DEFENCE Housing Australia (DHA) was criticised for underestimating community resistance to the now scrapped Seaward Village redevelopment in a review of the proposal.
Community opposition throughout the 22-month span of the proposal saw DHA “fundamentally” lose the “hears and minds campaign” against the redevelopment, according to retired Lieutenant-General Mark Evans, who led the review.
DHA is a Federal Government Business Enterprise not audited by Canberra’s Works Committee and it had proposed using half of the 22ha Seaward Village for 140 civilian lots, which were to be sold for about $100 million.
Soldiers’ families would have had a high-density precinct next to the strategically sensitive Campbell Barracks, on which the Government may now spend up to $400 million upgrading.
DHA’s proposal sparked security concerns about civilians living 300m from the barracks, while Swanbourne residents opposed construction traffic and environmentalists were against adjacent Allen Park being damaged.
The local community also rallied behind SAS soldiers and their wives, who are left facing more uncertainty after years of falling village maintenance as the proposal was pursued.
“As a result of the DHA’s wish to apply its business model, there appears to have been reluctance to invest in improving the village to any great extent, indicated by the cessation of a refurbishment program that was underway in 2012,” Lt-Gen Evans said.
Lt-Gen Evans said the village’s 2001 protective covenant created “tension” between DHA providing “adequate and suitable” soldiers’ housing and its profit-making GBE function.
He said the discrepancy should be resolved and recommended the covenant stay in the short to medium term.
“The challenge is to ensure that, if refurbishment is selected, the same issues do not arise in another 10 to 15 years,” he said.
The report recommended village ownership be moved from DHA to the Department of Defence.
The Federal Government may review the Public Works Act, which does not allow DHA’s commercial projects being examined by Canberra MPs, but the Act includes the barrack’s upgrade.
“I will argue through the review that DHA should come back under the auspice of the Joint Public Standing Committee on Public Works, where any commercial-in-confidence parts of DHA can be given as in-camera evidence,” committee chair Senator Dean Smith said, whose uncle was killed in the SAS.