Wednesday 16 March 2011
Hansard of the Legislative Council


Mr FINCH (Rosevears)) - When you were going on with those quotes there I thought you were going to take all of mine, so thank you for desisting.
The Premier's report on the Government's view of the present situation facing this State was really spot on. We do face cuts in revenue particularly from GST, our costs are steadily increasing and, of course, who knows what effect the catastrophe in Japan is going to have on the world economy. That has to filter back down and affect our economy here in Tasmania.
Ms Rattray - It is already happening.
Mr FINCH - Yes. So what is going to be the aftermath of that? I think that one particular section of the Premier's speech encapsulates the situation that we face, Madam President. She said:
'It is true that we are entering a difficult period for Government because we have to make the tough decisions to ensure that our State does not descend into the problems of the past where we saw spiralling debt, unemployment well in excess of 10 per cent, negative population growth and private investment plummeting. But it is also true that we can still rise above today's pressures to see where we are going and what pathway we are taking to get there.'
I agree, Madam President, we do face problems which must be faced immediately and the longer action is delayed the bigger our problems will become, as the Premier points out. Her concluding paragraph reads:
'These are difficult and challenging times. We have tough decisions to make on our budget, on our economy and on our environment. The test we face as members of parliament and as Tasmanians is whether we can set vested interests aside and be strong enough to make the difficult but responsible decisions required for Tasmania's future.'
Few Tasmanians are going to argue with that. Of course here in this House I am sure that we are prepared to support tough measures if they are fair, if they are well thought out and if they are applied consistently.
Ms Forrest - Through you, Madam President - do you really think that the broader public are willing to put those vested interests aside?
Mr FINCH - We will have to see. This is what the Premier says, that we as members face that issue, whether they can and whether they will.
Ms Forrest - I asked you do you think they can?
Mr FINCH - Do I think they can?
Ms Forrest - Yes, do you think those people who have those vested interests out there in the various areas of debate at the moment can let go of that?
Mr FINCH - It is going to be interesting to see, isn't it, as we move into a different landscape than the one that we have appreciated over many years with really good GST coming into the State and the economy humming along, and now it is not. Now we face different times and how do we deal and react to that?
Mr Hall - Do you remember that famous quote: always back the horse called Self Interest?
Mr FINCH - I think it will be getting a bit of a gee-up too. I do note an indication from the Premier, not long in office, of course, that she placed renewed stress on core value. We recognise those who succeed, but we also value those who are less fortunate. Those who are less fortunate, as the Premier points out, are facing tough times in our community as we have heard already from the honourable member for Western Tiers and the honourable member for Murchison, particularly. Our people are worried about the cost of living and whether they can cope. Energy prices would come immediately to mind and I am sure that to the honourable member for Apsley jobs would come immediately to mind.
This state of the State address is traditionally a grievance debate and there is a view that it is an opportunity for whingeing. Some are of the view that whingeing is boring, but I can neither confirm nor deny that I agree or disagree with that view. There is one grievance apparent in my electorate that I would like to raise and concentrate on.
Ms Rattray - You have only one? Lucky you.
Mr FINCH - No, I have plenty, but I have exercised that debate here in Parliament. We have talked about the silt, which continues to be an absolute disgrace. I just cannot believe that people can look at the Tamar and put up with it. We members who are in the area see what is happening there. I am thinking today, particularly, about Graeme Beams, who I will be talking about later on, on the adjournment, and the work and energy he put in with UTRIA, the Upper Tamar River Improvement Authority, to dredge and to keep as clean and clear that Tamar River as money would allow. With the dismantling of UTRIA and the seeming end of the dredging we have this build-up of silt that is an absolute disgrace. It might have been an infrastructure minister, Bryan Green, who came with us to have a look at the river who agreed with David Bartlett, the then Premier, that $1 million should be spent on dredging straightaway. It was obvious, as plain as the nose on your face, that it was a disgrace.
Mr Hall - What's holding it up now?
Mr FINCH - We need more reports.
Mr Wing - Permits.
Mr Dean - Which some say were never issued in the first place anyway. They're still checking it out.
[3.30 p.m.]
Mr FINCH - And the frustration that was then expressed by the former Premier and Bryan Green has meant that we are still not dredging and it is still as big a disgrace as it has been and is building to be an even worse one. Do not get me started.
Mr Wing - There's still nobody directly responsible.
Mr FINCH - No, and we have presented to the Government our solution that we believe will be that overriding fix all for the Tamar Valley and its catchment areas and that is a statutory management authority. It has really just been ignored by the Government. Well, that will be at their peril.
Mr Dean - They could pick up many brownie points and many of those that they've lost in the last few months.
Mr FINCH - Yes. There are some good things going on. One of my particular interests was the trail between Beauty Point and Beaconsfield. We talk so much these days about health and welfare and getting people out into the fresh air and walking and riding bikes. I could not believe that we had this stumbling block of getting a terrific 3 kilometre trail between Beauty Point and Beaconsfield, both with substantial communities, both with opportunities for recreation at either end, with a terrific nearly flat walkway between the two locations. I could not for the life of me understand how the money could not be allocated to get that pathway constructed. The good news is that it is being constructed. It is in the final stages and that will be a great boon to our area.
There are still issues there and the West Tamar Highway of course but you just bang on about the same old issues and you just have to be careful that your whingeing does not become boring. Then it does not have the resonance that issues like those should have when you bring them up and want to send a message through to the Government.
In the Premier's speech there is not any mention of the growing I would say concern, and some would say anger, in some communities over an effect of the protection of agricultural land legislation that was passed in 2009. I am sure it is an unintended effect but there seems a strange reluctance on the part of the Labor Government to make the simple modification necessary to right a wrong. Zoning activity by Tasmanian councils under the State policy on the protection of agricultural land has disadvantaged many landholders holding titles in fee simple of less than 50 hectares. That is particularly in my electorate but other areas are concerned. This has the effect, and it has had the effect, of diminishing the value of their land by as much as 90 per cent and preventing them from building a home on it.
Mr Hall - But they probably bought that land at rural prices in the first place.
Mr FINCH - But what rates do they pay? They still pay the same rates as if it were 100 per cent value. That is the problem.
Mr Harriss - You're right.
Mr FINCH - Thank you very much. I will go on. There is evidence, Madam President, that concern in the community has not dissipated. The Government might be waiting for it to go away. In fact I am going to table a petition in this House tomorrow on the matter. There are nearly 1 000 signatures to that petition and it basically calls on the Legislative Council to take appropriate action to restore the common law rights of property owners to erect a dwelling in titles held in fee simple. Just to refresh members' memories, in July last year I asked what the Government was doing to correct the situation these landholders find themselves in. To paraphrase the response, not a lot.
In fact the injustice continues. In my questions about the PAL policy last July I quoted Mr Justice Kirby, who said:
'Under the current laws in Australia, both State and Federal, it is absolutely illegal for the Government 'to take what it wants', or indeed to dictate in any way what property-owners must do or not do in regard to their lands held under Deeds in Fee Simple so long as we retain our Common Law status under our legally unchangeable Christian Monarchical Constitutions, which apply both State and Federally.
Certain politicians are trying illegally to change our unchangeable (except via referendum) Federal Constitution because they want to deny people the right to hold private property under our Monarchical laws'.
It seems to me, Madam President, that Tasmania's PAL policy is one of those policies referred to by Mr Justice Kirby. I fail to see how a landholder building a home on less than 50 hectares of land threatens agricultural production. There are plenty of agricultural enterprises that can take place on less than 50 hectares - vineyards, orchards, market gardens, pig and chicken production. These enterprises, as you would be aware, Madam President, are difficult to manage properly if you cannot live on-site. You have to be there to manage it properly. There is a farmer in my area, John Clark, who has sold the farm now, but he lived in town and tried to farm remotely from Launceston. It is just too difficult to be that far away.
Mr Hall - Through you, Madam President - correct me if I am wrong but when we passed the new State policy it actually gave councils discretion as long as it did not fetter adjoining landowners. Therefore you can still build on under a 50 hectare title, as I understand it, depending on the council's interpretation.
Mr FINCH - Yes, if the council sees fit to do that.
Ms Forrest - It comes down to the council's decision a lot of the time; that is part of the problem.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and titles in fee simple should not be restricted in that way.
Mr Hall - I don't think it is the case anywhere in Australia that just because you own a title there is an absolute permitted use; you have to satisfy certain conditions, and there is always discretion.
Mr FINCH - I am sure that you will be interested in a special part here and I will look at you when you should prick up your ears because this will be the reference that I have made here in questions before about when the PAL policy was introduced. I am not critical of the PAL policy, just a part of it that affects those people in my electorate particularly and, as I am finding out, in other areas where their land has been devalued and they cannot build on it. When they purchased that piece of land they thought that they would be able to build on it.
In September last year I put the following questions to the Leader. Firstly, will the Government recognise that circumstances have changed since the State Policy on the Protection of Agricultural Land was drawn up, in that the whole structure of the tree plantation industry has changed? Secondly, will it also recognise that supposedly unintended restrictions on building which affect as many as 30 000 titles are becoming more apparent? Thirdly, does the Government agree with the following two statements in Hansard on 19 June 2007 in the House of Assembly? Both the then premier Lennon and deputy premier Kons stated in Parliament that the PAL policy was never meant to stop people building on their own land. On 11 August 2007 the Minister for Planning, Steve Kons, repeated the above statements to a meeting of the Meander Valley Action Group. Fourthly, if the Government still stands by those two statements, will it consider changing the PAL policy? Madam President, the effects of the PAL policy, intended or accidental, remain and some of my constituents say they are being unfairly disadvantaged.
Mr Hall - When did you ask that question? I missed that.
Mr FINCH - I asked that question in September last year.
Mr Hall - That was after both Houses put through the new policy and we had that as a motion and Liberal, Labor and the Greens all supported it downstairs, as we did at the time.
Mr FINCH - The constituents in my electorate feel that they are being unfairly disadvantaged, and I am sure there is a similar situation in other parts of the State. Madam President, Tourism Tasmania's promotion of this State is about lifestyle, as it was for the West Tamar Council when they encouraged people to come to the West Tamar to buy their small plot of land and live their dream. Of course they came up and bought their 5 hectares, 10 hectares and 20 hectares and then with the rezoning a lot of that land became 'rural resource' that you could not build a home on.
I want to talk about Tourism Tasmania sponsoring a long-running program on SBS television called Gourmet Farmer. I am sure some in this House are aware of the program. I am sure the member for Huon would be because it depicts Tasmania in a rather idyllic image with a former Sydney food critic, Matthew Evans, and his experience on his smallholding near Cygnet producing meat and vegetables. This program puts Tasmania in a good light for mainland audiences and is an appropriate way for Tourism Tasmania to promote our clean food and our beautiful countryside and great lifestyle. Let us say a Melbourne family are inspired to buy 30 hectares, say, in Tasmania and they want to emulate Matthew Evans. When they arrive they are likely to find they cannot build their dream home because it could be on rural resource and they have to have 50 hectares. Madam President, the farming sector often expresses disappointment over a perceived lack of understanding by the urban population. One way of correcting this is to build that bridge between urban populations and industrial-scale farming.
It could be argued that smallholdings in areas like the West Tamar would accomplish this but such bridge building is hampered by the PAL policy in respect of this item I am talking about. I know it is impossible to please everyone with the planning policy. Those of you with vast experience in local government would have dealt with these issues constantly. Sometimes landholders have the right to be curtailed for the greater good. However, I believe that it would not be difficult to modify the PAL policy to take away the problem that I have detailed and that would remove a lot of the angst and concern and, dare I suggest, it could even be anger in our community.
Mr Hall - Through you, Madam President - I am just wondering whether, when the new regional planning schemes are instituted and the individual planning schemes are incorporated, they would incorporate all those facets of the new regional planning schemes and whether or not that might allow some more flexibility.
Mr FINCH - You would hope so. I do not know how that will overlay when it sits on our current planning policy but certainly it needs to be homed in on by the Government. The government briefings have been made available to me and we have talked about this but certainly it has not been corrected, as I understand it at the moment.
The concern is still there in the community and I suppose that is the signal I am presenting to the Government, to the minister, that that concern is still out there and I will do that with the petition that I present tomorrow morning.