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Brickmakers Point Landslip Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Tags: Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, we also will be supporting the Brickmakers Point Landslip Bill. I am certain that the local residents in Deviot will be relieved that this legislation is going through the parliament four years after the landslip in that area on the West Tamar.

I agree with Ms Standen that there is a question mark over whether this is urgent legislation given that we are grappling with a pandemic and a suite of legislative and regulatory responses that will need to be put in place in order to keep Tasmanians safe and well and to assist vulnerable people in businesses.

I note that the affected properties are in the Legislative Council division of Rosevears which goes to election on 30 May this year and that the election date has been pushed back. I take this opportunity to again express our serious concerns that it is going to be extremely challenging to conduct a Legislative Council election in a time of pandemic. I accept that the date has been pushed back in order to give the Electoral Commissioner more time to put in place postal vote provisions and make sure that there are hygiene measures in place for TEC staff particularly. I still think a wiser course of action would have been for the state to agree that the Legislative Council elections should be deferred. Still, that is not the case.

This legislation establishes a precedent for government to step in when property owners are affected by natural events, or events that are related to global heating. Over on the eastern shore in Lauderdale a number of residents who, in good faith many years ago bought properties on Roches Beach at Frederick Henry Bay, are now facing serious questions over how viable those properties are in the medium term. It raises an unresolved question about civil liability.

If councils and planning authorities are making decisions that place property owners at risk then they should be liable for civil claims in the future. The question as it relates to sea level rise, for example, is if a planning authority makes a decision to allow a development in a coastal zone that is vulnerable to extreme weather events or sea level rise, the knowledge is there that sea level rise is likely to affect a particular town or region yet the council makes a decision to approve a development. Certainly in future, affected residents and locals should be able to lodge a civil claim against the planning authority that, despite having the knowledge of risk, still went ahead and made a decision to allow a development.

That is not what I am saying is the circumstances in this case because obviously those properties on Deviot Road are quite long-standing properties; we have the List Titles here for them. However, Government needs to be very careful in stepping in to compensate property owners more broadly, in a time when there are going to be sea-level rise impacts, storm surge impacts, coastal erosion, and potentially, higher landslip risk, as a result of changing weather patterns.

I am interested to hear the minister's thoughts on how you deal with the precedent that has now been set, and will be set by this parliament.

I note that of the Titles that are affected, of the five properties that are subject to this legislation, one of them has a covenant on the land. Clause 11 of the bill is clear that covenants are to be of no effect. The particular property, which is Lot 2 on Sealed Plan 140817, has a covenant on subdivisions on that land. Clearly, this is land which will not be subdivided in future, as it is subject to landslide risk. I want to flag with the minister, that we are aware of the move that is underway to undo the covenant system in Tasmania through the planning reforms. We have been contacted by people who have covenants over their properties. As we go through this local provision schedule process, we are seeing titles and tenures change. It is our understanding that people who over their properties a covenant for the protection of nature, for example, may have some challenges having those covenants protected.

We have information to indicate that the Department of State Growth believes that all covenants should be removed because otherwise, to have them in place would 'sterilise the landscape for potential future logging and mining'.

We have to stop this garbage. If people have a covenant over their property in order to protect it from logging and mining, the state must not step in, under the cover of planning reforms, to remove those covenant protections in one fell swoop. That is what is potentially happening here. We will be working with those covenant holders, and I know that the Planning Matters Alliance of Tasmania will also be working those covenant holders to make sure they are aware that the Department of State Growth at least, by stealth, is trying to remove the protections that those covenants place on their properties.

I know we are in extremely challenging times and rightly our minds are wholly preoccupied with how we deal with this pandemic, but it does not mean, certainly from the Greens' point of view, that we will be taking our eye of this sort of conduct by government. It is shameful for the Department of State Growth to seek to have covenant protections on properties abolished in one fell swoop, and we know that is exactly what is happening. We will be keeping a very close eye on this situation.

This legislation should make it very clear to us, if we do not already know, how important it is for planning authorities, including councils, to make sure they have the most up-to-date information on risk. Through our risk matrix in the planning system, there is plenty of information now on the public record about landslip risk, erosion, sea-level rise, and bushfire risk. Councils need to be very mindful when they are making decisions not to ignore the evidence that is before them, and make a decision that places property owners and residents at potential risk in the future.

My mind just then went to a development which is, I understand, in the process of being approved, and if the minister has any more information on this I would be pleased to hear it, for the foreshore at Wynyard, right there on the sea. The State Coastal Policy of 1996, flawed and toothless though it has been made, is very clear about making sure that we are not developing right there on the ocean. Yet, here we have the Wynyard council in the process of approving, or has approved, minister, a high-density development, right on the foreshore at Wynyard.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is really clear. We are heading towards, at the outer edge of the extreme scenarios as a result of global heating, potentially six metres of sea-level rise. If a council is going to make a decision to approve a development right there on the ocean, with that knowledge at their disposal, they will rightly be open to civil liability claim in the future. The Wynyard council should have a good think about that.

I ask the minister about how the Government is going to deal with the precedent that has been set, and also a little more of history of landslips in that area of the West Tamar. Are there other parts of that riverbank that are subject to similar landslips or the risk of similar landslips? In Rosetta here, many years ago now, a very similar situation happened.

With regard to the specifics of the legislation, it is all pretty straightforward. We have no need to go into Committee on this bill. I am certain Mr Finch is happy to see this legislation come through the parliament. I am aware he has been agitating on behalf of these residents for the best part of four years. I still question whether this is urgent legislation in the circumstances we are in, but we will not be standing in the way of it.

With those few words, I indicate that we will be supporting the legislation.