Thursday 10 July 2008
Legislative Council Hansard

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - I will pick over the bones of what the member has left for me.  Of course there has always been a wide range of views on the protection of agricultural land policy and very few of them have apparently been in any way supportive of the regimes suggested so far.  In fact, I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who supported the concept as it was put forward.

So it is back to the drawing board - that is the obvious course of action - and the main problem with any policy to protect agricultural land in Tasmania is how the agricultural land is to be classified.  In my electorate of Rosevears there is little of what can be termed 'prime agricultural land'.  I think the best piece of land in my electorate is actually at Grindelwald, and that is of course the housing subdivision.

Mr Dean - I thought you were going to mention the silt in the river for a while.

Ms Forrest - That would be very fertile.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - We could build some houseboats on it.

Ms Forrest - You need some water gardens.

Mrs Jamieson - Some pole houses.

Mr FINCH - But of course there is plenty in my electorate, as was alluded to by the member for Western Tiers -

Ms Forrest - Plenty of what?

Mr FINCH - Plenty of land there that is good for ventures ranging from vineyards to production wood lots, as we heard in the briefing that we had at Henty House.

We have all been lobbied over the PAL policy and, as the member mentioned, we did have that briefing recently with two members from the Tamar Valley branch of the TFGA, Rowella farmer, John Clark, from my electorate and Lawrence Archer, who is a land-holder from the George Town area, from the Windermere part.

Mr Dean - The previous mayor of George Town.

Mr FINCH - Yes.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Famous in local government circles.

Mr FINCH - John Clark, too, of course was involved in local government with the Beaconsfield Council - I think for about 14 years.  So they know very intimately the workings of councils.

On the West Tamar we have 2 600 titles of less than 50 hectares and most of that is on relatively poor, phosphorus-deficient land.  Mr Clark told us the story of how his father bought up eleven 50 hectare titles to try to create a single farm and the task was too hard because of a couple of factors, one of which was trying to acquire the crown land roads that ran in between the titles.

Mrs Jamieson - We won't go down that track.

Mr FINCH - No, it was just all too difficult.  I think he might have said, too, that cost was also a factor in going through that process.

So when I look at my electorate, I have to ask why we keep this land from homes and families, because that is what is happening.  I hear fully what the member for Western Tiers said about fettering, I do understand that.  I still think, too, it is a question of having an understanding of what comes first.  If somebody does set up a vineyard then it is up to the planner to take into account the possible situation of somebody wanting to build a house next door and to either not allow that because of the fettering situation or them having some understanding of what is going next door.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - We discussed Part 5 agreements on titles to attempt to entertain that sort of process, but it is always a difficult area.

Mr FINCH - Yes.  Mr Clark was a little bit bitter about town planners.  He was talking about how planners expect farmers to live in the towns and use a caravan if they want to stay on their properties overnight.  You can understand with Mr Clark's situation he would have preferred to have had a house there to use as well to work the farm but, as I say, the suggestion to him was to get a caravan and live in that.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Or commute.

Mr FINCH - Madam President, let us preserve the viable areas of true agricultural land by all means, but let us also allow people to live in houses on their blocks of land and let us allow wood lots and a multitude of land uses on less than prime land.  Let us, within reason, allow people to live the way they would like to live.  The slogan for West Tamar is 'A place to live and a place to visit' and they actively promoted the ideal of lifestyle, people coming to the West Tamar and getting those few acres to be able to expand their living situation and enjoy that beautiful and very scenic lifestyle on the West Tamar, and I am sure in other parts of Tasmania, too.  It is not exclusive to the West Tamar.

Mr Dean - You are right - through the Chair - the rights of people have been eroded, haven't they, really.  For example, there is the Lilydale situation recently arising where there were complaints and concerns about people wanting to grow trees on property there.

Mr FINCH - Yes, and it was also interesting in that Lawrence Archer told us that using the PAL policy to stop people building homes is putting off investment.  He says that planners do not seem to understand the advantages of lifestyle blocks.  Of course he is a farmer who has used some of his less-than-prime land to grow wood lots and whatever else it is suitable for.  As you say, you have to be flexible and you have to take up every opportunity that you can.  Let us listen to Lawrence Archer and other landowners who know the potential of their land better than bureaucrats, I think it would be fair to say.

We have to listen to what they have to say but let us also preserve Tasmania's food-production potential.  That is not just vegetables on prime land but of course beautiful grass-fed beef on marginal land as well and our trees for shelter and timber and fibre production.  Production wood lots in shelter belts are a necessary part of any whole-farm plan.  I suppose this process is about getting our land-use balance right and I think it is in everyone's interest for us to take the time to do that.  Of course probably for my electorate and my area we just need to include those families who want to live on a few hectares with room for the kids and some of their own interests.

Mr Dean - It is interesting; when we were given that briefing I think it might have been mentioned that of all the farms in the West Tamar area there are only two families that are able to live off their land whilst all of the others have off-farm pursuits.

Mr FINCH - Yes, that is right.  It is like a dormitory location for a lot of people who work in Launceston because as we improve the West Tamar Highway, and we need to thank the Government for the work that they have done recently on our highway, it is getting better and better and easier to in fact live on the West Tamar and to commute.

Mr Hall - Through you, Madam President, to the honourable member in response to what the honourable member for Windermere said - in my view there is still a lot of potential for horticulture production on the West Tamar.

Mr FINCH - Absolutely.

Mr Hall - Once again, as I say, if policy allows or council allow a lot of those blocks to be built upon, the mere fact of putting a house and outbuildings on it fetters that for a long time.

Mr FINCH - Yes, and that is the juggling act.  It comes back to the West Tamar councillors and to their planners to work through that and have those decisions there and get that chemistry unfolding so that the councillors and the planners have an understanding of how those people are using the act to try to achieve good results.  In formulating a framework for protecting prime agricultural land, let us listen to everyone who has a view.  I appreciate the fact that we have this motion forward from the Leader that is going to allow more time for consideration of submissions and for consultation because we have to try to get this right.

[3.35 p.m.]
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Madam President, the PAL policy has been a source of frustration and discontent in my electorate for a number of years.  A lot of that stems from the fact that when the policy was originally debated in this place - before my time - the intent seemed to be lost along the way in its implementation.  It begs the question of how we have reached this point that we need to revisit the whole thing.  I can see why we do, but I think that the intention has always been the same, to protect agricultural land; not just prime agricultural land but all agricultural land.  This is land that has the capacity to produce, whether timber or food.  That was the intent of the policy.  It was to protect land so that we did not have this hotchpotch and carve-up of our good land to the point that it was no longer sustainable or viable as an agricultural pursuit.

Other members have commented that we need to allow people to live how they want to live, but I think that there needs to be some consideration given to the big picture.  If everyone in Hobart decided they wanted to have a 5-acre block and a hobby farm, perhaps grow a few vegies, run a few chooks or whatever because that is how they want to live, where would we be?  We would have no functional and useable agricultural land left.

Mr Parkinson - I had a dear old constituent in North Hobart who wanted to run 50 chooks, 25 cats, about 35 ducks -

Ms FORREST - On a quarter-acre block?

Mr Parkinson - and a couple of dozen roosters on a quarter-acre block.

Ms FORREST -  I think the RSPCA might have had something to say about that but anyway. 

The point is that we run the risk if we do not seriously look at what we are trying to achieve.  We are seeing blocks on the west Tamar, for example, that may be a size - as the member for Western Tiers said - that could be agriculturally productive but are carved up into smaller blocks and built on with the ones that are left being no longer big enough to be sustainable.  You end up with a hotchpotch of blocks.  I think that there are people who choose to live in the country and have an off-farm income as well.  Many of our bigger farms have one member of the partnership, often the female, who has off-farm income to make ends meet in the current hard times farmers are experiencing, except for those in dairy perhaps at the moment, but even they have had their hard times.

When I read Hansard from some years ago when this policy originally came through this place, the intent was very clear.  It was to ensure that agricultural land was protected so that we did not see a loss of productivity.  If you look at the original policy, the one we are seeking to revocate so that this interim policy can go to the RPDC, I think that policy was pretty much right.  It was in the direction of and supporting the process and the intent that was agreed to.

At the time guidelines were developed as well.  The guidelines seemed to get completely lost in this whole argument.  They were not compulsory.  They were available, as the guidelines that sit under this interim policy are available on the web site, and it is not compulsory for councils to follow them.  I think even with this interim policy that we are potentially agreeing to today, we will see the same thing.  Potentially council are going to look at this interim policy and apply it how they like.  That might sound a bit harsh but I have seen examples of that in my electorate on a number of occasions.

Whilst the guidelines do set out fairly clearly in most areas, and give examples of what may or may not be appropriate, it again comes down to interpretation of terms.  I go to the interpretation of significant agricultural land. 

The member for Western Tiers touched on this.  He talked about prime agricultural land.  Prime agricultural land is classified as class 1, 2, or 3 and it makes up 4.3 per cent of the State's total landmass.  There is a fair bit that is not prime agricultural land obviously, by far the majority.  A significant proportion of that would be classified as significant agricultural land, land that is significant to that region for agricultural purpose.  That might be forestry plantation, dairy farming, beef farming, vegetable growing or whatever.  Obviously a lot more of our agricultural purpose occurs on significant agricultural land than prime agricultural land, purely by the very comparative size of those two components of the land.

For example, Circular Head has very little, if any, class 1, 2 or 3, or prime agricultural land.  It is nearly all class 4, 5 and 6.  This is a highly productive agricultural area.  The amount of wealth that comes out of that part of the State in their produce from the dairy farms, vegetable growing and forestry is huge.  But there is hardly a scrap of class 1, 2 or 3 land there.  The same could be said for King Island.  There is no class 1, 2 or 3 land on King Island and look what it produces with King Island beef and King Island Dairy products.

We need to continually go back I think to the intent of the policy and in some way work towards getting all councils to adhere to the guidelines and use the guidelines in a meaningful way, rather than imposing their own interpretations on them.  This is bound to be a possibility again if the guidelines are just guidelines and they do not have to take them into consideration at all.

I think there is not a lot more to say.  I agree with the process we are going through now that we are at this point where, clearly, there have been problems.  The intent has been lost to some degree.  The process now is for the draft policy to go back to the RPDC to allow a period of public comment.  I have certainly encouraged a lot of my constituents to make comment before 1 September.  A lot of them have quite relevant points to make in relation to this policy.  Some of them are related to how they use their land and some are related to the capacity to build on land and these smaller blocks.  I think it was the member for Western Tiers who mentioned it is a little frustrating for people who have grown up in and know the country to have townies move into the country and whinge about everything.

Ms Thorp - Hear, hear.

Ms FORREST - Whingeing about the noise of the tractors, the irrigators going, the roosters crowing -

Ms Thorp - There is a truck going up my road with potatoes on it.



Ms FORREST - Yes, I know, how dare they?  It is so frustrating because they say, we moved to the country for peace and quiet.  I think, fantastic.  You do not have the traffic noise and the ambulances screaming down the street every five minutes.  But there are animal and farm noises, noises of the country.  Get over it. 

Ms Thorp - Your cow is mooing.

Ms FORREST - In fact, I think I may have told this story before, about when my sister had a friend staying the night and the cows were mooing.  The cow was on heat and could not get to the bull, so there was quite a noise going on during the night and he thought the cow was being murdered.  Quite disturbed, he was.  He did not complain until the next morning.

Mr Wilkinson - Could well have been.

Members laughing.

Ms FORREST - Trying to get through the fence.  The cow was hopeful but it just did not quite succeed.

Mr Parkinson - I would have let the cow out to get some sleep.

Ms FORREST - I think he was too scared to leave the bedroom.  I did not even hear them because I was used to them.  They are just noise, just cows mooing.

Ms Thorp - First the cow, next me.

Mr WILKINSON - I think the noises would have been worse.

Ms FORREST - The other comment was, if we take this too far in the other direction, then you can potentially stymie development.  I had someone do some back-of-the-envelope figures on the potential loss of investment from some council decisions, regarding housing development application being knocked back on the excuse that they did not meet the PAL policy requirements in areas that had been deemed appropriate.  It was not really a PAL policy issue.  This was the situation in the President's electorate in Penguin recently where they have had a similar issue.  I think we need to be careful to look at both sides of the coin.  We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where we are stopping development everywhere, but we do not want to see agricultural land compromised to the point where it is no longer productive.  I support the motion to revoke the current policy to allow this interim policy to be implemented in the time frame it will take for the draft policy to go through the RPDC process.  I sincerely hope that we come out with a policy that can be applied meaningfully and that is fairly easy for councils and people living in Tasmania to understand.  If it requires guidelines - and I believe it will - I hope there will be some sort of requirement for councils to apply the guidelines when making their decisions.

[3.46 p.m.]
Mrs RATTRAY-WAGNER (Apsley) - The honourable members who have spoken before me have put this in a nutshell.  It is a vexed issue and I do not believe that there would be anyone, albeit that they are not rural members, who would not appreciate the difficulty that this issue with the PAL policy has delivered around the State.  I am sure that if they have not been involved they certainly know somebody who has been in the past.  I will not attempt to go back over all the issues because coming from a rural background I appreciate completely that farmers and farming pursuits need a right to farm.  Having close neighbours with small acreages, I know that people may come to live there who do not particularly appreciate the practices of the farming areas.  That can put real strains on communities, especially small communities, where people become divided because you belong to that family or another family.  It is going to be a difficult time.

I think one of the main points - and the member for Murchison raised it - is that there is an opportunity for people to make submissions.  As members of parliament we need to encourage our constituents and anyone we know who could well have an opinion about the PAL policy and the changes that they may see as being appropriate in the future to put in a submission.  I am not sure whether other members are aware, but my experience is that mostly we do not have people saying very much until after the event.  They somehow get caught up in a policy that has been and gone through the process and then say, 'Oh, but I didn't realise that had happened'.  How many times have we heard that?  It is important that we alert people to the fact that there is going to be a revised protection of agricultural land policy and there is an opportunity to participate in that process.  We must make sure that people understand fully.  I am a realist and I know that we will never capture everyone through that process but at least we should encourage people - I have already had a couple of people have a look at the revised policy draft that has been out since November.  I think the most apt word I can use is that they are looking for 'consistency' and that is something that also has been touched on by other members, that we have a consistent framework around the State and then there is an opportunity for that consistent framework to be put out to all 29 councils.