Tuesday 6 August 2019

Hansard of the Legislative Council
Residences, Tamar River, Deviot
Impact of Land Slippage


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I move -
That the Legislative Council -

  1. Notes the impact on several residences fronting the Tamar River at Deviot as a result of landslip during the winter of 2016 which was one of the wettest winters in memory;

  2. (a)   Acknowledges the extensive and costly damage to property that has occurred, including the demolition of one family home; and

    (b)   Acknowledges the extreme stress and anxiety that affected families have endured.

  3. (a)   Notes that an expert geotechnical consultant's report found that an active landslip problem was known publicly for some time; and

    (b)   Is concerned that neither official state geological survey maps nor the council's planning scheme had rated the risk as prohibitive.

  4. Questions why planning and building approvals continued to be provided, including for the Deviot landslip properties.

  5. Appreciates that the three-year wait for the five worst-affected Deviot families has been extremely difficult for them in not knowing whether the considerable investment in their homes will ever be realised.

  6. (a)   Notes that the consultant's report urges both the West Tamar Council and the Government 'to understand and respond to the financial, emotional and physical needs of the affected residents'; and

    (b)   Notes that precedent for compensation does exist in the areas of Lawrence Vale during the 1950s, Beauty Point in the West Tamar and the Rosetta landslip in Glenorchy; and

  7. Urges the West Tamar Council and the Government, as a priority, to address and satisfactorily resolve this matter, including appropriate compensation for those properties seriously affected.

This is my first opportunity to present a report about the occurrences at Deviot.  I particularly thank the Clerk for the advice and help he has given me in formulating this motion.  I also thank the Chair of Committees, the member for Murchison, who provided guidance on the best way to present this case before parliament; the member for Windermere, who has allowed me this opportunity to present this motion ahead of his very important day here; and the member for Hobart, who brought this motion forward last Friday.

In moving the motion, I bring to members' attention a situation in my electorate of Rosevears in which a group of residents from Deviot, who are here today in the gallery, have each had their lives turned on their heads by an act of nature.  It seems that both state government and local government have a case to answer.

In 2016, in the midst of one of the wettest winters in memory, five residents living near the Tamar River found themselves on top of a very serious landslip.  Lateral movements of houses of up to 2 metres were recorded, which resulted in serious and extensive damage to property and untold stress and anxiety for the families concerned.  In one case, the Dakings' family home, which had a bank mortgage over it, had to be demolished with the family having to relocate to Launceston.  The mortgage continues to be repaid on a home that no longer exists.

It is a particularly dire situation for that family, but it is not dissimilar to the predicament all five families could face if Mother Nature decides to let loose with further giant landslips in future winters, possibly even this winter.

All five families have been living with uncertainty for the past three years.  They each have the daily worry of having hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in their family homes which are now perhaps worthless.  On top of that, they are spending large sums of money and suffering considerable mental stress and strain in a desperate effort to arrest the landslide and save their homes.  In some case, this remedial expenditure alone has been in the realm of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What is most disconcerting about the awful situation confronting these families is that both the state government and the local West Tamar Council have known since the nineteenth century that there is a landslip risk in the area.  The area is known as Brickmakers Point.  It is so named because at the heart of the area are clay deposits that as early as 1855 were the basis of a busy brick-making and pottery business.  It once boasted a capacity of 16 000 bricks per day.  The business was known initially as the Springville Brickworks and then later as the Paton Brickworks.

The factory no longer exists, but it and the local clays it quarried are deeply etched in the recorded history of northern Tasmania.  There was an agent for the factory in Launceston - Hobkirk & Son.  The Launceston Examiner carried many stories and advertisements that put the brickworks family on the public record.  In 1855, The Examiner boasted that Springville had 14 000 machine-made bricks for three shillings per thousand.  It is recorded in history that those bricks were made for the Supply River ruins at Deviot in 1828 at Brickmakers Point.  In other words, the slippery clays of the Brickmakers Point area have been public knowledge for well over 160 years.  Yet, incredibly, in recent times, neither the state government or the West Tamar Council have provided explicit warnings to local property owners of the landslide risks that they pose.

Where such warnings exist elsewhere in Tasmania, they are flow-ons from regional maps produced by the Mines department, now Mineral Resources Tasmania, which show things such as the condition of subsoils.

The MRT maps are the reference point for surveyors, architects, state agencies and local governments, and have a specific function in guiding the formulation of parts of local councils' town planning schemes.
Town planning schemes lay out guidelines for developers on what they can and cannot do.  They contain construction rules, warnings and strictures related to building codes.  Someone wanting to build or extend their home has to first obtain planning approval and then building approval from their local council.
In planning their developments, property owners refer to their council's planning scheme, which, where it is applicable, will alert the applicant to things like landslide categorisation.

A council's planning scheme comes into effect only after it is approved by the state.  The state's role is to make sure that the scheme has everything right, that it lines up with the building code, does not exceed the council's statutory authority and contains appropriate protections for developers and landowners with things such as landslide risk.

There have been many studies over the years by the state government's Mines department, now Mineral Resources Tasmania, including the subsoils of the area around Brickmakers Point.

The most prominent of these maps were drawn up in the 1960s and 1970s.  The recently completed government-backed study of the 2016 landslip event by a reputable geotechnical consultancy, Pennington Geotechnics, made note of these studies -

Extensive government lead geological studies of landslide in the Tamar Valley were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s in response to a significant amount of landslide activity.

Unfortunately, these 1960s and 1970s maps fail to accurately categorise the land of the affected properties at Brickmakers Point.  The significant landslip risk that existed was not recognised.

Instead of putting the area in the Zone V category, the mapmakers put it in a benign category of Class 2, described as -

Generally stable ground on 'soft' rocks, including very gentle slopes.  Deep soil overlying hard rock, on gently sloping ground.

The consultant's report commented that 'Clearly these properties are not on "generally stable ground".'

This mistake by the state's mappers was largely responsible for the surprise experienced by residents at the time of the 2016 slip and the damage that it wrought on their homes.

The Pennington study went on to say that this erroneous information appears to have informed the actions of the West Tamar Council to not require any investigation into landslide, either for the development application, or the issuing of building licences for these properties -

Indeed, the current WTC planning scheme overlay dated 2012 for this area ... shows NO LANDSLIP Hazard for anywhere in Deviot.

That is what the report says.

Ms Forrest - Which seems extraordinary in itself.

Mr FINCH - Thank you.  Yet it was the hazardous and slippery clays of the Brickmakers Point area that helped grease this disastrous landslip of 2016 and many others recorded over previous decades.
Using the deficient MRT maps and the state-approved WTC planning scheme, most of the landslip-damaged properties at Deviot have at some stage seen new homes built or existing homes extended.

The necessary planning and building permits were applied for and granted, with property owners comforted by the fact that the council was not sounding any alarm bells with respect to any risks, such as landslide.

Meanwhile, the real and serious risk of landslip remained hidden.  A timebomb was in place and exploded in 2016.

Within the cohort of homes damaged by the 2016 event, some have been bought and sold with the new owners totally oblivious of any risks.  When they inquired with the council as to whether there were outstanding work orders or unusual planning issues et cetera, they were assured there were none.  No mention was made by council of serious landslip risks - after all the council's planning scheme showed there was none.

As previously mentioned, a study of the landslip was recently concluded, commissioned by a multidisciplinary steering committee comprising delegates from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Mineral Resources Tasmania, the West Tamar Council and TasWater.  A local, Trevor Grant, was appointed as the community representative.  The study consultant appointed by the steering committee was Dr Derek Pennington, principal of Pennington Geotechnics Pty Ltd.  His brief was to look at landslip in the wider Deviot area with particular emphasis on the Brickmakers Point event.

The Pennington draft report was handed down in early July and is now being finalised at the hands of the steering committee and the study's coordinator, the West Tamar Council.  The report has confirmed many failings by both state and local government and has documented the sometimes-parlous situation that has engulfed affected residents.

Let me make a few observations.  The report makes it clear an active landslip problem in the Brickmakers Point area was longstanding public knowledge.  This predated the major landslip event of 2016 and predated many council planning and building approvals provided for the properties worst affected.  The report says on page 3 that the properties included in this study are sited on nested historic landslides and that the 2016 event was a reactivation event.

This observation underscores the fact that to government, informed as it was by extensive archives of authoritative geological survey data sets, the event could not have come as a surprise.  Historically, landslip was not an unusual occurrence.

Whilst the studies of the 1960s and 1970s failed to recognise specific landslide vulnerabilities for the Brickmakers Point area, it is clear they should have.  There was ample anecdotal evidence on the public record this was the case.

The consultant's report provides a time-line of the landslide-related events going back to 1931.  There are landslip references for 1946, the late 1950s, 1972, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 2003.
Commenting specifically on the MRT Landslide Advisory Maps drawn from the studies and compiled in the mid-1970s, the consultancy was at a loss to explain how the landslip risk went undetected.

Quoting from page 48, inexplicably, none of the landslides at Brickmakers Point were recognised at the time of mapping.

As if to underscore the tragic consequences of the omission by the government agency, Pennington wrote at page 46 -

Had this been correctly mapped as Class V, it would have served as a trigger for development applications in the WTC planning scheme.

It is arguable that from the 1970s through to the event of 2016, government was asleep at the wheel with regard to landslip, and an out-of-sight, out-of-mind culture was allowed to develop at the frontline planning and building approval process.  To this end, the report noted on page 2 that the study's recommendations were not developed into building guidelines and regulations within state and local government legislation, instead councils pushed back on the landslide zoning advice and approvals were given where further assessment should have been required.  Consequently, 'state building legislation failed to capture the need for specific requirements for construction in these areas'.  Not only was government asleep at the wheel, but it seems to have also turned a blind eye to the bleeding obvious.  The report provided the following explanation for the council's slumber over the 40 years from the 1970s through to 2016 -

With time, even the prior knowledge of the extent and potential for land sliding was lost by Councillors and planners, and inappropriate developments were approved, and the rational for appropriate planning lost.

In other words, complacency by both state and local government was exposing property owners to the multitude of risks that landslides presented.  These risks became reality in the landslide event of 2016.  The report noted several other areas where the local council and other government authorities contributed directly to the severe impacts of the 2016 event, including on page 3, 'Poor WTC and private road drainage leading to locally elevated ground water', and 'Watermain leaks due to landslide damaging pipes in the road corridor'.  Pennington pointedly tied this substandard council and TasWater maintenance to the 2016 event.  He said on page 29, 'It is highly likely that poor road drainage contributed to the remobilisation of the landslide'.

The Pennington report has made a series of recommendations.  Some of the most relevant include, on page 4 -

Simply allowing development on landslip prone slopes must be reconsidered. 

Recommendations contained in geotechnical reports must be followed as a condition of approval.

Improve road drainage management including the conduiting of water on the down slope towards the Tamar.

Tree planting of deep rooted species is encouraged and it is recommended that guidelines for revegetation are developed and made available.  Removal of significant trees should be prohibited without consideration of groundwater impact and approval.

All these recommendations seem logical and necessary.  The quicker they are implemented, the better. 
Because of the unfortunate and arguably negligent actions of state and local government in the lead-up to the 2016 landslide event, the issue of compensation for the affected property owners has been raised.  Because it was not within the scope of its terms of reference, the Pennington report did not discuss compensation.  The report did not rule it out.  Instead, it emphasises that compensation remains the responsibility of the West Tamar Council and the Tasmanian Government and, pointedly, urges both to understand and respond to the financial, emotional and physical needs of affected residents. 

It is beyond doubt that the financial, emotional and physical needs of those seriously affected by the 2016 event are significant.  They have many hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in their properties, invested in good faith that the government would never grant planning and building approvals if significant risk of landslip existed.  The case for WTC and the state Government to accept their responsibility with regard to compensation is compelling, given their action or inaction over many decades. 

Property owners are left with properties that might be worthless or at best require hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair or stabilise them from the ongoing threat of landslide, a threat which is now clear to all.  It was arguably government's asleep-at-the-wheel role in historic management of the landslip in the area which kept the risk of landslip hidden for so long.  The precedent for state compensation to landowners for landslide events has been set:  Lawrence Vale in the 1950s; Beauty Point in the West Tamar; and the Rosetta landslide in Glenorchy. The Department of Premier and Cabinet's Landslide Planning Report of August 2013 lists these and other precedents and estimates that around $10 million has so far been paid out on the basis of 75 per cent of a property's value.  The Brickmakers Point crisis would seem to be no less serious than those earlier occurrences.  I feel that as a minimum the state should consider a similar scheme for affected properties.

For example, under the Rosetta Landslip Act 1992, key criteria decided compensation for affected residents included -

  • properties rendered inhabitable by virtue of land movement

  • property owners suffering or likely to suffer financial hardship as a result of landslip

  • house doors et cetera unable to open/close as a result of the movement, thus unable to be secured and weatherproofed

  • services such as water and electricity rendered unsafe because of land movement.

To varying degrees, all these criteria are in evidence with homes involved in the Brickmakers Point event of 2016.  These home owners are looking to piece their lives back together as quickly as possible but already three years have elapsed and no practical responses have been delivered.

Now that the consultant's report is to hand and all the facts are before us, a prompt response from the state Government in conjunction with the West Tamar Council by way of appropriate compensation would seem very much in order.

Mr President and honourable members, I commend the motion to the House.

[12.07 p.m.]
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the member for Rosevears for bringing this motion forward.  I must admit I had heard about this previously.  I am really pleased to see that he has been able to bring it forward with this speed.

I am well aware of the Rosetta Landslip Act.  I had a constituent with a similar issue.  Unfortunately, theirs was a manmade landslip but I looked into the Rosetta Landslip Act quite considerably.  The landslip issue I dealt with was at Blackstone.  I am quite aware of the devastating impact on the people here and just how it affects you.  I am sure the Chamber is aware that it is not only devastating for the home owners but their whole family life.

As the member for Rosevears said, it is not just the money.  The money is one thing, but the mental anguish you continually go through is another.  This has been going on for so long.  I certainly hope the Government will put forward something like a Deviot landslip bill 2019.  My argument would be that it has happened before and it could easily happen again.

In the case I dealt with, the difficulty was - and I am sure it is the same with the people from Deviot:  Who do you sue?  Where do you go?  You go to the council.  I am not sure of the response they have had, but in previous dealings with other similar issues, it comes back that you need to sue.  Of course it is, but who do you sue?  There are so many different people you can sue -

Mr Finch - An act of God.

Ms ARMITAGE - That is an act of God.  But the building inspector says you can sue your engineer; they should have done soil testing.  You can sue the council.  You can sue the government.  It becomes a situation where you really cannot sue anyone because the cost of suing is more stress, and is more cost and more mental anguish.

Unless you are personally involved  - those of us here are fortunate enough not to be - I do not think we could understand the pain and the anguish felt by these families.  I think we need to remember it is not just the home owners; it is their whole family.   It has to affect you every day.  It is like one of those things when you go to sleep and you wake up and all of a sudden you remember what is going on.

I feel very much for these people.  I really appreciate the motion by the member for Rosevears.  I think the Government and the council need to take some responsibility.  As I said, I have dealt with something in a similar vein, but unfortunately we could not resolve it because it was a manmade landslip.  The Treasurer did come onsite.  I ask the member for Rosevears:  has the Treasurer actually visited the area?  He came and looked at the slide I was investigating for my constituent.  To have members of parliament actually see the affected areas rather than read about them in documents and see what has happened - I give full credit to the Treasurer; in my case he came.  I hope he will go to Deviot, if he has not already.  It is good if members actually look at the problem.  It was great the Treasurer, Mr Gutwein, was prepared to come onsite.  Sometimes you have something in your mind, but when you meet with the families and see the houses, it makes such a difference, rather than just reading about it.

Like the member, I am disappointed the families have had to go through this for such a long time.  I have been looking at the report and what came out was very clear.  By labelling something Class II, if someone comes to build and looks at classifications, there is an understanding it is not landslip.  Having been on Launceston Council for nine or 10 years, you understand the classifications, and if someone comes to build and look at classifications.

When I was in real estate, they were building in an area in Launceston not far from Lawrence Vale Road.  I could not understand why they were building when it was a known landslip area and they were saying, 'Things are different now; you can build differently', but it was still identified that there had been landslip.
In this case, it was not even identified and people were totally unaware.  It is really beyond the realms of comprehension as to what has happened there.

I certainly support this motion.  I hope the Government and the local council do something if they can.  I extend my greatest sympathy to those people because I can only imagine how they feel.  It is hard for them and their families - how can you live life normally when all that stress is going on?  I hope it is settled as soon as possible.  I do not think any amount of compensation makes up for what they have gone or are going through and the stress and effects on their families.

I support the motion and hope this matter is resolved as quickly as possible.

[12.12 p.m.]
Ms SIEJKA (Pembroke) - Mr President, we support the motion.  I know from personal experience because my family grew up in the Rosetta landslip area.  I am aware of how stressful it is not knowing, and trying to work out what to do and all the things involved. I empathise with that.  It is a very stressful and horrible situation to find yourself in.

I note the motion is very much in line with the recommendations made in the report, which is largely why I have no issue with supporting it.  I urge the two parties to work together to resolve the matter as quickly as possible for all those concerned.

[12.13 p.m.]
Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Mr President, I thank the member for Rosevears for bringing this motion on.  It does have devastating consequences for people, and you see how this affects people.  As members here may be aware, the West Tamar Council initiated a project to understand and document the causes, extent and impacts of the Brickmakers Point landslide in Deviot in 2016, after this slip was reactivated subsequent to a period of very heavy rainfall.

The project was funded by the Australian Government's Natural Disaster Resilience Program in grants.  It was run by the council with the support of a steering committee.  The committee included officers from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Office of Security and Emergency Management, and Mineral Resources Tasmania in the Department of State Growth.

It is a matter of regret that due to unforeseen and unavoidable personal circumstances, it took significantly longer than expected for the consultant, Derek Pennington, principal of Pennington Geotechnics Pty Ltd, to complete the independent report.  On 19 July 2019, the council released the draft report; if members are interested, the report is available on the West Tamar Council website.

The period for public comment on the report closed on 8 July and it is due to be considered by council on 20 August.  The Government has established an interdepartmental committee to advise it.  The IDC is working with the West Tamar Council to address these issues.  The Government acknowledges and shares the concerns raised in this motion, noting that the issues raised in the motion are being addressed by the work being conducted by officials. 

We support the motion.

[12.15 p.m.]
Mr VALENTINE (Hobart) - Mr President, I, too, acknowledge the stress that must be associated with not knowing whether your family home is going to bring value back to your family, and if it is in a landslip area.

I have not lived on landslip, so I do not appreciate the stress that can come as a result of that.  I acknowledge the community members who have come today to listen to the debate.  It is important they have the opportunity to be heard.  Today is one of those opportunities.

Having been in local government for 20 years, I am aware of the problems and issues that can occur when making sure houses are constructed on stable lands.

In my own time on council there were many opportunities where geotechnical studies were required for potential developments, prior to the council making decisions.

It is interesting to hear the summation by the member for Rosevears about what has gone on and the time that has elapsed regarding the land that is the subject of this motion.  It is unbelievable it has not come within the radar of the various levels of government.

The executive summary of the draft report says -

This study was initiated to understand the impact and causes of this landslide as a case study and to support the development of community strategies to manage landslide susceptible land that can be used to reduce the risk of future landslide activation.

That does not give a lot of comfort to those who might be living on top of unstable land.

It comes back to whether geotechnical surveys were requested prior to development and prior to any landslides occurring.  Those sorts of things are information that councils use to make proper judgments on whether to approve developments. 

Part 7 of the motion before us today urges the West Tamar Council and the Government, as a priority, to address and satisfactorily resolve this matter, including appropriate compensation for those properties seriously affected.

Is it consideration of appropriate compensation, or is it that compensation be paid?  You might wish to address that in your summing up, member for Rosevears.

We have some information available and we can hear the concerns expressed, but whether we have all the information is another thing.

That part of your motion that urges West Tamar Council and the Government, as a priority, to address and satisfactorily resolve this matter, I do not have a problem with that part, '… including appropriate compensation for those properties seriously affected'.

Does that mean you are saying all landowners or house owners need to be compensated or when they go through and look at these individually, the ones that should be compensated are compensated?  I want to get an understanding before voting on this particular motion.

Mr Finch - They were affected differently.  One property owner's home virtually became a houseboat.  It slipped away and went down the hill.  For others, half the property went down there.  Another property owner is constantly shoring up their property at great expense.  One has just had everything shifted so now the doors and the verandas have all moved, causing gaps.  One further up on the hill - I am not sure how badly affected it was, but certainly they had the worry and anguish and have taken some remedial action.  They are all at different levels of the requirement for compensation if this is the path down which the council and Government go.

Mr VALENTINE - And the potential for further landslip into the future, which might be a concern for not only these house owners, but also other properties close by?

Mr Finch - I imagine that would be part of the considerations the West Tamar Council and the state Government now have to go into.

Mr VALENTINE - As long as I understand the main impetus I will support the motion.  It is one where we have to understand the level of stress and anxiety caused.  If it were us, we would want some attention paid to it.  No-one would be in the situation of wanting attention paid to this had they gone through the geotechnical studies before constructing these homes.  Whether that has happened, I do not know; I do not know how old these houses are or how long they have been there.  You may have mentioned it, but I did not pick it up.

Quite clearly there is a process and local government certainly has the responsibility of making sure any construction in their area is done according to the book.  Each council is expected to enforce Building Code of Australia processes.  Now, through third parties, building surveyors and the like, I understand there were some complexities in relation to how much responsibility comes back to the council.

Given what I have heard today and the answers provided by the member for Rosevears, I certainly support the motion.  I hope there is a proper and reasonable resolution of concerns in the community.

[12.23 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, most of what needed to be said by me has been said.  I thank the Government and members who have spoken in support of this motion.  There is an understanding of the circumstances these families find themselves in, not only financially but also with their home life disrupted and their anguish and concern about the value of their properties being decimated.  If we were in that position we would be putting our hand up.  If we felt the responsibility lies elsewhere for the circumstance in which they find themselves, that would be supported by the Government and the West Tamar Council.  Please understand:  the West Tamar Council in this circumstance has been diligent in its work to connect to the community, to gain an understanding of this situation and to come to a resolution.  Being meticulous about it has meant it has taken three years - a long time lag - but on reflection, an appropriate time to ensure the West Tamar Council and Government reach the correct decision as an outcome.

I thank the members for their support.

Motion agreed to.