Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (23 October) . . Page.. 4001 ..
I want to refute something Mrs Dunne said in the debate. She said, "Oh, these lessees own everything on their land."That is not the case. Currently, these leases are 50-year leases and they contain both territory-owned and lessee-owned improvements. The basis of the lease provides for the territory to compensate the lessee for the lessee-owned improvements. That is no different from the lease offer the territory is currently making to those lessees. We are offering them a 20-year lease on the same basis as currently exists for their existing lease of 50 years. It is worth noting to members, Mr Speaker, that in both instances these leases will expire in a couple of years time. That is why the government is making a new lease offer.
So, Mr Speaker, we are not taking away any rights. We are maintaining those lessees' existing rights. Their rights at the moment are the use of a parcel of land. Their rights in relation to compensation are compensation for lessee-owned improvements. The new leases being offered to them retain exactly the same compensation right. So let us get that issue of acquisition on unjust terms off the table now. The acquisition and the compensation requirements on both the lessee and the territory are the same in these new leases as they are in relation to the current leases. That is the situation.
Mr Speaker, what is the rationale for doing this? What is driving the government to do this? Perhaps I might give a bit of background. Members should be aware that one of the purposes of the leasehold system is to enable the effective management of land to meet public purposes. The capacity of the territory to issue a lease with certain terms and conditions recognises that, first of all, the lease is just that-it is a lease to use the land for a set period of time for a set purpose. It is not freehold, it is leasehold.
Rural leases are used-often in the past and potentially into the future-as a land bank for potential or proposed urban development. It is the basis on which Canberra was built. The capacity of the territory to issue a lease for a set period for a set use at a set rate allows us as a community to manage our land to ensure that land is available when it is needed for the community in the public interest.
We all know in this place that the government has been progressing a very extensive planning process looking at potential growth options for Canberra. One of those growth options is the development of the Molonglo Valley as an area of residential development/urban development. It is not confirmed. There have been no changes to the statutory planning framework but it is a very clear direction that is available to the territory, to this Assembly, to the broader community.
What Mrs Dunne is essentially proposing today-and this comes to the nub of the question-is this: that even though it is possible that in five, 10, 15, 20 even 25 years time land in Molonglo Valley could be used for urban development, we should grant a right, a new right, to those lessees there to use the land for 99 years. Any government has to manage both the land asset and its financial assets prudently and reasonably. This is not about making money: this is about protecting taxpayers' money from inappropriate use. How appropriate is it for a government to enter into a contract-because that is what a lease is, a contract-for 99 years knowing that it is unlikely or questionable that the contract will be able to be honoured on the part of the territory? How prudent and responsible is it to do that?