JANE MARWICK      Further developments today on Defence Housing Australia’s proposal to carve off some of the land and redevelop the Swanbourne Seaward Village which houses defence personnel and their families.

Today’s Subiaco POST has the headline ‘Bishop sky bombed to save SAS homes’ and Bret Christian writes a Swanbourne resident has paid $1,155 for an aerial message pleading with Julie Bishop for the welfare of SAS soldiers and their families at the Seaward Village.

Of course, Julie Bishop is Foreign Minister and the Federal Member for Curtin and she joins me now. Good Afternoon Minister.

JULIE BISHOP          Good Afternoon Jane, good to be with you.

JANE MARWICK      Thank you very much for making time to speak to us about such an important issue this afternoon. Had you heard about this banner that a Swanbourne resident will be flying over the western suburbs tomorrow?

JULIE BISHOP          I’m afraid they have wasted their money because as the Member for Curtin I am in close and continued contact with the SAS families and the SAS members as well as local residents, and  I have been raising the proposed redevelopment with the previous Minister responsible for it – Stuart Robert – and now, with a change of leadership, there is a new Minister, Darren Chester.

I have been talking with him today and I am going to meet with him when Parliament returns so that we can consider all of the options for the housing for our SAS members – because of course there are very significant security needs, it is a very unique community and I want to ensure that all the concerns of the SAS members, their families and the local residents are taken into account.

JANE MARWICK      What do you think of the idea of carving off some of the land – for Defence Housing Australia to sell off that land for private use and the mix of Defence Forces and citizens?

JULIE BISHOP          Well there was a decision to upgrade the current SAS housing,  as it was considered to be below standard of Defence housing provided to Defence personnel elsewhere in Australia, and  we were advised nearly all the houses required an upgrade.

So the question was should the houses be refurbished or should new houses be built. And it was decided a while ago that refurbishment of the houses was an option but that it was not commercially viable and it would be better to build new houses that could take into account the changing nature of the type of housing that is provided to Defence personnel and their families across Australia. So the idea was to have better housing, better facilities, better security, a new childcare centre and the like.

However, this meant that in order to pay for it a portion of the site and surrounding land would have to be sold to help fund the replacement housing, because it was something like 145 freestanding houses and 20 townhouses and a mix of single-storey and two-storey housing. So it was quite a considerable redevelopment.

I will be speaking to the new Minister about some of those decisions, about what is actually necessary and I have certainly heard very different views on the proposed redevelopment from the families, from the members and certainly from local residents.

But the SAS is an absolutely vital part of Australia’s defence capability, they are among the most respected fighting units in the world and I know they have a really strong sense of community and they feel safe within Seaward Village and that is of utmost importance to the serving members –  that their families feel secure at home.

JANE MARWICK      It is difficult for them too – and you understand it and so do I – because they can’t speak out because that is a part of the regiment. They are very private people for security reasons. What is the sense that you are getting? What do you think the SAS want?

JULIE BISHOP           I met with the families on a number of occasions at the Village, and you are right, they do have to be virtually anonymous and their security is of utmost importance and their privacy as well. It is absolutely essential that our serving members can be reassured that their families are secure at home.

My sense is that some families would want new homes, others think that a refurbishment would be fine. They obviously want space if they have got families whereas others who don’t have families would be quite happy with a townhouse. So there are different views.

But also it would have an impact on the local residents. I met with, particularly with the residents of Sayer Street, to talk to them about how this would impact on their homes and their lifestyle. So it is a very challenging redevelopment and that’s why I want to sit down with the new Minister, Darren Chester, and talk through it.

In the past, I met with the previous Minister, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister on numerous occasions. The Defence Minister, Kevin Andrews, visited the site to meet with the residents and so I have been constantly engaged on this matter and been raising the concerns of locals about the proposal. That’s why I want to meet with the new Minister and to see if there are other options and a more viable way forward.

JANE MARWICK      I’ve had a look at the DHA Act. What control does Government have over Defence Housing Australia?

JULIE BISHOP          Well at the end of the day, the Defence Housing Australia would be the proposed developer of it and DHA have been undergoing considerable consultation. This has included a review of security arrangements. At the end of the day it is a decision for the Government though…

JANE MARWICK      [interrupting] I think that will be pleasing for some people to hear, I do, because there is a sense that DHA is a developer and look there are stories that while DHA are in inverted commas, consulting, there is certainly some sense that the decision was made to redevelop and now DHA are finding a way to make that happen. Do you think that this uncertainty is adding stress for those families who already have a lot of stress in their lives?

JULIE BISHOP          Well I maintain close contact with them and have reassured them that their views will be taken into account in any proposal and I have reassured them that nothing will proceed until we are sure that all of the families are happy.

It is a unique community, the security needs of Seaward Village are a significant consideration and that is why I am continuing to remain so closely engaged on the matter and will be meeting with the new Minister.

JANE MARWICK      And Minister is there any suggestion that there is any demolition by neglect going on in Seaward Village? That basic maintenance isn’t being carried out? Sort of forcing the hand?

JULIE BISHOP          I am not aware of that accusation. I have not heard that and it certainly has not been raised with me. I have visited the Village on a number of occasions and I can see that of course some houses need refurbishing, some were renovated not so long ago.

But we are trying to raise the standard of housing for our defence personnel across Australia and at present I would agree that Seaward Village housing is not the same standard elsewhere. How we improve  it is a question that the new Minister needs to consider and I will certainly be there advocating on behalf of the SAS members, their families and the local residents.

JANE MARWICK      Julie Bishop, I really appreciate your time this afternoon on Afternoons.

JULIE BISHOP          My pleasure, thank you.