Compulsory land acquisition a ‘last resort’

COMPULSORY acquisition of land has been defended as a ‘last resort’ by Tasmania’s electricity and irrigation providers.

In an article published in last week’s Tasmanian Country the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association called for a review to several pieces of legislation after concerned farmers and landowners went to the peak body for help. It includes holding an independent or parliamentary inquiry into the Land Acquisition Act which allows for the authorised acquisition of land for the purpose of infrastructure.

TFGA president Ian Sauer said it was critical to ensure the legislation was “fit for purpose.” “We need to know it is fair and transparent for all parties involved,” Mr Sauer said. “We need to review the relevant legislation, as I don’t think it was ever designed or intended to swing over the heads of farmers and private land-owners as an excuse for poor communication or lack of consultation.”

Some of the land in question belongs to Oliver Scott-Young who has previously spoken to Tasmanian Country about his disbelief that about 20ha of his farmland was being considered for the site of a storage dam on the Northern Midlands irrigation scheme. “With the current global climate and growing populations, agricultural land will become more and more valuable,” Mr Scott-Young said. “It’s a finite resource which is constantly being eroded by infrastructure projects and expanding suburbia. “Every effort should be made to protect productive agricultural land, be it ours or any other Australian farmer.”

Tas Irrigation chief executive officer Andrew Kneebone said land acquisition for schemes was “absolutely a last resort”. “We work through all other available options before we have to go down that path,” Mr Kneebone said. He said the water scheme in the Northern Midlands was considering land acquisition due to the significant growth of the scheme since its inception.

“The scheme is twice as big as we’d envisaged and we’ve had to make new decisions and plan for infrastructure around that fact,” he said. “We have 40-odd farmers who have purchased a significant amount of water and without having this discussion on land acquisition the project cannot go ahead at all. “We’re conscious of finding the most cost-effective way of supplying water to farmers and this was it. “The alternative method would end up costing irrigators on the scheme a total of half a million per year for every year of the 100-hundred-year lease. “There are no land acquisitions in place at this point and we’re still in discussions and investigating other options.”

TasNetwork chief executive officer Sean McGoldrick agreed land acquisition was not the first choice when developing infrastructure. “The issue of compulsory acquisition of land is a last option and we’d be reluctant to go down that pathway,” Mr McGoldrick said. “It is not something they want to conduct regularly as we don’t have statutory right. “If we are to (acquire land) we’d have to make an application through various agencies and ministers in order to do that. “They would make the decision if we go ahead or not.”

Mr McGoldrick has welcomed the TFGA’s call for a review on the Land Acquisition Act. “I think that’s a good call,” he said. “There is something to be said about modernising, particularly the compensation aspect and the framework. “TasNetworks as one of the major infrastructure providers in the state, would be happy to participate in any such review.”

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Janie Finlay urged departments and entities to work together with the community. “Forcing compulsory land acquisition legislation on farmers should only ever be used as an absolute last resort,” Ms Finlay said. “There should be no problems in these bodies working together now to find a solution to these issues.”

Infrastructure Minister Michael Ferguson would not be drawn on whether the Government supported a review of legislation. “It is a legislated process and rightly so,” he said. “It is important because it places the onus of land acquisition values with the independent officer known as the valuer general, it ensures that it is robust, it has integrity and it can’t be artificially altered so that people who do go through a compulsory acquisition process are justly compensated.”