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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4134

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - We are debating 4 Bills and much time has been devoted to that aspect of those Biills which relates to the regional growth centre proposed for Albury-Wodonga. The Albury-Wodonga concept is only part of the total program which the Oppoosition is supporting. The program involves the development and establishment or a corporation to create AlburyWodonga as a growth centre. It involves also the provision of finance for the establishment of other growth centres. It involves the provision of finance, though for one year only, to land commissions. In the area of urban development, using that in its broadest concept, there have been in recent years exciting developments.

It is unfortunate if too much credit is sought by any particular political Party because the improved development in urban areas and urban thinking is a result of changes in community attitudes. As we have overcome other difficulties so the attention of the Australian people has been directed to the importance of the urban environment. For years we have lived on the myths of our early reading of the characteristics of small towns but the psychology of the small town life is now becoming part of history for the great majority of Australians. The life we live is a life in complex large urban areas. The problems that confront these large urban areas are quite different to the problems that confront small centres. The solution to those problems must necessarily be different to the solutions that would apply to problems encountered in small towns.

As the community has become aware so have all those involved in the political process in this country become deeply conscious of the concern of the average Australian for the improvement of the urban environment. This has meant that we have directed our attention to both the improvement of the existing urban environment and the more rapid establishment of new urban areas. There was a time when as a people we accepted the fact that when we bought our first home it might be on the outskirts of a large city and it might be located in an area where public facilities and services were lacking. But, as our affluence has grown so too, as with so many of the consumer durables that we have come to regard as essential whereas 2 generations ago they were a luxury, have we come to expect the development of urban areas into which we move for our first home to be of a high standard. And that is quite rightly so. As a result of this emerging consciousness by the Australian people as to the importance of urban development we have seen increasing attention paid to the policies of governments - national, State and local - in ensuring that the environment is developed in an orderly fashion.

The concepts that are involved in these Bills, as I have pointed out, have been developed over a long period under governments of all political persuasions both here in Canberra and in the States. We are reaching a stage where there is a much deeper public consciousness of the importance of paying attention to policies relating to urban development. We are recognising that there is a need in the large cities not merely for the provision of roads, kerbs, drains, water reticulation and electricity, but also for the provision of adequate open space, recreation areas and recreation facilities. This is a good thing because the type of life that we are able to live in these large urban areas where people are highly mobile is being progressively improved. But it is important that in all of these policies we should ensure that the maximum amount of freedom of choice is left in the hands of the individual citizen.

It is equally important that there should be a maximum amount of community involvement. I hope, as a result of the expressions contained in the various speeches made by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) about the Government's desire to involve the community in some of the decision making that affects them, that the comments express a real concern and do not merely pay lip service to an aspirations of the people. When we look at urban areas we tend to apply a small town psychology to community involvement. I direct the attention of the House to the importance of recognising that we are dealing with large cities and that what we formerly described as a community based rigidly on geographical boundaries may not necessarily apply today. There has been a manifestation of the community's desire to be involved in urban development, by the expansion of resident action groups and council action groups. I believe that it is important that this community desire to participate should receive the response of government so that people can play a real part in the decision making process on the type of environment in which they live.

Having made those general remarks, I wish to draw the attention of the House to a number of points. I express my concern at the way in which this legislation could possibly be used. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) drew the attention of the House to some of these points earlier today. Were it not for the fact that the legislation involves grants for one year only, that we are able to see the manner of its operation and that there will be an opportunity of examining this legislation in closer detail in another place, it could well be that we would have been seeking the inclusion in the legislation of specific guarantees to allay the concerns that have already been expressed and to which I shall now direct the attention of the House. The first point I want to deal with relates to the question of acquisition and the compensation paid to the owners of land that is acquired. The second point relates to the question of tenure. Under the Australian Constitution, if this Parliament wishes to acquire land it is obliged to make compensation available on just terms. There is nothing in this legislation which requires that the States to whom the money is to be granted are themselves to acquire the land on just terms. I hope that the Minister, in laying down conditions, will make it a condition of the grants that acquisition legislation used to acquire land with this money should match the standards set by the Constitution for Commonwealth acquisition of land and that the States be required to acquire on just terms.

From my researches so far it appears that most of the States have legislation that would match that test, but there is one aspect of the matching of that test which causes me some concern. In a case that was decided before the High Court it was indicated that it was not necessary for a court to take account of the declining value of money in assessing compensation - the decline between the date of acquisition and the date of payment following a judgment in the court. There has been much debate in academic and other circles amongst people of all political persuasions concerned about stabilising land prices, as to the manner in which compensation should be assessed. Stabilisation of land prices differs substantially from what might be described as price control.

I draw to the attention of the House a statement issued by the Ministerial Council Meeting of Land Commissions held in Melbourne on Monday, 22 October 1973. In that statement Ministers from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania and the Minister for Urban and Regional Development stated as follows:

The distinction between control of land prices generally and land price stabilisation for growth centres or areas was recognised. The latter seeks only to preserve for the community, rather than for speculators and individuals, any increase in land values which arises from a Government's decision for the benefit of the community on growth centres or areas.

Similar sentiments were expressed in the report issued by the Department of Urban and Regional Development. It said that land price stabilisation legislation 'is aimed at ensuring that land does not inflate in value merely because it has been chosen for acquisition for urban development. Such inflation could make the land so costly that the States would be unable to continue with their plans to acquire the land and develop the area.' If one accepts that approach and says that the land owner should receive the value of the land as at the date of announcement that his land is to be acquired in order to guarantee that he receives just terms - 'just' in a real sense - I think it is important that account be taken of the fact that compensation paid 10 years from the date of the announcement may not necessarily be just terms compared with payment immediately after the announcement and at the time of actual acquisition. I am not suggesting for a moment that the land owner should gain as a result of any government decision that land shall be brought into urban use, but I point out to the Minister that there is a gradient between land in urban use and that now in rural use. I believe that it should be recognised when we look at compensation that, as a result of that gradient or hope value that has been placed upon certain land, the land owners under the gradient, yet not at the rural land price level, should receive just compensation.

We hear a lot about the large speculator, but I draw to the attention of the House the fact that there are many small property owners and home owners whose homes will need to be acquired for the development of growth centres and land on the edges of existing cities. Account must be taken to ensure that the real value of their asset is preserved. The Institute of Urban Studies has put forward a land conversion value proposition. In its report it says that the conversion value would need to be carefully defined before inclusion in special legislation. I agree with this. It needs to be carefully defined. I believe there should be a guarantee within the legislation to ensure that just and fair terms are provided. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Minister and his Department have made general statements about this. They have talked about the value of land as compared with an inflation factor. They have talked about relating it to some form of price index. I express concern that a great amount of detail has not been put forward as to how the real value of a person's assets will be preserved to ensure that he is not disadvantaged, while not advantaged, at the expense of the community as a consequence of government announcement.

The other matter to which I should like to refer but have not the time because of the limitations upon this debate, is that I too would stress the importance of retaining freehold tenure for residential urban land. I should like to have seen this guarantee included in the legislation so that it was mandatory on State land commissions when they come to sell their land to sell it under terms of freehold tenure so that there could be no fear that the home owner could sustain a loss by confiscation as a result virtually of forfeiture consequent upon his breach of some minor covenant in the lease. I think these matters can await examination in another place or can be included subsequently in legislation to make grants available in future years. I urge the Minister to look at the question of the provision of adequate compensation as if the constitutional requirement were there for the provision of just terms and a recognition of the importance of providing an increase in value to take account of the declining value of money notwithstanding an earlier decision of the High Court taken under different conditions and at a different time.

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