Defence Housing Australia appoints new acting MD amidst privatisation fears

By on 03/11/2015
Jan Mason (pictured), deputy secretary, business, procurement and asset management at the Department of Finance, will take over on a temporary basis from Howman. Photo credit: DHA

The Australian organisation which supplies housing to members of the military and their families has appointed an acting managing director after the shock departure of its previous chief.

Peter Howman’s resignation as Defence Housing Australia (DHA) managing director was announced yesterday by the organisation’s chairman Sandy Macdonald, who confirmed Howman’s “immediate departure.”

Hours later, DHA published a press release announcing that Jan Mason, deputy secretary, business, procurement and asset management at the Department of Finance, would take over on a temporary basis from Howman, “who is pursuing other opportunities.”

Today, Australian Defence Force (ADF) chief Mark Binskin took the unusual step to announce that his organisation “supports the continuation of DHA as a government-owned entity” – an indication he is concerned over potential privatisation plans.

He added: “The DHA provides a single point of contact that understands the unique requirements and demands military service can present.

“The DHA provides an essential service to Australia Defence Force personnel and their families, which in turn supports Australia’s military capability,” he said.

“Defence and DHA have built a positive and productive relationship over many years to meet the specific housing needs of ADF personnel that helps to mitigate some of the challenges associated with service life.”

The Abbott government considered privatising DHA and commissioned a scoping study in the 2014 budget. The company was valued at $2.2bn during the process, but the government ruled out privatisation in May “at this time.”

In the period between Prime Minister Tony Abbott being removed and Malcolm Turnbull appointing a new minister responsible for defence housing last month, the defence industry claims that the Department of Finance instigated moves that resulted in the DHA board forcing out Howman – a fierce supporter of DHA staying in public hands – last Thursday.

The night before – on Wednesday, 28 October, Howman was named “CEO of the year” at the annual Customer Service Institute of Australia awards.

The fact that defence minister Marise Payne and finance minister Mathias Cormann, both shareholders in the DHA, supported Howman’s removal has stoked fears in defence about cost cutting or another push at privatisation, the Financial Review (FR) reports today.

The finance department rejected claims that it was privatising the DHA and said in a statement that the government “decided not to proceed with a sale of DHA,” which owns or leases an estimated $10bn in property.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann also took to Twitter to confirm the government had decided against the sale and that the decision had been announced in May: ‘Government announced back in May that it would not privatise Defence Housing Australia’, he tweeted today, linking to a May press release.

DHA chairman Macdonald said in a statement that, “as a former member of the Royal Australian Air Force, Peter [Howman] was extremely passionate about defence housing.

“He worked hard and supported a number of initiatives to improve the way we engage with ADF members and families, and optimise their service experience.

“In light of Peter’s departure, the board has moved quickly to appoint Ms Jan Mason, a highly respected former deputy secretary of the Department of Finance, as acting managing director effective from Monday, 2 November.”

Mason left her role at Finance yesterday, where she was responsible for taxpayers’ multibillion-dollar investments in government businesses including DHA; oversight of major government construction projects, technology and procurement; and reform of the Air Warfare Destroyer Program.

Prior to this Mason was deputy secretary of the former Asset Management and Parliamentary Services Group from April 2010, deputy secretary of the former Corporate and Parliamentary Services Group from August 2007 and deputy secretary/general manager of the former Ministerial and Parliamentary Services Group from January 2001.

She joined the Australian public service in 1991 from the New South Wales public service.

Mason holds degrees in arts from the University of New England and social science from Charles Sturt University, as well as a postgraduate diploma in continuing education from the University of New England. She has also completed the advanced management program at the Harvard Business School.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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