Preserving Defence Housing Australia as a major defence force capability enabler

DHA must be preserved as a Government Business Enterprise. The Government needs to unequivocally confirm to all those still bent on asset-stripping DHA that such a move is clearly not in the national interest and will not be sanctioned.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
Tuesday, 03 November 2015
(published Thursday, 05 November 2015)

At the Customer Service Institute of Australia awards last Wednesday night the managing director of Defence Housing Australia was named “CEO of the Year” and DHA was also runner-up in the national organisations category.

On the following day Peter Howman was pushed out of his job, ostensibly by the DHA Board, and a former Department of Finance official later appointed acting CEO.

DHA is one of the best performing Government Business Enterprises in the country, paying some $55m in dividends, $50m in tax and with return-on-equity the envy of most commercial enterprises.

The authority is also widely respected across the defence force, by both its customers and those employing them, and across the housing industry generally.

Howman’s successful arguments against privatisation or asset-stripping of DHA have long attracted the ire of ideologues bent on privatisation of GBEs at all costs.

The timing of this move, and its lack of transparency and reasoning, naturally raises suspicions of hidden bureaucratic agendas being pursued — contrary to the whole-of-government and wider national interest in maintaining an effective defence force.

Only two weeks ago DHA was examined uncritically in Senate Estimates. The move also popped up during the changeover of ministers in the defence portfolio when ministerial charters (including responsibility for DHA) had yet to be fully promulgated.

Under governments of both persuasions, recent defence ministers, Defence officials and ADF commanders have successfully argued against any change to DHA’s structure as a GBE.

Not least because the provision of community-standard housing to defence force families is a major defence capability enabler, not an administrative or market function.

As ADF personnel often have little or no choice where they are sent to live, such community-standard housing also involves a social equity responsibility for a workforce not allowed the collective representation other Australians take for granted

Until DHA was established [as the Defence Housing Authority] in 1988, the ADF had a structural and escalating personnel retention problem because of poor and distant housing provided through ad hoc arrangements with State housing commissions.

DHA must be fully retained as the efficient, innovative, responsive and purpose-designed GBE it is.

The DHA Board also requires more directors with housing industry experience.

 

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