Doorstop interview, Lavarack Barracks, Townsville

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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23 January 2024

SUBJECTS: Investment in Townsville defence bases; strengthening northern bases; local QLD jobs; Townsville defence housing.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: It's great to be back here at Lavarack Barracks. I'm here to announce that the Albanese Government is investing $35 million in infrastructure upgrades here and at RAAF Base Townsville to ensure that our northern bases are ready for action and that our troops have the best facilities possible if they are needed to be called out. These investments are really important for this local community and the local economy. The upgrade works will include upgrades to messes, to the working dog facility here at Lavarack Barracks, over at the RAAF Base it includes the regimental headquarters upgrade, upgrades to hangars and water infrastructure. These are vitally important investments to ensure the ongoing functioning of our bases and to make sure that they are fit for purpose and that our troops have the best facilities possible.

This is one of 65 projects that the government is undertaking across Australia. Investing $356 million in better defence facilities in every state and territory throughout the country. The majority of these projects are in Queensland with about $116 million worth of investment here in Queensland. The great thing about these projects is that they are a partnership between Defence and local industry, and many small to medium sized enterprises will be involved in delivering this work for Defence and that will include Indigenous businesses. In the process, 615 jobs will be created in the local economy through this $35 million investment and thousands across Australia. It's one of many projects that the Albanese Government is investing in to ensure that our defence facilities in the north are fit for purpose, and that our troops are ready for action.

I'd also like to just pay tribute to and thank the Australian Defence Force personnel who have been involved in disaster recovery work up here in the North. Ever since Cyclone Jasper hit they've been involved in providing relief to isolated communities, we’ve deployed Chinook helicopters and littoral manoeuvrability to the region to ensure that those cut off communities had access to food, water and could repair in the wake of that devastation. A couple of weeks ago I was also down in Logan thanking the volunteers from Disaster Relief Australia for the work that they're doing and ensuring that we can recover from natural disasters such as the ones that we've seen recently. It’s a team of predominantly veterans and previous first responders who have that capacity and that skill to be mission ready and to go out and deploy to assist with recovery and I was pleased to be able to thank them for their work and the important work that they're doing in supporting local communities as they rebuild. That's why the Albanese Government is investing $38 million in Disaster Relief Australia to ensure that they have the support that they need to perform that important work. Happy to take some questions.

Journalist: Firstly, what will this funding go towards?

Assistant Minister: So here at Lavarack Barracks it will be involved in providing new messes such as this one, so that the troops have access to better facilities, air-conditioned facilities and we all know that you can't fight on an empty stomach and ensuring that the troops get access to better facilities is really important. The working dog facilities, the working dog training facility that's here, that’s such an important part of the Australian Defence Force that will get an upgrade as well. Over at the RAAF base, there'll be important upgrades to the regimental headquarters, as well as a number of hangars and some water infrastructure as well. So these are smaller to medium sized projects, but vitally important to the workability and the liveability of our bases.

Journalist: When can we expect to see these upgrades completed?

Assistant Minister: Some of the work started already. The majority of the work will take place during 2024 and some into 2025. It's one of 65 projects that are beginning throughout the course of this year across the country to ensure that we have better defence facilities, particularly in the north of Australia.

Journalist: And can you tell us a bit about the job boost this will provide for the region?

Assistant Minister: This will create 615 direct jobs and further indirect jobs in this local area. We're not just talking about any jobs they are high skilled, high paid, important jobs in construction, in engineering, in planning and logistics. All important jobs for the local community delivered through cooperation with local defence industries, small to medium sized enterprises and a number of Indigenous businesses to get the opportunity to train the next generation of Australians in the trades and provide them with those employment opportunities in the public service.

Journalist: How important is it to strengthen bases here in the north?

Assistant Minister: The Defence Strategic Review indicated that we do need to invest more in the north in infrastructure upgrades and that's exactly what the Albanese Government is doing. Over the course of the last six months, I visited HMAS Cairns where we're about to start work on an upgrade to the wharf facility there. Scherger in the north, is about to get an upgrade as well. When you move over to the Northern Territory, I’ve visited RAAF Base Tindal where the works that have been undertaken there are about to be completed. RAAF base Darwin, the runway is getting an upgrade. A few months ago I visited the Greenvale Training Area up here in Queensland, we're about to start work on an upgrade there. Then you move over to RAAF Base Curtin in Western Australia, where upgrade works to the runway and associated infrastructure is about to start. All of the infrastructure in the north of Australia in the Defence Force is receiving upgrades to ensure that it's fit for purpose and that our troops are ready if they’re needed.

Journalist: In terms of the Adelaide ratio. Is there any - what's the housing plan look like for those hundreds of soldiers coming up from Adelaide?

Assistant Minister: Yeah, over the course of the next five years, there's going to be more troops coming into Townsville with a restructure of Army. At the moment Defence Housing Australia operates 1,113 properties in the Townsville region. 75 of those at the moment are vacant. So, there is some capacity in the local housing market at the moment. Defence also provides on base accommodation, but we also support the needs and the wants of Defence Force members as well. Some members want the flexibility to live in their own home and to have their own mortgage. Something to invest in in the future. So we had the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme that provides that assistance. Some members want to rent their own property and there's rental subsidies and support to ensure that. The government is also undertaking a review of the adequacy of defence housing across Australia and that review is being conducted at the moment. They've been doing roundtables across the country and we held one here in November at the base that I came to, where the reviewers sat down with about 100 troops from Lavarack Barracks and RAAF Base Darwin to hear their views about what they'd like to see in terms of housing support for members of the Australian Defence Force into the future. So, there will be a need for additional housing in the area and Defence, the government and Defence Housing Australia is planning for that at the moment.

Journalist: So on that plan, I know there were talks about some development in Aitkenvale, which is nearby. Is that still going ahead?

Assistant Minister: Yeah there are plans for Defence Housing Australia to redevelop Aitkenvale. I met with the Mayor in November when I was up here to discuss those plans and this morning on the way here travelled to Aitkenvale to take a look at those properties. They are in need of an upgrade and Defence Housing Australia is now working with Townsville City Council to start that planning work and to provide that accommodation into the future. So I think over the next two to three years you’re going to see that work commenced and be completed so that we've got better facilities in the Aitkenvale area, hopefully more housing that will accommodate those troops as they grow into the future.

Journalist: Do we have any numbers on how many family members will accompany the 500 soldiers maybe to town?

Assistant Minister: Yeah, obviously there's a range of different scenarios that people have that are moving to Townsville. I do want to point out that these transfers will be part of the ordinary posting cycle. So we're not asking people to uproot their lives and suddenly move north. It will be part of the ordinary posting cycle and it will take the next four to five years for that transition to take place. Many of them will be single and will be able to move into on base accommodation or a rental property in the local community. Some of them will be with families and will need larger accommodation and may wish to do their own thing. The government's currently working with Defence to scope out that to understand what the needs are going to be and then we'll work with Defence Housing Australia and the Defence Force to ensure that we've got all those housing options available for people as they move up.

Journalist: Has any funding been allocated to housing development in Townsville for Defence?

Assistant Minister: Well, Defence Housing Australia is investing in Aitkenvale and that will be a big investment. The preliminary work is being done at the moment to ensure that we know how much is required, what form of development that will take and the plans for construction. And again, that will be done in cooperation with local industry. So we are investing that in the local region. But I do want to point out once again, that at the moment there is spare capacity in Defence Housing Australia in the local region. It is continually monitored. It's monitored on an annual basis and Defence will work with Defence Housing Australia and provide them with the forecasts for the required housing into the future and then Defence Housing Australia and the government responds by ensuring that the housing is available.

Journalist: I just wanted to ask, is the funding today, is that a part of the upgrades that need to happen before the hundreds of families of troops do relocate to Townsville?

Assistant Minister: These are upgrades that happen because infrastructure needs to be updated because facilities become worn out and we want to make sure the Australian Defence Force personnel have the best experience they possibly can as members of our nation who are serving our country, and that means continually upgrading facilities such as this. These are important, small to medium size, infrastructure investments that improve the liveability of bases. Ensuring that messes have air conditioning and that people can eat and socialise in comfort. All those types of upgrades include improve the sociability and the liveability of our bases, and ultimately attract more people to the Australian Defence Force.


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