Declaration of victory
A COMMUNITY coalition that fought against redevelopment of the SAS’s Seaward Village celebrated when Curtin MHR Julie Bishop announced the enclave would instead be refurbished in Swanbourne last week.
“I want to assure local people, in particular the SAS and their families, that we want to maintain Seaward Village in Swanbourne, we want to maintain Campbell Barracks here in Swanbourne, so that means keeping Seaward Village next to the SAS so those connections can continue,” Ms Bishop said.
The Federal Government now plans a rolling program of refurbishments with minimal disruption to SAS families after surveying what each of the village’s 154 houses requires, although 12 are in such poor condition they will be demolished.
Swanbourne residents in adjacent Sayer Street would have faced building trucks going past their homes for seven years during the now scrapped redevelopment, which was campaigned against by the Australia SAS Association for 22 months.
“This refurbishment is a fantastic result for the community and the SAS, but we will continue to watch what is happening,” Sayer Street resident Merrilee Garnett said.
Joanna Allen, granddaughter of John Allen, who created Allen Park neighbouring the village, said the refurbishment was the start of securing the park’s future.
However, others were cautious about the refurbishment because Defence Housing Australia (DHA) left village homes vacant and unmaintained before the redevelopment proposal.
“I’ll believe it when I see it because I cannot trust DHA,” SAS wife Mrs A said.
Swanbourne Coastal Alliance convenor Jean-Paul Orsini said while the village appeared safe for “the next few years”, the community had to be vigilant about any future proposals.
THE review of Seaward Village’s now scrapped redevelopment is critical of Defence Housing Australia for underestimating resistance to the proposal during 22 months of community opposition.
“Fundamentally, the ‘ heart and minds’ campaign has been lost by DHA,” retired Lieutenant-General Mark Evans said, after refurbishing the village instead was announced last week.
DHA is a Federal Government Business Enterprise not audited by Canberra’s Works Committee and it proposed using half the 22ha village for 140 civilian lots to be sold for about $100 million.
Soldiers’ families would have had a high-density precinct next to the strategically sensitive Campbell Barracks, which the Government will spend at least $225 million upgrading.
DHA’s proposal sparked security concerns about having civilians 300m from the barracks, Swanbourne residents opposed construction traffic and environmentalists were against adjacent Allen Park being damaged.
Community support rallied behind SAS soldiers and their wives facing more uncertainty after years of falling village maintenance.
“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 is 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 barracks’ upgrade.
SAS members, their wives and the Swanbourne community could be better served if Seaward Village was given back to the Department of Defence. The soldiers’ constant state of readiness and increasing frequency of deployment means where they live, its maintenance and security are vital to their capabilities, their families’ happiness and the nation’s defence. Handing the land back would also solidify the relationship neighbouring residents have with Defence. However, the whole of Australia would be better served if Defence Housing Australia was returned to the oversight of Canberra’s Works Committee. That would provide some security for taxpayers about Australia’s largest developer. It may also temper the enthusiasm of those within governments who advocate that its business enterprise creates profit. As for Seaward, the community will have to keep its eye on DHA and the Government so that the village’s homes are kept in a condition befitting men whose work often takes them past the frontline. Jon Bassett - reporter
Celebrating coalition members included Joanna Allen, Rebecca and Zemirah John, Australia SAS chairman Terry Nolan, Jean-Paul Orsini and Sophie Roe.