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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7190

Senator HANSON (Queensland) (17:04): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum and to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Mr President, I introduce the Land Acquisition (Public Purpose) Bill 2017,in response to the recent actions of the government in issuing declarations of intent to acquire land from Australian farmers in both the Rockhampton and Charters Towers regions of Queensland.

The federal government statement, as contained in correspondence to land holders, was that the land acquired would be owned by the Department of Defence, allow for expanded training exercises by the Australian Army, as well as facilitating an increase in use by the Singapore Army, (from 6 000 troops for periods of 6 weeks, to 14 000 troops for up to 18 weeks).

The army had only sent out the correspondence in regard to these acquisitions following an inspection by the Singapore Army.

The Singapore Army had stated that it wanted the land for its future training purposes, as indicated in the Department's correspondence about the land in question.

At public meetings held with the landowners by the army, it was clearly stated that the primary purpose of the land acquisition was that the land was being acquired not for the purposes of the Australian Army, but for the use and training of the Singapore Army.

The government referred, in their correspondence, to the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which included, as a general arrangement pursuant to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

The SAFTA agreement refers only to co-operation between the two countries in a number of areas, including the military, as well as technology and agriculture co-operation areas of interest. It does not place an obligation on Australia or Singapore.

The army has a land area in the Shoalwater Bay Training Complex of approximately 1 million acres. Yet the Australian Army stated this was not sufficient. There was no consideration of the interests held by the Australian landowners. Where exactly was the "public purpose" as required by the legislation?

There was absolutely no "public" support for this acquisition, nor was there any "purpose" behind it that benefited the Australian public.

The army had stated the public would benefit from that acquisition.

No benefit could be demonstrated but significant detriment could clearly be demonstrated; not only to the landholders directly affected, but to the entire regions of Rockhampton and Charters Towers.

The loss to Australia of approximately 800,000 acres of prime grazing country. The loss of over 90,000 head of cattle going to local abattoirs and their inevitable closure and loss of employment to both regions.

The loss of over $90 million in cattle sales and twice that figure after processing of the cattle from sales by the abattoirs.

At the briefings to the affected landholders the Army representative stated the local community would be providing food, hospitality and transport, to name a few.

However, it was then found that the Singapore Government had already sought expressions of interests from offshore companies for the transportation of both food & ordinances into the area - food and ordinances supplied directly from Singapore and not from one Australian company.

The government stated it was supporting rural communities, but here it was destroying two communities, offering no compensation to other businesses other than the landowners who didn't want to sell.

Additionally, in the Charters Towers region, Infrastructure Australia and the Prime Minister of Australia had listed the "Hells Gate Dam" project as a high priority project.

Yet the very land that would benefit from that dam was the very land the army had stated it was interested in acquiring.

When raised at a briefing by me, the army representative stated he was unaware of this priority infrastructure, as did the department representative.

It was a clear case of a compulsory acquisition not having a direct "public purpose" as required by the Act, but instead appearing to benefit a third party.

So where was the "public purpose"?

The Australian Army had only sent out correspondence in regard to this acquisition following an inspection by the Singapore Army, and its statement specified that it wanted the land as indicated in the correspondence as the land of interest.

The term "public purpose" is more than the vague legal definition of the Act referring, as it does, to those legislative areas for which the Parliament has power to make laws.

The key element in the land acquisition proposal by the Australian Defence Forces was the definition of "public purpose".

An information guide published by the Department of Finance and Deregulation in May 2011, titled The Commonwealth and You: Compulsory Acquisition of Land stated:

"The Minister issues a document to affected landowners, which states that the Minister is considering the acquisition by the Commonwealth land for a public purpose. This document is a pre-acquisition declaration.

it tells you which Commonwealth authority wants to acquire the land;

it describes the land fully;

it states that the Minister thinks the land appears to be suitable for a public purpose;

it states the public purpose the land has been chosen for; and

it explains why the Minister considers the land suitable for the intended use."

But there is no clarity on the meaning of those words "public purpose".

The second reading speech on the introduction of the Land Acquisition Act 1989 adds little to the meaning of the words other than referring to Section 31 of the Act. However, the following sentence is relevant as it gives the tenor of the purpose of the words within the meaning of the Act:

"This government is concerned by the need to strike a balance between the rights of private property on the one hand and the legitimate needs of society for land for public purposes on the other."

This sentence within the second reading speech clearly delineates that the acquisition is for the benefit of society.

There was no substantive debate on what the phrase "public purpose" meant.

The reason why one has to revert to external explanations is due to the vagueness of the definition within Section 6 of the Act which states as follows:

"public purpose means a purpose in respect of which parliament has power to make laws and includes, in relation to land in a territory, any purpose in relation to the territory."

In judgments on which the issue has been raised, the acquisition must be for the primary benefit of the community and Australia generally.

There has been very little case law on the meaning of the words "public purpose", particularly in the context of a like case of acquisition for the primary purpose of the land for the training of a foreign army.

Irrespective of the wide ambit of the definition of the words "public purpose" within the Lands Acquisition Act 1989, it is evident from case law that such an acquisition must be shown to actually be for the benefit of the public.

The bill which I would seek the support of all parties clarifies the meaning of those important words "public purpose".

It is important for all Australians that they know their land, and their heritage, will never be compulsorily acquired for the benefit of an unrelated third party.

Before any declaration is made by any department to acquire an interest in land, the bill will require that department to demonstrate the purpose of using that interest or for its need for that interest to provide services.

The acquiring authority must show that the need will be for the direct benefit of Australian public or for the provision to the Australian public of necessary services.

The bill does not alter the intent of the original Act.

It clarifies the meaning and intent of the Act so that the Australian public will never again be subject to months of upset and costs in trying to protect their interests for the ongoing benefit of their families.

It overcomes the vagueness of the existing definition but gives clarity to the meaning of those two words: "public purpose", without the need for future litigation.

This bill does not apply to acquisitions by consent.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Senator HANSON: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.