Defence must keep listening to concerns of SAS families

Editorial | The West Australian
The SAS in operation in Afghanistan. Picture: Department of Defence

Seaward Village in Swanbourne is an unusual defence property. It is one of the last defence housing estates located next to a military base. It has been home to generations of Special Air Service Regiment soldiers and their families.

It has 153 houses and provides a real community for these families, an important part of their lives given the work the soldiers do and the fact they are often away overseas for extended periods.

But Defence Housing Australia put this way of life under threat with a plan to sell part of the Seaward Village land to private land developers. It wants to replace the ageing houses, most of which were built in the 1950s, with a range of housing styles, including homes on smaller blocks and apartments.

Upgrading the housing stock is a reasonable proposition but the initial plan met resistance from residents, who were concerned at the loss of the special nature of the community. They also had worries about security, with non-military neighbours moving in and the shift to smaller blocks.

The move to sell a big chunk of the valuable beachside real estate gave rise to suspicions that the idea was more about raising revenue than anything else.

But there are encouraging signs that DHA has listened to the concerns of the SAS community and is willing to act on them.

It has now emerged that the plan involves the sale of 25 per cent of the Seaward site, and not 40 per cent as originally thought.

DHA estimates the sale could raise more than $100 million. This money would be ploughed into the redevelopment, although it would not be enough to cover the full cost. The number of dwellings will be increased to 165. Importantly, none of the families would be forced to move elsewhere.

DHA has also undertaken to do a full security review of the proposal by Special Operations Commander Maj-Gen. Jeff Sengelman.

This review is of critical importance. Nothing should happen on this site that threatens the security of the base or the families who live adjacent.

There are quite reasonable concerns that an influx of non-defence residents into the area could pose a security risk. It is well known that the SAS goes out of its way to protect the identities of its soldiers. It is proposed that SAS families be separated from civilian homes by a buffer zone but there is still a risk that these changes could upset the protected status of the community.

DHA and Federal politicians must acknowledge that the SAS community is a special case. The regiment is of great importance to WA and there is a wide interest in ensuring that its members and their families, who sacrifice a lot in their service to the nation, are looked after.

Upgrading their housing is obviously a practical way of catering for their needs. But the process must not involve any compromises which undermine their safety or the special nature of their community.