Page 300 - Week 01 - Thursday, 9 December 2004
unhappy with the government’s offer in the without prejudice negotiations, they can exercise their rights under the land act and get independent review of the government’s offer. If that is what they are concerned about—and I understand that it is—I would counsel that that is the way they should progress the matter.
What we have been doing to date is an informal process. The government has sought to provide as much information as possible on what we believe would be the compensation offer for the particular lease in question, the Coonan lease. But it is an informal process and I am not going to conduct negotiations on the value of a surrender for a piece of land in the territory through political debates in the Legislative Assembly. There is a process under the land act for managing that where there is dispute, and if the lessees choose to exercise their options in that regard they will have full access to those avenues.
So that is essentially the nub of the matter. The government has not in any way dishonoured or ignored the undertakings it has made. It has fulfilled its undertakings—in full. We have made the offer, we have undertaken our own assessment, as well as an independent assessment, of the value of the improvements on that property, and we have made the offer. I have heard Mrs Dunne say in the media that the lessees have got independent valuers. But so have we. They are not government valuers; they are people from the Australian Valuation Office, engaged by the government. And we have had another valuer as well; we have had two opinions.
I know the lessees do not like the outcome; I understand that. They obviously believe their improvements are worth much more, and their valuers obviously take a similar view. But we are now at an impasse. There is a way of breaking this impasse. That is for the lessees to exercise their rights under the land act and initiate surrender; the government would then make a formal offer and that would be arbitrated in the AAT. But we are not in any of those processes at the moment. This is an informal discussion between the territory and the lessees, without prejudice, with no statutory standing. It is simply a discussion; that is all it is. We have honoured our obligations in full to provide that information as was requested by the previous Assembly. Mrs Dunne also made the point that this is not about improvements.
Mrs Dunne: It isn’t about improvements.
MR CORBELL: Mrs Dunne, that is simply wrong, and I think in many respects this is the nub of the issue. Members of the previous Assembly would be aware—new members may not be, so I will just provide some information—that the rural lessees involved are members of the ACT Sustainable Rural Lands Group Inc. This group has had longstanding objections to various aspects of the rural lease policy that was introduced in February 2000 by the previous Liberal government. Some of the other members of this group have since decided to sell their properties on the open market or accept a further lease under the conditions of the new rural lease policy introduced by the former Liberal government. Their capacity to do this was assisted by changes that were made by the Assembly to the disallowable instrument governing the grant of further rural leases. The changes included extending time frames for eligibility to applicants applying for favourable payment formulas, and this new instrument was notified on 12 December 2003.