Compulsory acquisitions

June 28, 2017

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Wednesday 28 June, 2017

 

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John Darley, Independent MLC  (5AA 11.08-11.17)  Compulsory acquisitions

 

(Byner:  I’ve always held the view that civility doesn't cost anything … I wish the Department of Transport and Infrastructure would adopt this relatively harmless philosophy, doesn't cost them any money, because we see the devastated property owners whose homes are going to be compulsorily acquired for the South Road upgrade have complained of bullying and intimidation by Government officials. Mr Deegan, aren’t you ashamed that people say that about your Department? … You damn well should be. Disturbing claims of arrogance and harassment during the acquisition process of hundreds of homes and businesses came out in a Parliamentary Committee hearing. Even a barrister, David Greenwell, who acted on behalf of some owners, referred to a culture of staff competing to offer the lowest possible compensation and land owners experiencing widespread intimidation. Now of course when it comes to getting taxes off you they want your property to be as valuable as possible because you’re rich so you pay up and if you don’t they’ll fine you – they’ll still want their money but they’ll fine you payday lender rates. They do this. But when it comes to the acquisition – and of course that’s got to happen, that’s progress and that happens – but it seems fairness doesn't exist now why and where does … this culture come from? John Darley you were on this very important committee, what answers could you get?...) … One of the most important things that came out of the whole inquiry was this business of DPTI’s culture. Now this Department in its various names for the last 50 years have carried on with this sort of bullying tactics and I must admit that during the life of the inquiry which was around about two years, that culture dramatically changed. One of the first things that came up was the fact that a lot of people whose houses were being compulsorily acquired were not given a proper explanation of the Land Acquisition Act and what it entailed, what the rights of the owners were but … during the course of the inquiry that attitude changed. (Byner:  …We’ve got people saying they’ve been bullied, they’ve been intimidated, that they’re basically being screwed. Are you saying that’s not happening now?) It has improved to a marked extent. Bearing in mind you were talking about the North South Corridor and that project has been on again, off again, that sort of thing and we took evidence from people who said the first thing they knew about it, they received a calling card in their letterbox or addressed – a letter not addressed to them personally, saying that the land was going to be acquired. We also had evidence whereby people were told ‘Well you can’t sell your property, the only purchaser is going to be the Government and so that’s that.’ Now as I say during the course of the inquiry that’s changed, there’s been a number of staffing changes in DPTI and that’s improved the situation and I think we’re now on the road to recovery, not that that helps a lot of the people whose properties were acquired. (Byner:  Were they dudded?) Some of them I think they were. (Byner:  How can the Government get away with that? Because is there not an Act of Law that actually spells out the process where there is supposed to be a degree of fairness and objectivity, where’s all that?) Exactly and also there’s case law that says – case precedents that say in the case of compulsory acquisition we should err on the side of a Liberal answer, in other words any element of doubt should be resolved in favour of the dispossessed owner. (Byner:  Well why didn’t that happen?) Because I think DPTI valuers were working to a budget and that was the problem but I think we’ve overcome that to a certain degree at the present time. (Byner:  Well that’s not good enough because if you’re telling us the law is different to what they’re doing, they’re not adhering to the law.) Well, their attitude has changed quite dramatically. Now one of the recommendations that was made was that for a payment of a – a solatium payment, now what that means, it’s a payment to take care of the fact that this is a compulsory acquisition, in other words people were being dispossessed of their houses and they had no choice. Now in New South Wales they have that system, we didn’t make any recommendation as to what it should be but everyone knows that valuation is not a precise science and so a common sense approach would be to say ‘Why doesn't the Government enact a solatium payment which could be five or ten per cent over and above the agreed compensation to be paid and that should satisfy everyone.’ (Byner:  What was the attitude of the Chief Executive when he was told by witnesses and those representing witnesses that the attitude of his so-called staff or valuers… was intimidating and bullying, what did he say to that?) He wheeled out some stats… he said that about 98% of all properties that were acquired, the owners were satisfied, however we’re not too sure about that because there is no record kept of these owners who lost their houses and so we couldn’t go and talk to them. (Byner:  Well then you can’t rely on the testimony can you.) No and I personally have spoken to a number of people over the years who said look, they were so fed up with the system they just took the compensation and moved on and they didn’t want to go through that exercise again. (Byner:  So what’s going to be done about this?) I think the CEO of DPTI has made a number of staffing changes in there and he’s certainly made some changes in terms of how they deal with people. They have to fully explain to people whose houses are going to be - (Byner:  …What’s the tariff if they don’t. This is what gets me: if you or I mere mortals would act like this under the circumstances they’d have us in pieces, why can they get away with it, we can’t?) There is a protection in the law that the Act allows a person to go to court but once again ordinary people don’t want to access that avenue, this is - (Byner:  Of course not, they haven’t got the money.) No. (Byner:  So this bullying and intimidation, how do we stop it?) Well I think that’s pretty well stopped now. (Byner:  Is it? Are you sure?) Well I haven’t heard any more complaints about it but I think the fact that DPTI now fully explained the Act and what the rights of the individuals have et cetera is on the right track to improving the situation. (Byner:  …Thank you… These things are emotional because if you live in a place and you’ve got a lot of connections with it … and there’s going to be road right through your living room of course you get pretty upset but the first thing you want to be able to do is get a price for your property that enables you to go back into the market and get something similar as to what you’ve got but … I just have grave misgivings about the public sector in certain circumstances of this state because there are too many Departments who we are seeing ignore the rules and nothing happens – sometimes they even get promoted so I think … if you want to stop bullying – see, this is the interesting thing, we go into our schools and say we have to do something about bullying and yes that’s a thing we need to do but if the Government’s doing it via its public sector, that’s not very helpful is it.)

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