Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3307

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - in reply- The fundamental purpose of this legislation is to arrest the dramatic increases in the price of land which have occurred around Darwin in recent years. I have some up to date information which I think should be made available at the outset of my remarks to indicate the magnitude of the problem. The figures I am about to quote have been made available from the Valuer-General 's office in Darwin. A recent case is cited in which 5-acre blocks just outside the acquisition area 16 miles from Darwin were selling for $1,100 per acre in June of last year. When the acquisition was finally agreed to by the Senate they were selling at from $2,000 to $2,200 an acre. The price has doubled in the past 12 months. Honourable senators cannot deny that this has taken place.

The Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) has referred in the past to the outskirts of Darwin as being a speculator's paradise. I want to quote another couple of examples of what has happened in recent years: I emphasise that this is not something which has happened in the last 2 years since the advent of a Labor Government. It was happening before we came to power. I will come back to that point later. I should indicate, firstly, that this Government presently is acquiring freehold land near Darwin for the city's future expansion and is facing a monumental figure in a compensation pay-out to cater for its expansion. Land purchased in 1965 at $4.63 per acre is now being paid for at the average rate of $668 per acre, a market value created in the past by some speculative operators. One of the witnesses at the royal commission hearing into land tenures in August 1973 bought land 10 years ago for $32 an acre and freely admitted to the commission in 1973 that he wanted to sell it then for $5,000 an acre and that he had held on to the land for simple speculative investment purposes. That is the magnitude of the problem with which we are confronted.

It is not simply a matter of protecting the rights of the landowner. Of course he has rights and his rights are not being taken away by this legislation. But there are other people in the community who also have rights. Much of that land has been held for many years. Because of the expansion of Darwin and its population and the need for housing and so on, it is not right to suggest that the people who need that land for housing or other purposes should be denied it simply because of the efforts of speculators.

I made the point earlier that this is not something new that has happened just under this Government. To the best of my knowledge the old Legislative Council of the Northern Territory never attempted at any time to pass an ordinance which might have been accepted by the then Liberal-Country Party Federal Government to allow the Legislative Council to take certain action in order to arrest this upward movement in prices. Is one to assume that the members of the old Legislative Council or even the former Federal Government had no desire to arrest this movement in prices? Maybe they were not interested. The record would suggest they were not interested because no action was taken. 1 ask honourable senators opposite to consider what would be the alternatives to the methods being used under this legislation. It is a simple matter for them to say that they will pass this matter over to the new Legislative Assembly.

Nobody is questioning the desirability of the new body. It was fully supported by this Government and it was initiated by this Government. The real question is: What is the most effective way to bring about an end to this tremendous speculation that is going on around Darwin? I feel it will be a shame, a great tragedy, for the residents of the Darwin area if this legislation is to be defeated.

A point was made by Senator Durack which I believe requires specific comment, that is, the proposition that the 10-year limit would mean that the Government could hang on to the acquired land indefinitely. Really the reverse is the truth. The reason for including the 10-year limit is so that the Government cannot sit on the land forever and do nothing. If an area is declared the intention is that the required land will be acquired within 10 years. If it is not it would be necessary to redeclare the area and to reinstitute the powers to acquire. Of course should this happen the base date will be the later date, the date of the redeclaration. Without such a time limit the land could be frozen indefinitely. It is for that reason that the Government has ensured that there is a protection to anyone who owns that land; that the Government would not be in a position simply to stand by indefinitely at its pleasure to the detriment or to the possible disadvantage of the land owner. But in practical terms it is extremely unlikely this would ever arise. The Government would almost certainly move in that time for the purpose for which the land is proposed to be acquired.

I turn now to the specific amendment that has been moved by Senator Durack on behalf of the Opposition. A great deal has been said about the role of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in relation to this legislation. The basic reason why the legislation is before the Parliament and not being enacted as an ordinance through the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly was outlined in the second reading speech. It is obvious from a study of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act, section 9 specifically, that in relation to the application of the Lands Acquisition Act in the Northern Territory the Minister for the Northern Territory administers the acquisition process. It is therefore not possible to vary the acquisition powers merely by an ordinance of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly because the powers of the Minister and the processes lie within Federal Acts. To pass an ordinance the Northern Territory (Administration) Act itself would need to be amended in Federal Parliament.

When this Government came into office it had already stated 2 policy objectives which are relevant here: Firstly, it wanted to stabilise land prices throughout Australia; and secondly, it wanted to give the Northern Territory a fully elected Assembly and then transfer certain functions to it after a joint committee of this Parliament had examined self-government measures for the Northern Territory. The then Minister for the Northern Territory, Mr Enderby, made the first objective quite clear in February 1973 in a long Press statement on high land prices. These, as I indicated earlier, were a legacy from the previous Government. Mr Enderby stated that he intended to issue instructions for legislation to be drafted to enable the speculative element to be removed from land prices. This legislation was first introduced by Dr Patterson into the House of Representatives on 3 April this year but lapsed due to the double dissolution in May. It has since been introduced again. But at the time of its first introduction in April copies of the Bill were made available to members of the then Northern Territory Legislative Council to clear up any confusion they may have had about the intent of the legislation. No debate or comment on adverse aspects of the Bill was forthcoming from the Legislative Council although it met 3 times in the ensuing 7 months until the Minister for the Northern Territory re-introduced the Bill in the House of Representatives on 16 October. On the second objective of the Government the Minister has moved quickly to give effect to the first stage of constitutional reform for the Northern Territory, namely, a fully elected Assembly. No one has worked harder to give effect to this than Dr Patterson. The second stage, as to what specific powers are to go over to the new Assembly, is a matter for decision in the light of the Joint Committee 's recommendations. So it has been purely a matter of first things first.

The Government is attempting to deal with the urgent question of high land prices, a matter which was evident, by all accounts, before 1973. The Government is taking seriously the matter of developing Australia's north and part of the task is to eliminate land speculation which has been rife in areas around Darwin. The claim that this legislation is rushed is ridiculous in the extreme in the light of what I have said. The claim that the local legislature is being bypassed and given no opportunity to discuss this issue is also false. In this regard 1 ask honourable senators opposite to reflect a little and to ask themselves how they would go about amending the present Federal legislation to control speculation in the Territory. The critical point is that we as a Government realised that action should have been taken on this even before we were in power. We have limited powers and limited options available to us. But this seems to the Government to be the most realistic and practical way of getting at the heart of this problem.

As has been indicated by Senator Durack, the Opposition apparently will vote against the measure. I believe that it will be extremely unfortunate if that happens because the legislation will be defeated. It will then remain the responsibility of the Opposition. If this matter of wildly escalating prices for land around Darwin is not grappled with and successfully dealt with, it will be on the heads of the members of the Opposition in this Federal Parliament. The Government is trying to protect those people in the Territory who are suffering from these speculators and the effects of their speculation. If this legislation is defeated the responsibility will lie fairly with the Opposition.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Durack's amendment) be left out.

Suggest corrections