Doorstop Interview, 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 May 2024

SUBJECTS: Defence housing Townsville. 

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: (Inaudible) Defence Housing Australia has gone out to the market to construct about 500 new properties here in Townsville, to house those troops and their families and to provide additional housing for the local community here in Townsville. So, this is a win for the Defence population but it’s also a win for the local Townsville community, with additional housing being constructed. 

JOURNALIST: And on those 500 properties, what’s the timeline on getting those constructed?  

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It will occur over the next five years. At Aitkenvale, we’re just about to announce plans for the construction of 140 homes down by the Ross River and that will go out to tender in the coming months and half of those homes will be for Defence housing and the rest will be for the local community. So, there's a big opportunity for local businesses to engage with Defence Housing Australia to construct those properties to provide that additional housing for the Townsville community. 

JOURNALIST: I just spoke to Phil Thompson, he said that it's a good idea for investors to get in. I know you just mentioned local businesses, is that also something you’d be looking to partner with? 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: We've put out an expression of interest for investors and businesses to construct 500 homes. They can be Greenfield developments, they can be existing properties that Defence Housing Australia will lease into the future for Defence Force personnel and their families. So, there's a big opportunity for investors and local businesses to either construct those new homes or to provide them from the existing housing crop.

JOURNALIST: And Townsville has only now been put on this priority list, why is it only now that it has been?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Townsville has been a priority for the Government for many, many years, this is a great garrison town. In the wake of the announcement of the National Defence Strategy, we know that there's going to be an additional rotation of troops coming to the area, but it's going to take course over the next four to five years. It's not going to be immediate, and that provides us with the time to plan those additional troops moving to the area and to build the housing that will accommodate them, as well as building additional housing for the local community.

JOURNALIST: And obviously, as you said some will be single, do you what percentage will be living on base as opposed to in Townsville? 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Of the 500 troops, almost half of those will be single, unaccompanied and will live on bases at RAAF Base Townsville and at Lavarack Barracks in the live in accommodation. The remaining 250 odd and their families will be living in the local community in family housing, and that will be constructed by Defence Housing Australia, and it will be leased in the local community. So, Defence Housing Australia will not only construct those properties for Defence Force members, but they always construct additional properties that can be sold or leased members to members of the local community as well.

JOURNALIST: Townsville has a 1% vacancy rate of properties, is that a concern for Defence Housing Australia?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: That's why we're constructing additional properties to add to the supply of local housing for Townsville and also to ensure that we've got a combination to meet the increasing demand with troops moving to the area over the next five years. At the moment, Defence has about 1250 properties that they only manage and about 100 of those are vacant, so there’s spare capacity in the system at the moment. But over time, that will fill up and we'll construct those new properties to ensure that we're meeting that demand as it grows into the future. 

JOURNALIST: And then just finally, I just spoke to Phil, and he said it's almost too little too late to put this priority title there. Do you agree or disagree?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It’s been a focus of the Government - the Townsville area and the north of Australia - since we came to government, and we immediately started working on ensuring that we made the investments in additional housing in this area.I think it's worth pointing out that there's spare capacity in the system at the moment. So, there are properties that can cater for additional troops in the short term. And in the medium to longer term, we're building those additional properties to ensure that there's not only housing for Defence Force members, but there's additional housing for the Townsville community as well and that will take some of the pressure off the local housing market, as well as providing that support for Defence members and their families.

JOURNALIST: For Adelaide families that are coming up next year, would your message be don’t worry, you’ll be okay?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: These families that are relocating are part of the ordinary posting process of the Australian Defence Force. No one is being forced to relocate. Everyone has the option to relocate here as part of the ordinary posting cycle and we're planning and making sure that those properties are available and will be able to accommodate those families that are moving north and ensuring they can have rewarding and fulfilling careers working in the Australian Defence Force. Working in what is a traditional garrison town and a wonderful part of Australia.

JOURNALIST: What’s going to happen to the people around the houses in Aitkenvale? Are they going to be moved out or? 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: In Aitkenvale there’s about 70 properties, most of those are uninhabitable. They're in a state of disrepair and not up to scratch for housing Australian Defence Force personnel. There are a small number of properties that have people living in them and obviously they would have been given notice that their tenancies will come to an end and the new housing will be constructed. We’re basically doubling the number of houses that will be situated in Aitkenvale and half of those will go to the local community, so they're going to be further housing options for the local community in the future in that area. 

JOURNALIST: Are they flood damaged houses or why are they uninhabitable?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: They’ve been damaged from natural disasters, they've been rundown over a period of time, they haven't been given upgrades in the past, and it's part of the normal process of some of these properties going through their ordinary life cycle and needing to be replaced. So, Defence Housing Australia will upgrade those properties by constructing new properties that are fit for purpose for housing Defence Force personnel, and state of the art properties for the local community as well.


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