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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8109

Defence Housing Australia

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:46): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. I refer to the shock departure of Mr Peter Howman as the managing director of Defence Housing Australia, or DHA, a fortnight ago. Mr Howman's departure came just days after the Customer Service Institute of Australia named him their Customer Service CEO of the Year and also presented DHA with a service excellence award. Under Mr Howman, DHA has been one of the country's best performing government business enterprises, with a net profit after tax of $91.1 million last financial year. Minister, what circumstances led to Mr Howman's departure from DHA, and were you consulted?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:47): I thank the senator for the question. As the senator would be aware if he were familiar with the Defence Housing Australia Act, any matters concerning the identification and appointment of the managing director are a matter for the DHA board, although long-term appointments to all DHA board positions require the approval of the Prime Minister or, at his discretion, of cabinet.

Senator Wong: The question is: 'Were you consulted?' Were you consulted?

Senator PAYNE: If Senator Wong could possibly be patient enough for me to finish answering the question, I would indicate to Senator Gallacher that I was not involved in any way.

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:48): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Defence minister explain how Ms Jan Mason, a finance department official who was involved in Telstra's privatisation, was appointed to the role of acting managing director of DHA. Who recommended Ms Mason? On what basis was the decision made? When did you seek approval of the Prime Minister for this acting appointment, consistent with the requirement in the Cabinet Handbook?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:48): I can indicate that I do not understand Ms Mason still to be a member of the Department of Finance, but I stand to be corrected on that. The decision was made by the DHA board. As I indicated, it is long-term appointments that require the approval of the Prime Minister and, at their discretion, of the cabinet. It is only for three months.

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:49): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I note the widely reported statement by the Chief of the Defence Force, Mark Binskin, that the Australian military:

… supports the continuation of DHA as a government-owned entity.

Minister, do you back Air Chief Marshal Binskin's comments, and will you confirm categorically that the government will not sell DHA?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:49): I can confirm that on 11 May 2015 the government announced that it would not privatise the Defence Housing Authority. Any questions regarding that decision are matters for the Department of Finance. But it is quite clear that the government made that decision on 11 May 2015, and it was announced then.