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Defence barracks, airport considered for privatisation

An Australian Army S-70A-9 Black Hawk helicopter lands at Victoria barracks in Sydney for a visit from the Minister for Defence, the Honourable Peter Dutton MP, in 2021. Photo: CPL Dustin Anderson

A surplus of Defence estate land will be converted to housing, according to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, while Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has branded the idea as a “fire sale”.

A surplus of Defence estate land will be converted to housing, according to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, while Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has branded the idea as a “fire sale”.

Prime Minister Albanese made the comments during a press conference in Newcastle, NSW, on Saturday, 17 February, when questioned about plans for the Department of Defence to offload prime real estate to fund military acquisitions and the updating of bases.

“We are operating very clearly in accordance with the Defence Review that took place,” he said.

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“When we have surplus land of course, from time to time, that will be dealt with, in order to build housing, as one of the things that we need to do with public land in general whether it’s Commonwealth or state land.

“We are very confident that we have got the Defence Strategic Review, it provides a roadmap going forward, and that’s what we’re operating from.”

Last week, concerns were raised about the possible privatisation of Victoria barracks in Sydney and Melbourne, during the Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade legislation committee (Senate estimates) meeting on 14 February.

In addition, Senators queried whether Wagga Wagga Airport, owned by Defence and leased to local government, was also being considered for privatisation. The site houses two airlines, a hub for air medical transport and has previously been treated for PFAS contamination by Defence.

The meeting was notified that the airport’s lease ends on 30 June 2025 and there would be an approach to market for commercial lease arrangement.

Defence’s estate asset portfolio includes bases, barracks, ports, and live fire training ranges across the nation. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said his party would not support a “fire sale” of Defence assets.

“(Defence estate assets are) steeped in heritage, it does a great disservice to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, not just those who are serving, but those who have served our country and indeed those who have lost their lives fighting for our country,” he said.

“Closing down and trashing the history of the Australian Defence Force is not something that the Coalition will support.

“The Coalition will not support the Albanese government’s fire sale of Defence assets, because they’ve spent money everywhere else and they’ve now run out of money, so they either increase taxes or they start attacking Defence.

“When Labor was last in government, they reduced spending in Defence down to the lowest level since 1938 – 1.56 per cent of GDP. We’ve got a situation now where the government is trying to patch up, obviously, a black hole that they’ve got in their budget.

“They’ve spent $209 billion extra money just in the last 18 months, and selling off assets and historic buildings within the Defence estate portfolio is not something that can be supported.

“I want to make it very clear to the Prime Minister: we will not support his fire sale of Defence assets, because that’s where our soldiers, and our sailors, all of those Defence Force personnel, all of the Navy personnel at those establishments, that’s where they work.

“If the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister got out of Canberra and went and visited some of those Defence establishments, they’d actually see that they work in facilities. This is where the men and women of the Australian Defence Force are working every day to keep us safe, and now the Prime Minister wants to sell their workplace.

“It’s completely and utterly unacceptable.”

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