SAS Seaward Village: Minister not prepared to speak about DHA development

Retired Maj-Gen Mark Evans (left, in hat) talks to Swanbourne residents during his review of the proposed Seaward Village redevelopment in 2016. Picture: Jon Bassett
Retired Maj-Gen Mark Evans (left, in hat) talks to Swanbourne residents during his review of the proposed Seaward Village redevelopment in 2016. Picture: Jon Bassett

ASSISTANT Minister for Defence Michael McCormack will not say if an Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation into Defence Housing Australia (DHA) is delaying a decision on the proposed redevelopment of the SAS Seaward Village in Swanbourne.

“Given the AFP investigation into DHA is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment,” Mr McCormack’s spokeswoman said.

Mr McCormack received a report from of a review of the proposal by retired Lieutenant-General Mark Evans in late February.

“While I cannot confirm a precise date, I can confirm that every position and point of view on the matter is being considered by the minister and he is very keen to make a decision as soon as possible,” the spokeswoman said.

Before the review, DHA proposed to use half the 22ha village for civilian lots, and opponents of the project said soldiers, their wives and voters should be told of the village’s future to end stress and uncertainty.

Since last week, the AFP is investigating a Department of Finance claim of an inappropriate transaction at DHA, whose developments across Australia are not accountable to Canberra’s Public Works Committee.

It is not suggested by Community News that the investigation is linked to Seaward.

Swanbourne Coastal Alliance convenor Jean-Paul Orsini said it would be “absurd” for Canberra to make a decision about Seaward during the AFP’s investigation because “DHA cannot be trusted to do any major development while there is this financial shadow”.

DHA co-shareholders are the departments of Finance and Defence, which are battling over whether DHA’s $10 billion national property portfolio and profitable rentals can be privatised or continually improved to retain defence force personnel.

The differences were apparent at a Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Senate Committee hearing in Canberra on March 26, when the sudden November 2015 resignation of former DHA managing director Peter Howman was discussed.

While Finance deputy secretary John Edge declined to appear, Defence deputy secretary Steven Grzeskowiak said servicemen had a 96 per cent satisfaction with DHA, and it would be “no showstopper” if Defence took over DHA.

However, DHA chairman Sandy Macdonald said the departments had a loss of confidence in DHA, and Mr Howman had resigned because he was “not the best person to lead the organisation”, despite doing nothing wrong.