“Why were neither the Chief of the Defence Force nor the Minister for Defence herself consulted or, as a matter of professional courtesy, informed beforehand of such critical changes within DHA’s most senior management ranks?” the Alliance of Defence Service Organisations (ADSO) submission to a Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee inquiry into DHA said.
The committee is investigating DHA’s board, management and land sales, but there is no allegation that the proposed sale of half of the SAS Seaward Village in Swanbourne is linked to the resignation of former DHA managing director Peter Howman last November after he was named National Customer Service CEO of the Year.
Former Department of Finance officer Jan Mason, who oversaw the sale of Medibank Private, took over Mr Howman’s job, which controls DHA’s $3 billion armed forces’ housing portfolio, including lease-backs used as low-risk investments by civilians that produced a $141 million pre-tax profit in 2014-15.
ADSO’s submission said 2015 Government announcements that any DHA sale was not being considered “at this time” failed to stop speculation of a potential $2 billion price tag for DHA that started with the 2014 Lazard Review into the housing agency’s future and hiring Melbourne insolvency experts KordaMentha.
ADSO, the RSL and Australian Defence Association’s submissions did not question DHA’s success in improving poor defence force housing that historically caused many resignations, but they all feared that any sale would risk good defence housing that bolstered the nation’s defence capability.
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee chairman Senator Alex Gallacher said it would like to know whether Mr Howman’s replacement was a “part of a bigger ploy to put DHA on the chopping block” after it had achieved improved defence housing.