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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4131

Mr MORRIS (Shortland) - It is disappointing that the previous speaker, the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), on the one hand supports the legislation before the House, and on the other hand has to fall back on the old catch cry of the Australian Country Party of talking about support for decentralisation and calamity howling about the provisions of the Budget that has been adopted. As one who comes from the Newcastle region, I have experienced the decentralisation policy of the Liberal-Country Party Government in New South Wales. For year after year it has been a policy of talking about decentralisation but never doing anything about it. The New South Wales Government knows very well that the implementation of a policy of decentralisation would bring about an electoral imbalance, which would only seal the Government's own doom in the future.

If the New South Wales Government wants to talk about what, has been done for the Hunter Valley area or the Newcastle region it might talk about the electrification of the railways, which was promised by the present New South Wales Minister for Transport back in 1965 but for which we are still waiting; the deepening of Newcastle Harbour which was promised and for which we are still waiting; and the dockyard which perhaps we will get now after pressure from our own Federal Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones). I have to take exception to the continual crying and calamity howling about conditions in the countryside that we hear from members of the Country Party, because they are not telling the people of Australia the truth. All they are doing is spreading fear. Probably their best title would be that of fearmongers. The reference by the honourable member for Indi to the Budget and to the fact that there is worse to come reminded me of the statement of the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), after the first revaluation of the Australian currency, about the doom that was going to befall this nation, and the worst things that would happen when the second revaluation was made. Then when the tariff cuts were made the Leader of the Australian Country Party said that the situation would be worse still. Yet this morning out of the blue came the knight on the white charger with the announcement that we should float our currency. So I hope that members of the Country Party go back to their electorates at the weekend and explain to the people how they can justify that statement.

I should like to move on to more positive things rather than to dwell on the untruths and misrepresentations of the members of the Country Party. In this cognate debate I am pleased to speak in support of the Land Commissions (Financial Assistance) Bill. It is a most important Bill. I remind the House that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in presenting the Australian Labor Party policy speech on 13 November 1972, said:

We will set up a Commonwealth-State land development commission in each State to buy substantial tracts of land in new areas being opened up for housing and to lease or sell at cost fully serviced housing blocks.

The passage of this legislation will enable the implementation of the major part of that promise. Private enterprise and all levels of Government have a responsibility to work in harmony for the benefit of the Australian people. There will always be an important role in development for private enterprise. It will always be the role of government to provide leadership, to establish guidelines and to co-ordinate national growth. However, because the provision and development of land for home sites and new cities has been left too much to the private sector, especially since World War II, the home seeker has been subjected to artificial shortages of home sites and what can only be termed as exorbitant prices for homes and land.

While I said earlier that there is a role for private enterprise in the development of commercial and residential land, some of the practices followed by land development companies in the past have been so outrageous that the word 'developers' has become a dirty one. This Bill seeks to plan and develop land in cooperation with the respective State governments and to provide Australians with a greater, more reasonable opportunity to obtain land on which to erect a home or establish a commercial activity. Decisions by governments at the 3 levels - Federal, State and local - and expenditure of public moneys by governments in the provision of public services such as water, sewerage, power, construction of public buildings, all add to the value of land. A stroke of the planner's pen can cause massive increases in land values for those persons fortunate enough to hold land which is the subject of rezoning proposals. Fortunes have been made as a result of this process. At the same time large tracts of land are held back, particularly by companies associated with developers, in anticipation of possible rezoning.

In addition, individual landholders, particularly in recent years in a climate of spiralling land values, have held back their land in expectation of higher prices. The tragedy has been that the expenditure of public moneys in improving essential community services to land has been a contributing factor to the rapid increase in land values, thus forcing up the cost to the community of land required for public purposes. In each of the States we have had varying degrees of planning at various levels. What has been lacking always has been a co-ordination of planning objectives and implementation for the community benefit.

This Bill aims to provide just that, at considerable savings to the people. The eminent British sociologist, Dr Raymond Pahl, once stated:

All planning is social planning, considering the people not the buildings. There can be no planning without the power to influence the allocation and reallocation of substantial resources. Planning is about power; planning without power is singing to the seagulls.

Land is a vital resource. Co-operation between the States governments and the Australian Government in the acquisition and development of land as a result of this legislation will provide a new quality of power in planning and development. The operation of the Land Commissions will enable the achievement of 3 main aims: Firstly, land will be made available at reasonable prices; secondly, land will be able to be planned comprehensively and developed; and, thirdly, some of the increase in value which derives from the process of urban development and community expenditure will be retained for the benefit of the community.

In the past one of the major characteristics in the growth and sequence of development of our urban areas has been that of private initiative for profit. It has resulted in heavy and avoidable stress on public expenditure in providing essential services and in scattered development within urban areas - a fact well known by city and shire planners in local government. The acquisition and development of land by the Land Commissions will put a stop to all that. The conditions governing the purchase, zoning and subdivision of land in past years have provided a paradise for speculators at the expense of home seekers and the public purse.

Let there be no mistake, this Government is committed to a course of action that will put an end to the excessive profits that speculators have made from land. Under the terms of the Bill financial assistance will be made available to the States under 2 main groups of conditions, the first of which deals with the usual conditions relating to terms of finance. The second group could generally be called performance conditions, the main two of which are that each State should carry out its land acquisition programs through an organisation structure agreeable to the Australian Government, and that the States should enact legislation to acquire land at prices uninfluenced by announcements of intended urban development.

It should be understood quite clearly that the objective of the legislation is not to reduce the capital value of assets or to place a freeze on land prices but rather to ensure that any increase in price as a result of Government decision and announcement is not loaded on to purchasers. Rezoning land from low density land use to higher land use patterns causes the price to rise. Speculative demand has thus concentrated in areas where development is planned. Increased prices paid for land by developing bodies, whether private or public, are invariably passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices for services for land and housing.

I have mentioned the speculative and inflationary role played by private enterprise in land development. In New South Wales the Government of that State has participated fully in the auctioning of crown land at what can only be described as exhorbitant and highly inflationary prices. That Government's sole object has been to obtain maximum return for the State Treasury without regard for the needs of home seekers and the inflationary effects its activities in the sale of land have had on prices in the relevant area. The Minister for Lands in the New South Wales Government has deliberately set out to force up land prices by setting absurdly high upset or reserve prices on blocks of Crown land. In my electorate they were absurdly high prices as was shown recently at an auction of crown land at Whitebridge.

What happened at that sale? Buyers protested and refused to pay the exorbitant prices set. On 11 August 1973 42 serviced home sites were offered for auction at reserve prices ranging from $9,000 to $14,000 a block- a new level for land prices in the shire of Lake Macquarie. Some 50 or 60 people turned up at the auction. One group expressed passive opposition to the reserve prices set by displaying signs calling for a return to the ballot system. Only 12 blocks were sold out of the 42 offered. All the blocks sold went at the reserve price except two, one of which brought $50 above the reserve and the other $100 above the reserve. In each case there was only one bid. The sale quickly became known as the Whitebridge fiasco. When the State member for the area, Mr Richard Face, M.L.A., raised in the New South Wales Parliament the subject of the high reserve prices set for those blocks the Minister for Lands, the Honourable Tom Lewis, M.L.A., who is a member of the so called law and order Government of New South Wales threatened to send police along to future Crown land auction sales to prevent the attendance of passive protestors. What a ridiculous attitude for a Minister to adopt. In effect the Minister said that police were available and will be used to ensure that higher land prices are obtained for the New South Wales Treasury coffers. However apparently there are not enough police in New South Wales to prevent fire bombings in Kings Cross. I hope that the establishment of the lands commission will put an end to that kind of approach by the New South Wales Government to the provision of home sites.

The result of the contrived scarcity of land and the artificially high land prices in the Lake Macquarie shire in my electorate can be seen in the new land valuations now issuing in that shire. Increases range from the order of 200 per cent up to 500 per cent and in some cases 1,000 per cent compared with the previous valuations of 1968-69. Ratepayers, many of whom are pensioners, will be faced with staggering rate increases. Clearly, some will be rated out of their homes. Those who are on fixed incomes will be the most vulnerable. I have no doubt that the council will seek to adjust its 1974 rate on the basis of the new valuations but no flat rate in the dollar on an across the board application can take account of the distortion in values that occurs following speculation in properties and the artificial forcing up of the price of land.

The presentation of this legislation to the Parliament signals a new high in the closer co-operation of this Government and the various State governments. I remind honourable members of the Opposition of this. It shows that it can be done and is being done and that the States do want to co-operate. It shows that there can be harmony and productive liaison between the Federal Government and the States for the benefit of the community, contrary to the phoney divisive catchcries of members of the Opposition parties who seek to fool the people into believing that Labor is out destroy the States. We know the results of the Opposition's 23 years of stagnant administration that catered only to the concern of the vested interests who donated so heavily to their campaign funds. It is appropriate, in conclusion, to recognise the achievements of the Minister who in his first year of office has made great progress through wise negotiation and supreme patience in reaching agreements with his State counterparts and in bringing this Bill before the House. I support the Bill.

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