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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1555

Mr RUDDOCK(5.03) —I raise a very important matter of principle in relation to the estimates of the Department of Administrative Services. These estimates are being considered cognately with those of the Department of Housing and Construction. The matter that I wish to raise concerns the disposal of Commonwealth lands, the basis upon which they are disposed of and the question of whether or not the Commonwealth is properly compensated for its land, having regard to the terms and conditions upon which properties are disposed of by the Commonwealth. I raise this matter in the context of these Estimates because obviously there are important income consequences for the Government if the Government disposes of land other than for its full value. Of course, it would be my earnest hope that the Commonwealth, having regard to the procedures that it uses for disposing of property, would make information publicly available about the way in which property is being disposed of, the terms and conditions upon which property is being disposed of and the manner in which any such disposal may affect the Commonwealth's entitlement to funds for the property sold.

This matter is raised in the context of a specific piece of land where I am perhaps more closely involved than others; I suppose that I ought to declare that as an interest. There has been a considerable history in relation to this land. Mr Chairman, I would like to detail some of that for you so that you and other honourable members may understand the particular circumstances in which this matter is being raised. The land is at the corner of Bettington Road and Kissing Point Road, Dundas. The land was used for a migrant hostel through the 1950s and the 1960s. All the hostel functions were later transferred from the land and the buildings were demolished. The land has been vacant for some time. It was deemed to be surplus to the Commonwealth's requirements and, in accordance with established practices, was offered to the State Government of New South Wales. The State Government indicated that it had no purpose to which it could put the land. Therefore, it indicated that it had no intention of purchasing or acquiring the property from the Commonwealth. It was later offered to the Parramatta City Council but, because of the situation concerning funds, it found that it was not in a position to acquire that land. For that reason it also rejected the offer.

As I understand it the land was then prepared for auction. The Commonwealth was prepared to enter into the normal procedures for the sale of that land in Dundas . Then a remarkable thing happened. A Press article in one of the Sunday newspapers linked me with a group of other members of parliament who allegedly had seen the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, to discuss the stopping of the sale of Government land to State governments, presumably for the purpose of using it for welfare housing purposes. In fact, there was no land in the electorate of Dundas to which that allegation could apply. But my parliamentary colleague, the honourable member for Parramatta, now Minister for Administrative Services (Mr John Brown), assumed that there was some more sinister purpose behind this and he sought to find some land in the electorate of Dundas to which I might be linked to substantiate this charge. He and his State colleague the honourable member for Parramatta, Mr Wilde, hit upon the idea that it must be this piece of land at Bettington Road, Dundas, in which Ruddock was interested.

Of course, the public record would disclose, as would all the information available to the Minister, that the State had indicated very clearly that it had no interest in acquiring this land for welfare purposes. One could understand why. It is not flat land; it is not extensively hilly but it is quite hilly. It has a lot of rocks on it and so on, but I do not suppose that that is an insurmountable problem. It is not close to shopping centres although it is on bus routes. But it is not the sort of land that one would ideally want to develop for multi-residential purposes for what one would regard as people in need of welfare housing.

But of course the matter developed into a cause celebre locally. I have mentioned that the area is relatively close to my own home, probably half a kilometre away. It is also quite close to the home of the honourable member for Parramatta, the Minister for Administrative Services. I would guess that it would probably be about a kilometre away. The Minister also happens to be a constituent of mine. I do not know whether he will interject in that regard.

Mr John Brown —I am about two woods and a five iron away.

Mr RUDDOCK —But neither of us is too far away in that sense. For the purposes of recalling the Minister's interest in golf I acknowledge his interjection. But the fact of the matter is that the land is in my electorate relatively close to my home and relatively close to the home of the Minister. The point that I was making was that the land was offered for sale to the State Government of New South Wales, which expressed no interest in it. As a consequence of the article that I have mentioned, the State Government's interest was re-awoken. I can only assume that the State member of parliament went along and said: 'I have heard that there is some land in Dundas that you may not have been able to get for welfare housing and I think you ought to acquire it'. So the State Government renewed its interest. Then the Commonwealth suspended its proposed auction arrangements and entered into discussions with the State Government. I understand that the price was settled upon on the basis that the land would be sold to the State Government under its existing zoning, residential A, which would be single residential allotments.

The next time I heard about this property was when the Housing Commission approached the Parramatta City Council with a view to developing the land for a higher residential use. For that purpose the Commission indicated that it wanted council support for medium density housing development. I suppose that there would be nothing wrong with that except that the Commonwealth was being paid for the land on the basis that it would be used for single residential lots; the State was going to use it for multi-residential purposes. The difference in the value of the land was very considerable; I had some valuations prepared by local people who were interested in the question of real estate prices. A matter of hundreds of thousands of dollars was involved. The then Minister for Administrative Services, the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman), I think aware of the fact that he might be severely criticised for selling land on that basis to the State when an element of deception was involved on the part of the State Government, terminated the negotiations for sale. The matter again became a cause celebre. The local people were very concerned that the land ought not be used for multi-residential purposes.

In the context of that rather significant debate and controversy locally, new discussions were initiated at the request of the State Government. Of course, the local State member continued to express an interest in what ought to happen in relation to the land. He proposed what he said was an element of compromise- another proposal-that was, that the land be purchased by the State Government for single residential purposes to be developed by the Land Commission of New South Wales. As I understand it, the then Minister for Administrative Services indicated that that compromise was acceptable to him. He then settled with the State Government conditions upon which the land might be developed, the basis upon which it would be sold and the basis upon which valuations could be done, and a proper price fixed for the land. Since the election the Minister who now has an interest in this matter has in no way reported to the Parliament on this matter, although he raised it on a number of occasions previously, as did I. He wrote to me telling me that he had withdrawn the conditions upon which this property would be sold to the State Government. Obviously, unless fresh valuations are done on the basis of any other use to which the State Government intends to put the property, other than for residential A purposes, significant Commonwealth moneys could be lost.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.