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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 4239 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

I have also agreed that, if the lessees wish to remain for a longer period on the land after the termination or expiration of the lease, the government will be more than happy to look at accommodating those wishes. I trust that satisfies the concerns of a number of members following the debate in the last sitting.

MS TUCKER (5.15): This has proved to be a complex issue to deal with. Earlier this year, just after the fires, the government changed the lease entitlements concerning the leases of some families. I do think the approach of the government in the first instance was quite unfair and unjust. I understand why the families concerned believe they have been hard done by. I believe that Mrs Dunne in particular was very eloquent in her speech in this place on those matters and I must acknowledge that it was Mrs Dunne's passion and commitment that ensured we adjourned the debate last month and explored further options.

I have sought to understand the views of both parties to this dispute and to encourage some better understanding, particularly by government, of the leases in dispute and the situation of the farmers who hold them. I do, however, accept the view that government has a right-and indeed a responsibility-to manage the lease system for the wider benefit of the territory, in addition to treating leaseholders and all constituents with justice and equity, and it does have a responsibility to ensure appropriate sustainable land management practices.

In that context, the rural lessees in question made it very clear that they believe their entitlements under their existing leases ought to be protected; that to simply change the entitlement to purchase a 99-year lease to an entitlement to purchase a 20-year lease when their present lease expires in two years would be unfair; that the onus was on government to make an offer on the existing lease, with compensation established on the basis of the existing lease, with the lease to be valued as it would be under section 174(3) of the Land (Planning and Environment) Act in a timely manner; and that at that stage, with an agreed offer on the table, it would be open to government and the leaseholders to settle on ongoing use and management of the land.

I understand that the leaseholders would rather have their existing 50-year lease rolled over. I also understand and accept that government is not prepared, and has never been prepared, to retain a form of lease that we have decidedly moved away from. That change in leases was a product of an extensive process in the 1990s, trying to shift land management principles away from land banking and towards a more sustainable approach. One aspect of that shift was to give, where possible, more certainty to lessees. The other was to introduce land management agreements that were intended to ensure that the agricultural setting of Canberra was viable as a rural enterprise and that it ensured increased ecological diversity and health.

I understand that several land-holders have had some trouble with this approach-or, more to the point, the details of it-and would argue that government land management has not resulted in sustainable management, weed control or fire mitigation. That is an ongoing dispute. That is why these leaseholders found themselves in this situation of an expiring lease and why they have failed to take up the opportunity, prior to the fires, of purchasing a new 99-year lease under these conditions. I believe the lessees are still of

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