Time for a fresh look at acquisition legislation for public purpose

18 July 2022

Time for a fresh look at acquisition legislation for public purpose

Oliver Scott Young

TFGA President Ian Sauer thinks that now is an ideal time for an independent or parliamentary inquiry into the Land Acquisition Act 1993, which allows for the authorised acquisition of land for the purpose of infrastructure.

Land Acquisition Act 1993

An Act to make provision for the acquisition of land by the Crown, public and local authorities and promoters, to authorize the acquisition of land for undertakings of a public nature, to provide for matters incidental to, and consequential on, that acquisition, and to repeal the Lands Clauses Act 1857, the Lands Resumption Act 1957 and the Public Authorities' Land Acquisition Act 1949

“Tasmania is in golden age of infrastructure development and opportunity, and we need to ensure our legislation is “fit for purpose”. We need to know that it is fair and transparent for all parties involved.

“I think we need to review the Act (Land Acquisition Act 1993) as I don’t think it was ever designed or intended to swing over the heads of farmers and private land-owners as an excuse for poor communication or lack of information sharing,” said Ian.

“We need to ensure that there is fairness, equal access to information and transparency in the decision process. Often we seem to be dealing with GBEs and SOCs (Government Business Enterprises or State-owned Companies) that have far greater resources to spend on consultant reports and in-house experts, yet seem to be unable to share this information with farmers.”

The Act like so many government documents is wordy and hard to understand. Luckily the Office of the Valuer-General published a nifty document, “Owner’s Guide - PURCHASE OR COMPULSORY ACQUISITION OF PROPERTY BY THE CROWN FOR A PUBLIC PURPOSE” this four pager explains how the system works.

Right on the front page it clearly states, “The decision to acquire your land is not taken lightly and in all cases, each alternative is considered before contacting you.”

It goes on to say… “The land can be acquired ‘compulsorily’, if the acquiring authority considers it essential that a particular property or parcel of land is required for a public purpose. This eliminates any misunderstandings or doubts that the land is needed….”

Just in case you were wondering who is going to get the final say …. “Whilst the acquiring authority looks at property from an operational perspective, in most cases two Ministers make the final decision and approve a compulsory acquisition – they are, the Minister responsible for the acquiring authority and the Minister responsible for the Act.”

This afternoon I stood on a members’ farm at Cressy, it is crisscrossed with various infrastructure – transmission towers, tailraces channels and high voltage poles and wires. Their family absolutely understands the need for public infrastructure, but I am left with the feeling that there has to be a way for the GBEs and SOCs work together to minimise the impact on some of the best farming land in the world. Surely these government companies could work together to share easements and other infrastructure? I also wonder if there is any regard for the dignity of these farmers. An irrigation scheme was fully sold before they came to our member and informed him they would need to acquire over 5% of his land to locate a dam. 20ha in the middle of his farm, right outside his front door, they would have to take down his irrigator and move his cattle yards. Other parts of his property would now become isolated and he would need to use the road to move stock between paddocks. When he asked for the GBE to share the research into other possible solutions he was denied even after going through a freedom of information process.

I keep thinking, this isn’t how this legislation was meant to be used, it was never intended as a band-aid for lack of consultation.

The news is full of planning for major infrastructure projects, I believe now is an ideal time to make sure our legislation is “fit for purpose”, that farmers and private land-owners can be assured of a fair and transparent process in acquisition of land for public purpose.

Picture: Oliver Scott-Young, TFGA Member, Palmerston