Crown Land Enclosure Permit Rentals

About this Item
SubjectsLand; Rivers and Lakes; Environment
SpeakersAplin Mr Greg
BusinessPrivate Members Statements

Page: 14480

    Mr GREG APLIN (Albury) [12.59 p.m.]: Bureaucracy can be a loathsome beast, particularly when it is fed by the ignorance, arrogance and avarice of the current Government. Landholders in rural and regional areas have been targeted by the Carr Government because they are guardians of Crown lands—road enclosures, permissive occupancies, and the like. And the Government, in its own inimitable fashion, has found a new way to raise additional revenue by imposing increases of up to 700 per cent on these landholders. As so often happens in cases like this, there is a human side that rips apart the blanket of bureaucracy and exposes the unforgiving and dictatorial nature of a public service under this Labor Government.

    In the magnificent area of Table Top, which lies adjacent to Lake Hume, north of Albury, Jan and Annelies Willinck live on a property which includes a permissive occupancy of Crown land. This land is not used for grazing or crop production. In fact, the Willincks are exactly the type of people the Government should be encouraging to care for this particular land as they are environmentally conscious and are actively promoting revegetation, reducing erosion and encouraging the return of waterfowl and other native wildlife. As waterfowl naturally prefer to be near water, one may well wonder where exactly this permissive occupancy lies. Let me tell the House. Permissive Occupancy 142017 falls within Lake Hume and is inundated for prolonged periods during a normal year. As Mr and Mrs Willinck told me, the tenured land lies within the confines of Lake Hume, below the 60 per cent capacity level. Hence, it is under water for much of the year, and under normal circumstances would be available for grazing for only three months of the year. Naturally, after the severe drought the lake is nowhere near its normal capacity this year, but that will change.

    What we need to change now, however, is the attitude of Minister Kelly's tax collectors and the policy itself, which imposes a fivefold increase in annual rental or the alternative of foregoing the tenureship and erecting a fence between their property and the Crown land. Fencing the area is totally impractical: it is expensive, short-lived and potentially dangerous for recreational water activities and for waterbirds. As the Willincks have pointed out to me, the value of this land lies in its preservation for environmental gains. Regeneration is occurring of existing river red gums, and the landholders have also planted river red gums on their private land. The region provides important wildlife protection, for sacred ibis, darters and egrets which use the river red gums for nesting sites. Equally important is the protection of the white-bellied sea eagles, which have returned to their nest every year for the past 25 years.

    With the ever-growing concern for the water quality of Lake Hume, any form of grazing along the lake shore should be discouraged, and the Government should be pursuing an environmental agenda in this instance, rather than a revenue-based standover approach. The Willincks have objected to the increase in annual rent but are willing to pay the existing rent and continue to care for the area for conservation purposes, as they have for the past 25 years. They carry out a program of spraying and removing noogoora burr, which is brought in by water and is an ongoing problem. Is the Government seriously telling us that it will undertake this responsibility if the land is returned to the State? There is no way that would happen, and the Willinck property would then be infested by noxious weeds from the abandoned Crown land. So what has been the response of the Department of Lands?

    In early October the land revenue branch trotted out the Government line that a review had been undertaken after the State election because of "public concerns that rents for Crown land holdings were out of step with community expectations". I was not aware of those concerns. The department acknowledged payment of the normal rental but advised the Willincks that they would have to pay the outstanding amount of the increased rental. They were then advised that the Crown Lands Legislation Amendment (Budget) Bill 2004 commenced on 1 July 2004 and rents would rise to a statutory minimum, with consumer price index adjustments after July 2006. They were given two options: accept the rent increases and continue to use the subject land, or fence the subject land separately from their adjoining property and cease any occupation and usage. The Crown is not bound by the Dividing Fences Act so there would be no Government contribution to this underwater fencing program. So far as safety matters are concerned regarding the submerged fences, this is what the department told Mr and Mrs Willinck:

    If this aspect becomes an issue … it may be necessary to seek advice from either your own Solicitors and/or the Department's Legal Officers.

    And to emphasise that "service" is a dirty word for this Government, how about this closing line:

    It would now be prudent for you to consider your future usage of this Crown Land and the two options outlined.

    So there! It is time for consultation, understanding and a fairer system. I hope that this cash grab policy takes its place with the fence—at the bottom of Lake Hume.