Wednesday 16 March 2011
Hansard of the Legislative Council
REPLY TO THE PREMIER’S REPORT
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.
'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
'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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.