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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3305

Senator DURACK (Western Australia) - This Bill is designed to institute a method of controlling or, as it is called, stabilising land prices in the Northern Territory, but it proposes to do so in a way to which the Opposition is opposed. As a consequence it is the intention of the Opposition to seek to amend the Bill, which will have the effect of defeating it. I move:

Leave out all words after 'That', insert: the Senate opposes this Bill and is of the opinion that the provisions contained in it should be referred to the Legislative Assembly for the Northern Territory to enable that Assembly to consider ways by which land prices in the Northern Territory should be stabilised, but with a request that any lands acquisition proposals which might be included in legislation to be considered by that Assembly should protect the rights of private land owners and occupiers and be on just terms'.

The Bill is rather complicated. I will indicate briefly the areas of it to which the Opposition is opposed in particular. The nature of the scheme for stabilisation of land prices as contained in the Bill provides that the Minister for the Northern Territory may gazette a notice in the Northern Territory Gazette under which he would declare an area of land in the Northern Territory an investigation area for the purposes of this proposed Act. That would enable certain investigations to be made and would give power to enter land and make studies of it, and so on. That is designed to enable the next step to be taken, which is that where the Minister is satisfied that some area under investigation is likely to be required for urban development, he may again publish a notice in the Northern Territory Gazette declaring it to be a development area for a period not exceeding 10 years.

The stated object of this procedure is particularly in relation to land on the outskirts of Darwin where there is apparently a considerable area of land which it is thought will be required for the expansion of Darwin during the coming 10 years, but which the Government apparently is not prepared to acquire for public purposes here and now and which it wants to freeze for the future development of that city. As I have said, the Bill itself would have application throughout the Northern Territory, but it is particularly related to the expansion of Darwin. Once an area of land has been declared under the Act by the Minister to be a development area, then the whole control of that land is vested in the Minister, who virtually has an absolute discretion.

The Bill does not place- except in circumstances which I shall mention later- any obligation upon the Minister or the Government actually to acquire that land; so it may remain for 10 years in the private ownership in which it now resides, and the Government may in fact never require it for its own urban development proposals. That means that over this whole period of 10 years a dead, cold hand is placed upon that land and the utilisation of that land by the private owners. The land to which this Bill applies is largely held in private ownership. The owners have rights which I believe this Parliament should always accord them and indeed which the Constitution itself accords to all residents of States, namely that if a government wants to acquire their land, it is to be acquired on just terms. In this case, once this dead hand is placed upon land, not only is the private owner of it not permitted to develop it except on terms laid down by the Minister, but if at some future time the Minister or the Government proposes to acquire that land, it is to be acquired at virtually the same value that it had at the time when this development order or investigation order was made.

In the circumstances of an acquisition being made during this period of 10 years, the owner is entitled to receive by way of compensation only what is called the base value, that is, the value of the land at the date that the gazettal of the land was made, plus a percentage increase or 'decrease', as the Bill rather quaintly puts it. In the days of inflation under this Government, there is likely to be nothing but an increase. The percentage increase that is permitted is only that applicable to land comparable with the land acquired which has not been affected by the development order. This means that land on the outskirts of Darwin after the date on which it is first declared may only increase in value by an amount related to the value of comparable land which has not been in any way affected by a declaration that it may be required for development purposes. I would think that that is a very difficult comparison to make, particularly in the Northern Territory where there is only one major city, which is Darwin, and therefore only one area where rapid growth is likely to occur.

The percentage increase which will be permitted is at the absolute discretion of the ValuerGeneral. So there is no way in which the question of what would be a fair increase in the value of land can be litigated. It will be entirely in the hands of the Valuer-General to decide what percentage increase will be allowed over the base value of the land which, as I have said, is the value placed upon it on the date of the declaration being made. Therefore, this is a situation where there is an absolute discretion, firstly, in the Minister to control development and, secondly, in the Valuer-General to indicate what increases in value there would have been in respect of that land compared with other land which had not been affected by the development area. These provisions create a fundamental erosion of the right of a private landowner to be compensated on just terms for any acquisition of land by the Government. These are the major objections which the Opposition has, in principle, to this Bill. We believe that these are not realistic methods of trying to control the price of land and that the right way to do so is to ensure that there is an adequate supply of land for urban development purposes. If the Government wants to enter into the business of providing such land then, in our opinion, it is the obligation of the Government to acquire the land there and then. It may be acquiring it for the future; nevertheless , we do not see why the private landowner should have any incremental value of his land virtually frozen because the Government may at some future time want to acquire that land for development purposes.

This situation is not comparable in any way to the development of a new city outside an existing urban area, nor is it comparable to what has happened in the Albury-Wodonga type of development. Incidentally, it is noticeable that the land required for Albury-Wodonga development has all been acquired or is being acquired by the Government by negotiation and purchase. However, this approach is not contemplated for land on the outskirts of Darwin. Where an area of land on the outskirts of a city is frozen and there is no particular intervention by the public, such as exists when a new city is planned in a rural area and new land prices are established because of public development, it is a different situation from that which exists in Darwin. There land will increase in value because of its proximity to the city of Darwin and, in our view, the owners of such land should be perfectly entitled to receive proper compensation at any future time when that land happens to be required or becomes part of the ordinary development of the city of Darwin. We believe that this should apply to any other city or town in the Northern Territory affected by this legislation.

One objection to this legislation is that the principle that private owners of land are entitled to acquisition on just terms is gravely breached. For that reason alone we would oppose the legislation. However, our major objection to this legislation is that the determination of land prices in the Northern Territory should be one of the new powers which should be transferred to the new Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. The Government has seen fit to set up a Legislative Assembly in the Northern Territory. Elections were held for it recently. The recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory, which is comprised of members of both Houses of the Parliament, on the development of the Northern Territory has indicated that matters of urban development and town planning should be matters for that Assembly. Therefore we do not believe that this is a matter which should be decided by this Parliament. For all those reasons, the Opposition has put down an amendment, which I have moved, which if carried will have the effect of defeating the Bill. The Opposition has expressed clearly in its amendment the reason why it has taken that course of action.

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