Page 3347 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 20 September 2005

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This legislation gives trees a special status. As I have said, we all enjoy our trees. Dr Foskey spoke about a study that shows that it is good to have trees around your house because you will have shade in the summer and, of course, if the trees are deciduous you will get sun in the winter. Well, everyone knows that—we do not need a study to tell us that. People will make their own decisions about these things. For most people it is a good option to have trees. But, of course, it not such a good outcome if trees are going to fall on your roof in a storm. It is not such a good outcome either if trees are going to fall on your children while they are playing. So there needs to be a little more trust, a little more ability to let ordinary Canberrans look after their properties, look after their families, and do as they see fit. If we do that, I do not think there will be a rush to get rid of trees. I do not think there will be a rush to strip gardens bare and concrete the yard. I think that is just not going to happen. So I do not exactly know what sort of terrible outcome this legislation is seeking to prevent.

I was concerned about recent reports of a home owner in Gungahlin who, under the current regime, which I also have concerns about, was prevented from removing a large tree in his backyard. He had serious safety concerns about the tree and I think he even went to the AAT. The decision went against him and he was prevented from removing or trimming back the tree in order to prevent injury to his children. This is where we have gotten to. It is absolutely ridiculous that people should not be able to manage the trees in their backyard in order to look after their families.

I think this legislation goes way too far. Mr Mulcahy summed it up fairly well when he said that this is just another crazy imposition of government regulations on ordinary Canberrans. I do not see any great mood in the electorate in favour of adopting this kind of legislation. People are not calling me up and saying, “When are you going to give more protection to my trees?” As I stated at the outset, people want to see a garden city, people enjoy trees in their neighbourhood, and I do not see the argument for the legislation.

I think this legislation could actually be counterproductive as far as our streetscapes are concerned. One issue would be in relation to trees that are approaching the 12-metre mark, where they suddenly become significant. A lot of people say to me, “I would be better off getting rid of some of those trees before they reach 12 metres so that later on I might not have a problem.” They might not even want to get rid of the trees, they might be quite happy with the trees, but they may have a concern that three or four years down the track they will not have the ability to put on an extension or cut the trees back if they present safety concerns, as we have seen in Gungahlin under the current regime. I do not think this will change under the regime proposed by the bill that is now before us. So I do have some significant concerns about what underlies this legislation.

Mrs Dunne, Mr Mulcahy and Dr Foskey have expressed concerns about how this legislation will work in practice. I acknowledge the backdown by the environment minister on elements of strict liability for residents. Previously, of course—and this will be addressed by amendments that are going to be moved—a home owner would have been exposed if, when conducting activity in the garden, a tree was accidentally damaged. I think that is a real concern and is really over the top, but I note that that is going to be amended. I certainly welcome that change. I know that Mrs Dunne and the rest of the opposition are also of that view.

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