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Thursday, 23 June 1949

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- The amendment proposed by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) is, I think, unnecessary because of the compensation provisions of clause 33 of the bill, and also because of the provisions of section 51 of the Commonwealth Constitution. Section 51 provides that where the Commonwealth Parliament has power to legislate and acquire property in pursuit of that power, it must pay compensation upon just terms.

The determination of what are just terms is a matter for the High Court. The right honorable member for Cowper has suggested that compensation for owners who are dispossessed of their land under this scheme should be based on current valuation plus 20 per cent. The proposition that the Commonwealth should so tie itself in advance is one which 1 think no business man could seriously regard as fair. It would constitute a prior invitation to people to fleece the Government. Much of the 'land to be acquired is in mountainous areas and is undeveloped. It is true that certain villages will be flooded and that the residents will have to be transferred elsewhere and given equivalent housing. The Commonwealth is constitutionally bound to award compensation on just terms, and in cases where the question of just terms has been in dispute the High Court has never been favorably disposed towards the Commonwealth obtaining land cheaply. Compensation based on current valuation, plus 20 per cent., would impose an exorbitant charge upon the Commonwealth. If persons who held land in the mountain areas without developing it knew beforehand that the Commonwealth would pay compensation for its resumption based on current valuation plus 20 per cent., all sorts of measures would be taken to fleece the Commonwealth. A land-holder who knows that the Commonwealth would acquire his property on the basis of current valuation plus 20 per cent., might carry out improvements in an attempt to secure an unjustified profit from the Commonwealth. Land-holders might decide to make improvements in areas where a dam is about to be built or a hydro-electric station erected and after a short period get a rake-off of an additional 20 per cent. It is unreasonable for any honorable member of the Parliament to advocate that the Commonwealth should go into this field as a hamstrung purchaser, with its terms of purchase imposed upon it by the Parliament and known in advance by the sellers. I hope that the committee will not accept the amendment.

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