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Land (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Tags: Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, in response to Dr Broad's parting comments, one of the problems with this Government is that they make no apologies. No matter how much at fault they are, no matter how much they ride roughshod over communities, they never make any apologies.

I believe that the House today is owed an apology by the Government and the Leader of Government Business because I had to run around to find out what was happening after the last amended bill came through and that is a sign, regrettably, of a government that is in disarray. If you cannot run this House in a manner that is respectful of the processes of this House as well as members who have to speak to bills, there is something wrong with the way you are running the House. It is disrespectful. I only hope more respect was shown for the advisers who were here supporting the minister than was shown to members.

It was literally five minutes before Mr Barnett got to his feet that I got a copy of the legislation. I had to run around to the government offices to find out what was going on. It is just contemptuous of this place to have members running around like headless chooks just to find out what the next order of business is because the Leader of Government Business - and I understand it is his birthday today so he might be a bit distracted - is not paying attention to what is happening in this House. If he is, he is not respectful to other members in this place.

Obviously I have not had a look at this bill for some time but we cannot identify any issues with this legislation. We recognise it is modernising provisions within a number of statutes and contemporising law, so it takes account of the fact that it is not always necessary to have a handwritten signature on an official document. I think that is necessary and I agree with Dr Broad. It was interesting not to hear the minister talk about the removal of gendered language in statutes.

I will also point out to the House in case anyone did not notice, but for the purposes of Hansard, I have never heard Mr Barnett deliver a second reading speech as if he was wading through treacle in order to drag out debate on this legislation.

We will support the legislation going through. However, I also want to talk about the lack of consultation around the Leith overpass, the disregard for that community and people who have lived there, in some cases, for a number of decades. I want to read into the Hansard correspondence to the Premier from a Leith resident. I have not had time to ask this resident if I can name them so I will read this in and assure members of the House in doing so that these are well-know and well-respected members of the local community.

In the letter to the Premier dated 15 March 2021 these Leith residents say:

Dear Mr Gutwein

It has come to our attention that the Leith overpass is again on the drawing board with GHD and in fact is well beyond the initial planning stage without any public consultation. This matter has been talked about for more than four years following a fatality in the area, a very unfortunate death that was not the result of any problem with the existing entry to and exit from Leith. There have been no fatalities due to the poor access to Leith. Minor accidents have occurred due to poor visibility and the fast-moving traffic not allowing residents to leave Leith and merge on to the highway in time, nor cross dual lanes to enter. Motorists just need a little more time.

The letter continues:

It would seem that a kneejerk reaction by several people in the area who have since backpedalled has resulted in an over-the-top proposal by the Department of State Growth and the Tasmanian Government which could cost the state somewhere between $10 million and $20 million. Who can justify this expense when it is not warranted and the impact on the residents of Leith is enormous?

In 2019 an interactive feedback site through State Growth clearly showed the public do not want an overpass, nor is it necessary. Letters to Jeremy Rockliff, Roger Jaensch and various other state government ministers and local government people, several public consultations before and ongoing concern for residents and the general public are all being ignored. Correspondence and feedback would all be on file with State Growth and in fact we were advised that names are included on a database to keep us abreast of progress. A temporary fix of flashing lights has been a complete waste of money as no-one is taking any notice, whereas a permanent change of speed limit will prove successful, especially with policing from time to time.

GHD have recently contacted one resident at Leith advising them that their property will be forcibly acquired to enable this overpass to be constructed. Other properties are obviously going to be affected, but to our knowledge other property owners have not been notified. There has been no further public consultation by anyone. Due diligence is not occurring. In fact the whole thing has been treated like a secret and in a rude and Hitler-style manner. Concerned residents and members of the public were previously promised that we would be included in all discussions before any future plans were made. The proposed overpass is not needed and the costs cannot be justified. There have been alternatives suggested to assist local residents safely enter and exit Leith but our voices are not being heard.

The safest and cheapest option is to lower the speed limit to 90 kilometres per hour for a very short section of this highway to give residents a little extra time to merge onto the highway or enter Leith into Short Street. This has been mentioned numerous times and the response is always that the Bass Highway cannot be slowed down. Ridiculous response when there is evidence of slowing down to roundabouts everywhere around the state and also a reduction in speed limits in literally hundreds of spots in Tasmania. This is an observed response and would only add approximately one minute to a motorist's journey.

The Government may have promised to spend this money on an overpass at Leith but the questions remains why?

I think we know why and it has a lot to do with pump-priming the northern electorates in the lead up to a state election. We have seen under this Government massive over-engineering and over-construction of road works. You only have to drive along the Perth bypass, which is like something like Berlin where vast sums of public money have gone into road works that are bigger than Ben Hur and dramatically over-designed.

That sounds like exactly what is happening at Leith. It is about pump-priming. It is about voters being able to see people in high-vis vests and rolling that money out the door before the next state election. It is regrettable that people's voices in communities are not being heard. They are being made promises about engagement or consultation that are being dashed. How awful for a long-term resident of Leith to find out from a consultant to the Government, not from State Growth but from GHD, that their home will be compulsorily acquired.

It is a bit like the compulsory accusations that have been flagged for the transmission line in the north west where the company that is behind those works is talking to locals about the need for compulsory acquisition of sections of their property for a transmission line. It is disrespectful to communities and it is disrespectful to property owners because once a compulsory acquisition notice is issued there is nothing a landowner can do about that. More respect upfront is called for.

There are amendments to the Land Titles Act that make it easier for a person who is in a joint tenancy, should the relationship or circumstances change, to no longer be in that joint tenancy. That sounds like a positive step. Again, we are seeing in so many actions taken by this Government there is much more emphasis on the propertied class than there is on people who do not own their own home, they cannot save the deposit to purchase their own home. I heard Mr Jaensch, the Housing minister, when Mr Gutwein was talking about housing say that the solution to soaring rents is to build more supply.

Mr Jaensch - The solution to under-supply is to have more supply.

Ms O'CONNOR - Of course the solution is to have more homes. I understand that, but it is not a solution to soaring rents. There are 54 000 residential tenancies in Tasmania and on 1 February - and you would know this - a significant percentage of those tenants received notice of a rent increase. We have heard stories of rent increases of up to $150 per week. Rents in Tasmania are soaring. We need more affordable energy-efficient homes but that is cold comfort to families now who are staring down the face of homelessness and eviction, particularly once the JobSeeker and JobKeeper supplements are withdrawn on 31 March.

If Mr Jaensch thinks that a promise to build more supply, particularly given his track record and this Government's track record on building new homes, is going to provide any comfort to tenants, he is delusional.

We have introduced an amendment bill to this place which is tried and tested policy. An amendment bill to the Residential Tenancy Act which reflects exactly the policy which is now in place in the Australian Capital Territory that was signed up to by a Labor-Greens government. It is supported by Labor in the ACT but the Greens have found out third-hand that Labor has made a decision not to support controls on rents. They did not have the courage to walk outside and say that. We found out through a back channel.

I am not going to put up with hand-wringing tomorrow from Labor on housing when they know that if they back this amendment bill we can provide almost immediate relief to the tenants of Tasmania who are staring down the barrel of homelessness and eviction right now, who are living in fear in their properties. They do not know how they are going to pay the power bill, they do not know how they are going to pay for their groceries because their rents are going through the roof. The data tells us that Hobart is the least-affordable capital in the country for rentals.

The Greens give this House an opportunity to do what we were elected to do, which is to make life better for the Tasmanian people and you have these people over here - Labor - squibbing on it. There are 54 000 residential tenancies in Tasmania; 54 000 people who do not benefit from amendments to the Land Titles Act because they are renting, because they cannot afford their own home. It is easy for Mr Jaensch and other people in this place to say they will just build more houses, because every person in this place, as far as I know, is not paying rent, we are paying a mortgage.

We were elected to make life better for the people of Tasmania. That is our core focus; well, it should be. We have offered this House an opportunity to support modest reform that acknowledges that now under the Residential Tenancy Act if a tenant has an increase that is unaffordable they really have no rights, they have nowhere to go. We saw last week a Magistrate Court decision that confirms that.

All we are offering this House is an opportunity to make sure that our residential tenancy laws are robust and provide some protection for tenants from excessive rent increases. Labor, which pretends to care about people, is not, as we understand it, going to support this legislation, which is supported by their colleagues in the ACT. It is good policy and we will be reminding Tasmanians all the way to the next election, no matter when that is, of Labor's perfidy, of their hand-wringing, of how they run for cover if they are given an opportunity to do the right thing if it comes from the Greens. It is shameful. We would have the numbers in this place if Labor did the right thing.

The Greens, of course, want to make life better for tenants. If Ms Ogilvie could see the light. We know that Sue Hickey has long fought for tenants' rights. We could do this in this minority parliament. Labor members should be ashamed and when, as is expected, they vote against the amendment bill tomorrow, they want to have a long, hard think about how they are going to explain that to their constituents who live in rental homes, because this parliament could do it.

On behalf of the Greens, I have written twice to Ms White encouraging her to at least cooperate with us and other members in this place in order to improve the lives of Tasmanian tenants - twice and no answer. We are used to the contempt for the Greens, but the contempt that has been shown for Tasmania's 54 000 residential tenants, that is the next level.

We will be supporting the bill.