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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1732

Mr STEEDMAN —Is the Minister for Communications able to give any information on the plans of Telecom Australia for its property Bona Vista, which was recently the subject of legal action in connection with squatters? Is the Minister able to comment on what has been depicted as an overreaction by Telecom and other authorities, especially the judiciary?

Mr DUFFY —Telecom is the owner of a residential property, referred to by the honourable member, known as Bona Vista, at 59 Kensington Street, South Yarra. Last week Telecom commenced legal proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria to eject from the property a group of persons who had commenced squatting on the property about the beginning of September this year. An injunction was obtained restraining the squatters from remaining in occupation. In Melbourne on 7 October Mr Justice Brooking issued an order for committal of the squatters, and in execution of that order last Friday night a group of persons was arrested and imprisoned. Last Saturday, in the High Court of Australia in Canberra, an order nisi for prohibition was made quashing the original injunction, pending a hearing into the legal issues arising from the making of that order. The Commonwealth and Telecom, as parties to the proceedings, did not oppose that application before the High Court. His Honour Mr Justice Wilson ordered the immediate release of those imprisoned, pending the hearing of an appeal.

As that matter is now sub judice it would be inappropriate for me to make comments concerning the facts surrounding the occupation and the injunction proceedings. However, I think some details should be provided to the House regarding Telecom's ownership of the property. The property, I am informed, is valued in excess of $1m, and Telecom obtained it at vesting day in 1975. It was formerly owned by the Postmaster-General's Department. I am informed that Telecom vacated the premises, from an operational viewpoint, in June 1977 and that a caretaker vacated the premises in about December 1978.

As part of a review of property holdings, investigations were conducted by Telecom as to possible alternative uses of the property. It was decided to dispose of the property. The Australian Telecommunications Commission agreed to do that in December 1979 and appropriate ministerial approval was subsequently received. Subsequent to that difficulties developed about the sale and Telecom had to deal with Victorian planning authorities. The Federal Department of Administrative Services and the Australian Heritage Commission also became involved.

I am informed that the preliminary steps are now completed and that the property will be made available for sale by public auction. Telecom has advised me that it expects a date for that to be set for late November this year.

Like many members of the community, I was surprised and disturbed to learn that a property such as this remained unused and vacant for a long period, certainly since 1979. Accordingly, I made clear in a letter of 30 September to all statutory authorities within my portfolio my views regarding that matter, that any residential properties that might be held by any statutory authorities should not remain vacant and that all reasonable steps should be taken to make effective use of the properties, even if that included the need for residential leases where the relevant authority had no current use pending disposal.

The present situation, therefore, is that Bona Vista is to be sold. I understand that there are suggestions that the property be made available by Telecom to the Victorian Ministry of Housing for public housing purposes. However, on the face of it, this property does not seem to be an obvious candidate for public housing. I note that Mr Cathie, the Victorian Housing Minister, has said that the proposal for public housing 'does not seem to stand as being feasible'. Be that as it may, I expect that Telecom will consider any serious proposal put to it on behalf of the Victorian Housing Ministry.