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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 556

Senator PETER BAUME(10.30) —Earlier today I asked a question concerning the problems facing people at Badgerys Creek. Following what was an unsatisfactory answer, it is necessary to set out the events surrounding the Badgerys Creek decision and the failure of the Government to honour the pro- mises it made to the residents. Some time after December 1985, probably early 1986, the Government announced its decision that Badgerys Creek would be the site of the second Sydney airport, and a glossy brochure was issued outlining the decision and setting out the area of land involved. In that glossy brochure the Government said, inter alia:

The Government will need to acquire all properties within the site. This will done initially by the method known as ``acquisition by agreement''. Existing property owners or business owners will be invited to sell their properties at a time which is convenient to themselves, their families, or, where appropriate, their business partners.

The people in the involved area then received two pieces of correspondence: One dated 24 February 1986 was issued on the letterhead of the Minister for Aviation (Mr Peter Morris) and signed by him-the appropriate Minister. That letter set out to the people involved in the area the circumstances surrounding the choice and the consequences for them. Page 2 of that letter reads:

It is the Government's wish that, as far as possible, the acquisition of land in the airport site will be voluntary. In other words, you can sell your land to the Commonwealth right now and I guarantee that you will get a fair market price as determined by the independent government valuer.

What Mr Morris was saying in that letter dated 24 February 1986 was that people in the affected area could sell their land right now and that the Government would purchase it at a price to be determined by the valuer. The following day a letter was sent by the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services, which is the line department involved in the purchase of the land, signed over the name of `A. Gallery, Chief Property Officer for New South Wales'. This letter set out the means by which land would be acquired and it said at page 2:

In effect this means that there are three options available to you-

(a) immediate sale by agreement;

I stress the word `immediate'. Then there was set out the two other means by which land could be acquired. Many of the residents in the affected area accepted the fact that the Government had made a decision. They were aware of the fact that they could sell their land to no one else but the Government since it was now designated as part of the site of the new Sydney second airport. They could not borrow on it or carry out long term improvements, and many of them determined that they would sell. What transpired then was that the Government, having told them in two letters, one from Mr Morris and one from the Chief Property Officer, that they could sell now-and in Mr Morris's words `right now'-could not pay for the land that it had promised to buy. What happened was that the Government discovered that it just did not have enough cash.

During July, before the Expenditure Review Committee which was helping the Government determine its Budget, the Government reversed its decision and decided to limit its acquisitions to only a class of the property owners within the airport site-that class which had entered into firm agreements by that date or which had undertaken firm commitments to purchase other properties. This was in spite of the fact that the Government, in writing from two departments of state, had told 241 title holders in the site area that they could sell their land right now; it would be an immediate sale. The Government, through the Executive arm in the Budget preparation, now determined otherwise. In this year's Budget $9.5m was set aside for the purchase of properties in the Badgerys Creek area. The Minister for Aviation issued a news release on 25 July 1986 which did not make clear that the Government was reneging on its promise. It said:

The Federal Government is continuing to provide money to meet its commitments to buy properties for the second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek.

It did not say that it was providing a quite inadequate amount of money; not nearly as much money as was required to purchase the properties of the people who are now locked into this area of the new airport, and who wanted the Government to buy the properties, and who wanted the Government to honour what it had told them in writing. Of course, that much money was not provided. From August, after the Budget appeared, the Government started writing letters to many of the people who hold land in the affected airport area in the following terms:

As you may be aware from recent press reports or other sources, the Government will continue to provide funds for the purchase of properties in the nominated Second Sydney Airport site at Badgerys Creek in the financial year 1986/87. The level of funding will, however only enable us to proceed with the purchase of properties from those people to whom we have already made a firm offer and from a limited number of people who had, on or before 25 July 1986, entered into a firm commitment for the purchase of another property as a direct result of the Government's announcement of Badgerys Creek as the site for the development of a Second Sydney Airport.

The Government goes on to say to these people:

On the information presently available to us, you do not appear to fall into either of the above categories and on present indications we will not be in a position to purchase your property in the current financial year.

And the letter goes on. That letter went out to a large number of the property holders. Let us consider the position of these people: They are locked into an area of land; they know it will be acquired from them either by agreement or compulsorily later on; it is virtually unmarketable; many of them need to get out and start to reorganise their lives elsewhere; the Government has promised that it will buy the property right now-to use the Government's words immediately-and it is now clearly reneging on the agreement it made with these residents, my electors and Senator Gietzelt's electors. The Government reneged on the agreement that it made to them. I have letters to several of the people to whom the Government wrote in these terms.

Not only that, but the amount of money provided in the Budget, $9.5m, is insufficient even to allow the Government to do what it promised in those post-Budget letters. It cannot even buy all the properties that fall into that narrow class that it decided would be eligible. I have before me a copy of a letter, written over the signature of Mr Tom Uren, the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services, dated 20 January 1987, written to the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), which was the source of the question I asked the Minister today. I will read the letter as it will not take long. It reads:

20 Jan 1987

Dear Minister

I am writing to you concerning the funds required for the acquisition of properties for the second Sydney airport site at Badgerys Creek.

You will recall that in July the Expenditure Review Committee decided to limit the acquisition of properties in 1986/87 for this project to those properties on which firm offers had been made, and those properties whose owners had entered into a firm commitment to purchase another property on or before 25 July 1986. For this purpose a total of $9.5m was provided in the Budget.

At the time, it was not known whether all of the offers made by the Commonwealth would be accepted or how many property owners had entered into a firm commitment before 25 July 1986 to purchase another property.

The situation now is that fifty-four properties with a total acquisition cost of $10.25m (includes costs of private valuations, conveyancing and resettlement expenses) have now been identified. To date this financial year, offers have been made to 50 owners and agreement reached with most of these. As the $9.5m appropriated for the purpose is fully committed, my Department is unable to make offers to the remaining four owners agreed to by Government. Consequently, I seek your agreement to the provision of up to an additional $750,000 cash in 1986/87. If you agree to this request I propose that cash be sought as required, depending on the timing of acceptances of owners of offers made to them, at Departmental level.

I would also like to advise you of two other matters related to this project. The first concerns a number of approaches from owners claiming particular hardship arising from their need to sell their Badgerys Creek property. These cases are not covered by this submission or by the Government's previous decisions. The Prime Minister has suggested that a submission be presented to Cabinet on hardship cases early in 1987.

The second matter concerns the current estimate of the acquisition cost for this project. The Taxation Office valuers have now provided a revised estimate of cost for the acquisition of all the land required for the second Sydney airport. The new estimate is $60m (in 1987 dollars) and includes a provision for costs associated with private valuations, conveyancing and resettlement expenses. Note however that the eventual requirement is likely to exceed this figure with the amount of the increase largely dependent on timing of the actual acquisitions.

That involves the simple fact that in current dollar terms the amount might be higher. The letter concludes:

I am sending a copy of this correspondence to our colleagues the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aviation.

It is signed by Mr Uren. For the Government to keep the promise it made to the residents in the acquisition area of Badgerys Creek would require $60m this financial year. This Government, far from providing the money to keep its promise, has provided $9.25m and if Mr Uren is successful we may get another three-quarters of a million dollars, which will bring it to $10.25m.

Senator Kilgariff —They should be sued.

Senator PETER BAUME —One wonders whether the two letters that came to the residents with written offers from the Government saying that they could sell right now constituted an offer in legal terms. They probably did not. But whatever the legal situation, the Government has a moral and political duty to honour the promise it made. These are little people; their life savings are committed to these properties and they can do nothing with their lives until this Government meets its obligations-the obligations it made, the promises it made and the promises it has not kept and is not keeping. I have some absolutely pathetic letters from people living in the area outlining the kind of difficulties they face. I have a letter from a Mr Eckhardt who lives in Elizabeth Drive, at the edge of the acquisition area. I quote one paragraph of the letter:

For seven years my partner and I have struggled to establish a business capable of supporting ourselves on this site. During this period we have had to sacrifice some basic living conditions in the belief that those forebearances would be rewarded in the long term. As an illustration my family (until recently) together with my partner have lived in a single house on the property with the intention of building a proper family home when the income from the business could pay for it. That goal was becoming realisable when the airport decision was handed down. In view of the sacrifices my wife made for the long term ambition of a home of which she could be justifiably proud the announcement was a bitter and insufferable assault on her pride and belief in rewards flowing to those who work for them. For the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services to offer in place of the right to a personal home, leased accommodation in the area was cold, callous and intimidating. As a direct consequence of the matrimonial pressures flowing from the thwarting of our personal ambitions my wife has now left the matrimonial home with my child. Despite appeals to the responsible Minister there has been no response at this human level and I am forced to believe that the Government does not care that such human problems are a cost which it is not concerned about avoiding.

This is a very simple matter. We are looking at a problem involving $60m. The Government has an enormous national debt. The Government made two offers in writing to the people in this acquisition area and these people are entitled to have the Government make good those offers.

Senator Michael Baume —They were just a political stunt.

Senator PETER BAUME —It was a political stunt and the proof of the Government's intentions will be in its actions. It said: `You can sell right now'; and some people were foolish enough to believe that the Government meant just that. What concerns me is that there is an immense amount of human suffering by people who are now in a position where they cannot sell their properties. They cannot develop them, they cannot move away and they cannot make a living where they are. The Government is entitled to acquire land for its airport-that is all right-and the Government is entitled to have made the offers it did, but it is required to make good those offers and it has failed to do so. People who are my constituents-more than that, people who are citizens of this country-are suffering today as a direct consequence of this Labor Government action which is disgraceful, unnecessary and quite callous. I ask the Government to please reconsider its position and do nothing more than make good the promises it made to ordinary and vulnerable citizens of New South Wales.