Greens in Parliament: Changes to Compulsory Acquisition Process Inadequate

Today we acknowledged the community pressure that has forced the Baird Government to take action on the unfair compulsory acquisition process, and called on the Government to take further steps to ensure residents whose houses are compulsorily acquired are treated fairly. 


Ms JENNY LEONG ( Newtown ) ( 20:51 :49 ): On behalf of The Greens I make a contribution to debate on the Land Acquisition (Just Compensation Act) Amendment Bill 2016. I state at the outset that although The Greens will support the bill we are concerned it is only a band-aid solution when radical surgery is needed. It does not provide a fair nor just way of treating those people who are having their homes acquired. The improvements it contains do not go far enough. Indeed, it is a direct response to the community's outrage about the unfair bullying in the WestConnex compulsory acquisitions and its demand for the release of the Russell review, which this Government has sat on from 2014. I acknowledge that this community campaign has been supported by those on this side of the Chamber. The Greens, Labor and others have worked together to ensure that the Government is held to account and that those who have had their homes acquired are treated fairly.

That community pressure has clearly forced the Government to make this change and as the arrogance of the Baird Government continues, importantly, that community pressure against home acquisitions and the polluting WestConnex motorway will continue to build. As others have noted, an earlier report from the Joint Standing Committee on the Office of the Valuer General, chaired by the member for Hornsby, Matt Kean, was swept under the carpet, even though it was tabled in 2013. That committee report contained 29 recommendations. The Russell report, which was tabled in February 2014, contained 20 recommendations. The Government sat on both of those reports. What we know is that they have not been brought out into the light of day. We are only finally seeing some shifts and changes as a result of this significant collective pressure. This bill does not remedy the damage and financial burden put on the many hundreds of residents across Sydney who have been seriously disadvantaged by this deeply flawed compulsory acquisition process.

The proposed amendments, which offer up to $50,000 more in compensation or solatium, while obviously a positive step, do not go to the heart of the matter. The core issue is that property owners will not receive reinstatement compensation so they can restart their lives and purchase a home equal to that which the State has taken from them in the area in which they live. The provision of infrastructure in this city or State does not mean that the Government has the right to forcibly relocate citizens, yet this is what is happening as a default because of this unjust and unfair process. Governments have the right to acquire land and properties but not to impose conditions such that residents are forced to move away from their communities, their homes and the places they have chosen to live with their families.

It is clear that Premier Baird's comments over the past months that have expressed concern about the way WestConnex acquisitions have been handled were actually pretty disingenuous. The amendment to this Act does not seek to rectify the concerns and the problems that people have faced as it does not address the issue of reinstatement value. This is one of the core concerns with this bill as it stands. The provision for reinstatement compensation for unique properties that cannot be assessed according to market value does not go anywhere near addressing the need for just compensation to include simple reinstatement value compensation to everyone who has their properties forcibly acquired.

When we talk in this place about money and the amount of compensation given, what we are talking about is people's lives and their homes. I have met a number of people who have lost their homes as a result of the compulsory acquisition process. I spoke to a couple of people in the past week to check on how they are doing now that they have had to hand over their keys and move out of their home. No-one should be taking lightly the impact that this has had on people. One person I have known very closely for a long time has clearly been shaken by the process of dealing with the people undertaking the process of acquiring their home. It is clear that it is having a huge impact on these residents and communities. It is something that needs to be addressed seriously and considered.

The issue of home acquisitions does not only impact residents affected by WestConnex. Residents of Olivia Gardens in the Surry Hills area within the electorate of Newtown had their homes acquired as a result of the light rail construction. Originally that would not have been needed. Originally The Greens were supportive of that light rail going down Oxford Street. For some reason unbeknownst to many because of the lack of transparency of this Government these homes were acquired because a decision was made to send the light rail down Devonshire Street. Slater and Gordon senior compulsory acquisition lawyer Vincent Butcher who represents about 70 property owners from Homebush to St Peters said he was consistently seeing offers 20 per cent to 50 per cent below what the properties were worth. On this issue the Russell review stated:

Where a landowner is dispossessed from a dwelling, the reality is that they are going to have to use the compensation paid to acquire another home. In those circumstances, there is a strong argument to be made that they should obtain compensation on a reinstatement basis. There can be no reason in principle why New South Wales is the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not offer some form of such compensation.

David Russell, SC, could not have made it clearer and yet somehow this crucial recommendation did not make it into this amendment bill. Why not? Could it be that there are so many home owners who have been significantly underpaid by Roads and Maritime Services for its dirty toll road project, WestConnex, that the cost would blow out so much that it would exceed the $17 billion mark that we now see? The acquisitions of homes are being removed from that total budget because the cost is blowing out so greatly. Or is it just that this Government is so cruel, petty and miserly when it attempts to serve the interests of the people that billions of dollars of public money is being transferred to private hands and yet at the same time just compensation for people who are losing their homes and having their homes acquired is not being provided?

It is important to recognise that the extra solatium that is being offered does not address the problem that business owners face when their property is forcibly acquired. They are not able to access this additional inconvenience payment and neither are people who own their homes but were not living in them at the time. Those people will also not be eligible for this form of compensation. While all of the proposed amendments are better to be in the Act than not at all and they are all improvements, it is important to recognise that this issue of reinstatement has not been addressed, and this is the issue that impacts most greatly on the community that I represent. People know that in our area house prices are consistently rising and we know that people need to be provided reinstatement compensation to ensure that those people can continue to keep their children at the local school, so that they can continue to be connected with their local church or their local neighbourhood community centre and that they are not uprooted from their support networks, their neighbourhoods and the people who they have lived with for a period of time as part of their home.

I ask the Minister in his response to talk to the transparency of how all of us in this place will know in detail the number of people who have been contacted who are eligible for this additional inconvenience payment and the number of people who were unable to be contacted. It would be also useful for this House to know from this point on how many people were successful in getting an additional payment and how many people were not successful, because it is important that we do not just see a headline which announces that tens of thousands of dollars will be going to individuals for this inconvenience but, in actual fact, very little money is handed over.

The Greens do not oppose this bill as it does make some improvements, but it does not go far enough and it again demonstrates that this Liberal Government is failing to listen to people where it matters and is handing over billions of dollars to build a polluting toll road that the community does not want and that has no social licence, but at the same time is being miserly in not handing over the reinstatement value compensation that this community and the people who have lost their homes deserve.


Link to Hansard

Sign up for updates