The Abbott Government has announced it will sell the historic Leeuwin Barracks in East Fremantle in a move that will likely net the cash-strapped Commonwealth more than $100 million.
As foreshadowed by The West Australian earlier this year, the Government has today confirmed it will sell the site for exclusive private housing, declaring the base no longer has any strategic value.
Leeuwin barracks, once home to the Navy’s cadet training base, covers about 15 hectares and sits alongside the Swan River.
The prime piece of real estate boasts views across Fremantle port and out to Rottnest Island.
It is understood developers would likely squeeze about 250 new dwellings onto the site
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Darren Chester said said residential units from Leeuwin Barracks would be relocated to Karrakata’s Irwin Barracks, and the site may be leased back by Defence if the sale proceeds before the relocation is complete.”
“The Defence estate is ageing and the cost of sustaining it is expensive and increasing,” he said.
“Selling the Leeuwin Barracks site will reduce Defence’s maintenance costs, and any proceeds will be reinvested in support of the Australian Defence Force,” Mr Chester said.
The sale of Leeuwin follows a recent report which warned Defence did not have enough money to maintain its vast estate of military bases around the country.
As well as Leeuwin, the Government is also currently mulling a controversial redevelopment of Seaward Village, the so called “marriage patch” for elite SASR soldiers based at Swanbourne’s Campbell Barracks.
It is understood a large amount of work will have to be done to clean up Leeuwin before it is sold.
There is thought to be a significant amount of asbestos on the site.
A major inquiry found that Leeuwin was the scene of brutal abuse of hundreds junior recruits in the 1960s and 1970s.
Former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith commissioned the inquiry into HMAS Leeuwin in 2012 after a wider inquiry into abuse and bastardisation in the Defence identified a huge number of cases specific to the former Fremantle training base.
HMAS Leeuwin was a junior recruit training establishment run by the Navy from 1960 to 1984.
Most of the recruits were aged between 15 to 17 at the time they entered Leeuwin.
The inquiry said it had received almost 240 complaints of abuse from former recruits.
One in 10 of all abuse complaints the taskforce has received are about treatment at HMAS Leeuwin.
Among the worst testimonies were tales of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by senior officers and staff at HMAS Leeuwin on cadets.
Abuse included brutal physical assaults, painful and humiliating initiation practices and serious sexual abuse perpetrated by both staff members and other junior recruits, the taskforce heard.
Former junior recruits told of being scrubbed daily with sandsoap until their skin bled, being held down while boot polish was smeared onto their genitals or an object such as a mop handle was forced into their anus, or having a vacuum cleaner forcibly applied to their genitals.
Much of the abuse went unreported or unpunished.
The report also found there was a more general culture of bastardisation and bullying rife at the training station condoned by senior officers.
Former recruits have told how they were sexually abused by older recruits as part of a violent cycle of initiation and hazing.