas. They were in poor socioeconomic areas and the condition of the houses had been allowed to run down to a really terrible degree. The Defence Housing Authority has turned that around and has put it on a good commercial basis. Like Senator Calvert, I pay full credit to the authority for its achievements.

  If I had a criticism of the report it would be that it is almost superficial. It is not superficial, but it is a glossy document. The authority would be doing a little better if the report had a little more of a hard core description of what the authority was doing. I really wonder why a picture of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Faulkner)—there is nothing personal in this—appears in everything with which he is associated. I do not know of any other department where ministers' pictures appear with such great regularity.

  The report we had yesterday from the veterans' affairs department had three pictures in it, two of them of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. This is nothing personal against Senator Faulkner. His predecessor certainly was in the same category. I wonder why that has become a tradition in the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

  It has been a successful year for the authority. The authority has cooperated very well with headquarters ADF and has coped with changes, such as the changes that have come from the movement of the defence forces around Australia—the move to the north for the army and the move to the west for the navy and the changes that come from the CSP program.

  The chairman notes in his own overview that the year under review was the most significant in the authority's six-year history. While acquisitions fell short of the target of 4,039 they represented a record level of activity compared with the 3,099 houses acquired last year. He also notes that there was a record operating profit after interest of $71.2 million compared with a budgeted profit of $43.3 million.

  That is of particular interest to the government because it means that less money had to be allocated from the defence budget for defence housing. This is probably a high peak in profit because quite a volume of Commonwealth-state housing agreement stock was sold off and the benefit of that will be felt for another two years but after that I would imagine that the profit level will fall back.

  One of the things that concerns me as shadow minister for veterans' affairs is the way the government has been slow to revise salary and allowance payments to defence forces. Essentially, what happened before was that the defence forces had poor quality housing and they did not pay terribly much in rent. That rent was subsidised to some degree by the defence forces as part of the conditions of service, in recognition of the fact that defence families get moved at the whim of the government of the day, or more precisely the Department of Defence.

  What has happened is that with the upgrade in quality of Defence Housing Authority housing and the provision of houses to service personnel there has been a move towards setting market rents as the rental allowance paid by service personnel. At the same time the amount of subsidy has come down and in general terms it is approaching 50 per cent.

  While the quality of housing has gone up, the ability for defence families to pay for that housing has been reduced. What the government has set out to do is correct the situation. But it has failed to recognise the fact that the capacity to pay is terribly important. It has not revised the pay scales particularly for the lower ranks so that they can pay for the better housing.