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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 12 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 3746 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

This brings me to the considerable work that has been put into examining this issue by the Conservation Council of the South-East Region and Canberra. After reviewing off-reserve management schemes in other States, the council concluded that not only should there be a rural conservation trust as a pot of money, but as an independent statutory organisation to administer the fund, assist development of LMAs and as a source of expert conservation advice on rural lands. These tasks should be performed by extra staff appointed for this purpose, and not be added to the work of already overloaded staff in Environment ACT. I have picked up many of the concerns raised by the conservation council in my amendments.

I have also discussed with the Rural Lessees Association the Government's package and my amendments. I acknowledge their desire to get this package through the Assembly with a minimum of fuss so that they can get their longed-for security of tenure. I also believe that just about all rural lessees will enter into LMAs in good faith. However, as the Minister acknowledged in his presentation speech, there is a need to balance the right of farmers to earn a living from the land against the environment/conservation requirements which increase with our improving knowledge of the fragility of our environment.

While I support the Government's package in principle, I believe it has not got the balance right. More emphasis needs to be placed on making sure that nature conservation objectives are achieved through effective, fully resourced land management agreements.

We have also been contacted by the group Mr Kaine referred to, who have raised concerns about legality of this legislation. I have seen the Government's legal advice. All we can do is take assurance from the Government that they have done the appropriate amount of work on this concern, and that the Territory will not be found liable in some way. I do not have the resources in my office to do that kind of legal analysis. This is the responsibility of the Government, and I hope they have got this right.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (4.48), in reply: Mr Speaker, I am delighted at the level of interest from the Assembly in this issue, because it really is very important. The rural lessees are a very important part of the ACT community. Before the site was chosen, indeed, up to the mid-1950s, Canberra was still just a sheep-run. I thank for the in-principle support that I hear from the Assembly. It is very important that they support this package. It will contribute to the long-term viability of our rural sector. It will also contribute very much to the protection of the environment, and that is also very important. In striking that balance, I believe the Government has come up with a good package.

In regard to comments by Mr Corbell, I thank him for his support. It is important that people have appeal rights. Where the Minister has the right to amend something, people should have the right to appeal. On the issue of Tenant and Booth, we will make sure that it is quite clear. I have made it quite clear to the rural lessees in the Tenant and Booth areas that the Government will honour its promise on 99-year leases, but with the understanding there will be a withdrawal clause in the event of a dam.

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