Defence homes face bulldozer

Nick Butterly and Kate Emery
Defence homes face bulldozer

Homes for families of Special Air Service Regiment soldiers at Swanbourne could be demolished or sold as part of a massive redevelopment of the sensitive area.

But Defence Minister David Johnston has angered wives of SASR soldiers after he suggested they wanted smaller backyards because they had no time to maintain their gardens.

The head of Defence Housing Australia confirmed yesterday the agency was considering bulldozing some residential areas of Seaward Village - the residential area for SASR families on the boundary of Campbell Barracks.

Parts would be redeveloped to build new military homes and other areas would be sold to private bidders.

Defence sources have suggested as much as 40 per cent of village housing could be sold off - fetching tens of millions of dollars for the Federal Government.

DHA head Peter Howman told a Senate hearing yesterday the use of land at Swanbourne was "extremely inefficient" and blocks for Defence homes were much larger than those given to military personnel in other parts of the country.

Mr Howman said SASR families regularly complained about the size of backyards at Swanbourne.

"We get a lot of complaints by the spouses mowing those very big backyards," he said.

Senator Johnston backed the DHA chief, telling the Senate hearing SASR soldiers were often away on training and missions, leaving wives to run the home.

"Most of the men of the households are often away for extended periods and accordingly that burden to maintain the gardens and surrounds of the house is proving to be somewhat of an issue," he said.

But wives of SASR soldiers told _The West Australian _they loved their big backyards.

"With respect the Defence Minister is completely out of touch and he should actually come down and talk to the women who are very proud of how they continue on without their partners," one SASR spouse told _The West _.

"I find that comment outrageous and frankly quite sexist.

"When your partner is going away as much as ours a yard is actually more important to give the kids a safe space to play."

SASR families are said to be particularly worried about security and fear that higher density housing could bring more prying eyes to the area.

"We are more worried about the safety of being an SAS family when our partners are fighting overseas," one spouse said.

Another source said elite soldiers were "seriously pissed off" at the idea land housing SASR families could be sold for development because they feared families could be moved to other DHA-owned housing far from the barracks.

The village houses about 150 families of soldiers.

SAS Association chairman Terry Nolan acknowledged unease in the ranks at the prospect of a sale but said he would be surprised if it happened.

"I've heard of no plans to reduce the size of the village and I would be most surprised if that was to happen," he said.

A former village resident, he said it made sense to redevelop and rationalise some DHA stock. He said some couples may prefer a townhouse.

"The current housing stock in Seaward Village is really built around the nuclear family of mum, dad and 2.4 kids, whereas that doesn't meet the needs of some of the newly married, the newly partnered-up or the older people," he said.

Asked about Mr Johnston's comments he said they had to be taken "in the context in which (they were) made".

"None of us particularly like the idea of mowing yards any larger than we have to," he said.

The Government has put DHA on a short list of government agencies for possible privatisation.