Page 297 - Week 01 - Thursday, 9 December 2004

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(2) calls on the Government to provide a fair and equitable offer to the families before the Government’s caretaker period commences in September 2004 and that this offer should—

and these are the important things that the previous Assembly agreed to—

(a) provide the opportunity for these property owners to obtain reinstatement to another location and cover the full value of the lessee’s interest in the property under their existing lease conditions, as per the agreement in November 2003; and

(b) ensure that the families can resume their lives as per their current conditions and so that they can maintain their current lifestyles and business opportunities.

Mr Speaker, that motion was passed unanimously in this place on 26 August 2004. It was a very humbling experience to spend some time with some of those rural lessees and to see hard-bitten men who had worked the land for more than 50 years in tears in the gallery in this chamber, because their fortunes and their future were so precariously held by this government. It is a very humbling experience to find in tears, because of the precarious situation that they are in, elderly gentlemen that you have worked for.

It’s a very humbling experience to see the decline in health of some of those people—elderly people who are looking for certainty in their last years—and to see the decline in health because of the uncertainty brought about by this, first of all, unjust change of their leases and, since then, the unconscionable delays, the unconscionable dragging out of things and the unconscionable behaviour of this government, sanctioned by this minister, in dealing with these families.

The culmination, Mr Speaker, was that, after that motion was passed in this place, an offer was finally made, which was not signed off by the minister but certainly agreed to by the minister—because he has indicated to me that he was perfectly happy with it—which did not come anywhere near the agreements that were in place and did not in any way, shape or form allow the lessees who own that land to carry on, as was required in the motion. The motion was clear. It clearly said that they should be given the opportunity to resume their lifestyles and their businesses elsewhere.

The offer that was made as a test case to one of those families was about one-sixth of what would be necessary to do that and about one-sixth of the valuation of the land provided by an independent valuer. Valuers always disagree. But what was agreed to was a without-prejudice negotiation. The rural lessees were prepared to do just that, to offer information on a without-prejudice basis. But the ACT government never brought to the table any information so that they could have a meaningful conversation.

The tenor of the letter of offer sent to the lessees, just before the caretaker period or about the time of the caretaker period, was, in many ways, completely and utterly insulting. It was a take it or leave it offer: “here is the offer; this offer expires on 5 October; no negotiations will be entered into.” If the offer was taken up, it meant that under no circumstances could any other action be brought by any of the lessees against

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