Page 3344 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 20 September 2005

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I do not accept the view that every tree across the territory immediately needs to be protected and that we need to go to the lengths we are going to under this legislation.

The bill will require an increase in the efforts of individuals but the government is not bound to act in respect of unleased land. Trees, for example, on nature strips, verges and median strips can be left to die by the government while the leaseholders on adjacent blocks will be prosecuted for trees that die. In recent years this has been a real issue. In estimates, the Minister for Urban Services reported to us that he had a budget to deal with some of those trees. I think it was a reasonably generous amount—I may be incorrect in my figure but I think I am right—of $500,000. But he certainly recognised the magnitude of that problem. Indeed, a similar problem afflicts private owners.

What we have to do is recognise the large impact that this bill will have on the property rights of people who own land. The bill is a clear imposition on property rights and it will place restrictions on the ability of leaseholders to develop their land. The bill will prevent people being able to fully develop their blocks because of tree constraints.

It was pointed out to me only earlier today that people by and large are not in the business of going around gleefully destroying their landscape and the beauty of their blocks. But there are obviously situations where people may have to extend their homes. Trees may impede that work but usually most people would try to replace those trees to ensure the continued good look of their property. This is, after all, an investment that most of us would consider. For most people in Canberra a house would be their major single investment in life. The underlying notion here seems to be that the people do not share that level of commitment to the maintenance of the appearance of their properties and that we need to legislate and regulate to ensure that we can control them.

I am told by the leader of my party that the history of this matter goes back to the actions of one individual, whom I will not name, who was reckless and it would appear may have gone over the top in clearing a block in the city. So over some five years a raft of legislation has been imposed and the process appears not to have been handled terribly well.

Leaseholders will be required to bear the responsibility of maintaining what the government rather picturesquely calls the “urban forest”. We may well want to reflect on the inability of leaseholders to maintain their trees because of the water restrictions regime. It was not very long ago that we discussed in this place the loss of property rights when the Water Resources Act came in and we tackled this very issue of people being constrained in their capacity to preserve the quality of some of the larger blocks, particularly in Red Hill and Forrest.

Some of the other things that the bill does which are of concern relate to the power of the Conservator of Fauna and Flora to ban development activity for up to five years if the conservator thinks something could cause the demise of a registered or regulated tree on a particular site. But there still is no onus of proof on the conservator and there is no requirement for the conservator to identify who damaged the tree. The leaseholder bears the brunt of anything that happens on his block and the legislation does not take into account vindictive actions by neighbours and so forth.

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