Tasmania is experiencing a golden age of infrastructure development and opportunity, which is exciting, but growth and expansion always comes at a cost, often through compulsory acquisition of land for said development. As such, during this period of growth and expansion we need to ensure our acquisition and access legislation remains 'fit for purpose’. We need to know it is fair and transparent for all parties involved. We need to know who will benefit and who will pay.
Our infrastructure future
The 2019 Our Infrastructure Future 30-Year Infrastructure Strategy (Consultation Draft), describes a significant pipeline of projects scheduled across both the public and private sectors during the next 10 years, with an estimated value of $15.2 billion for Tasmania.
Two areas of infrastructure of significant interest to TFGA members fall under the section ‘Managing the use and operation of our environment’ — in short, how we use natural resources. Broadly the projects in this area revolve around electricity — the Battery of the Nation (BotN) project, which includes Marinus and pumped hydro — and water for irrigation.
Interestingly, the draft Strategy explores the major themes and theory surrounding Tasmania’s long-term infrastructure strategy and goals, yet doesn’t touch on any of the supporting framework needed to make it happen, such as changes to supporting legislation. The document includes lots of dot points, with feel-good motherhood—type statements, such as: ensuring projects are “economically viable” and “provide broad benefits to the community”. But while sweeping statements such as these make us feel warm and fuzzy, they are ambiguous, particularly for those impacted by “the projects”. Do these projects need to provide “broad benefits” for local communities, the Tasmanian community more broadly, or Australia in general?
The devil is in the detail
Why is such an intense focus on the detail so important?
Much of our legislation for land access and acquisition for infrastructure revolves around the idea of use for ‘public purpose’ or ‘public nature’.
Land Acquisition Act 1993
“An Act to make provision for the acquisition of land by the Crown, public and local authorities and promoters, to authorize the acquisition of land for undertakings of a public nature, to provide for matters incidental to, and consequential on, that acquisition, and to repeal the Lands Clauses Act 1857, the Lands Resumption Act 1957 and the Public Authorities' Land Acquisition Act 1949.”
Not only does the acquisition legislation revolve around public purpose, but so does the funding for infrastructure projects; especially the large ones. The Our Infrastructure Future 30-Year Infrastructure Strategy (Consultation Draft) describes the complex choices surrounding funding.
“Responsible infrastructure funding also requires tough choices about how and when the community pays for infrastructure. It requires consideration of timing of when the costs and benefits of the infrastructure are derived, ensuring value for money and reviewing all funding and financing options available.
Funding for infrastructure is ultimately sourced from the community. Funding can be sourced directly from users of infrastructure or indirectly through taxes and charges.”
Caught in the crosshairs
The TFGA has members at this moment caught in the crosshairs of acquisition of a ‘public nature’. We have a member’s farm in Cressy literally ‘criss-crossed’ with various types of infrastructure — transmission towers, tailraces channels and high-voltage poles and wires.
This family absolutely understands the need for public infrastructure, but I am left with the feeling there has to be a way for the government business enterprises (GBEs) or state-owned companies (SOCs) to work more collaboratively to minimise the impact on some of the best farming land in the world. Surely these government companies could work together to share easements and other infrastructure.
I also wonder if there is any regard for the dignity of these farmers.
We need to ensure there is fairness, equal access to information and transparency in the decision-making process. Often we seem to be dealing with GBEs or SOCs with far greater resources to spend on consultant reports and in-house experts, who are unwilling to share their information with farmers.
Surely this isn’t how the compulsory acquisition legislation was designed to be used — it was never intended as a band-aid for a lack of consultation and collaboration.
As mentioned at the outset, Tasmania’s dance-card is full of exciting projects, but we are calling for greater clarity to define who really benefits and who ultimately pays as these projects are rolled out across the state. The strategy sitting behind these projects was never designed to create winners and losers, but without legislation that is ‘fit for purpose’ this is set to be the unintended consequence of Tasmania’s infrastructure ‘golden age’.
Now is an ideal time to make sure our legislation is ‘fit for purpose’ to ensure farmers and private land-owners are assured of a fair and transparent process when their land is compulsorily acquired for ‘public purpose’.
To read the full Our Infrastructure Future 30-Year Infrastructure Strategy (Consultation Draft) go to: https://www.stategrowth.tas.gov.au/infrastructure_tasmania/30-year_infrastructure_strategy