Page 3348 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 20 September 2005

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There seems to be an increasing willingness to use strict liability. There is certainly a place for strict liability in legislation but I think this needs to be done very carefully. We do not want people who had no intention of doing any damage, doing anything wrong, or even acting recklessly, being found guilty of an offence. We want to be careful about imposing penalties on such people. I think there are very limited circumstances in which we should do that. It is obviously appropriate to use strict liability in areas such as speeding, where extensive education programs are conducted. But I think the use of strict liability needs to be carefully constrained and I am pleased that that will be changed in this legislation.

I have concerns, too, about the size of some of the penalties. Clause 15—I do not think this one is being amended but someone can correct me if I am wrong—provides for a maximum penalty of 400 penalty units. The last time I checked, I believe 400 penalty units was somewhere in the vicinity of around $40,000 and I think for corporations the amount might be $200,000. So we are talking about significant penalties.

In a previous life I dealt with matters of aviation security and the aviation security regime and I know that it was a big deal if you put forward an offence that had a penalty of around 200 penalty units. I know that the people at Attorney-General’s would have been very concerned, and rightfully so. But that was in the context of aviation security and protecting the safety of Australians as they travel. I would not put this in the same category as protecting significant trees. Four hundred penalty units for damaging a protected tree seems like an over-the-top penalty and quite a significant penalty, and this highlights the extreme nature of some elements of this legislation.

I am also concerned about the way in which “significant” trees are to be identified and the level of resources devoted to the inspection and identification of trees under the protection register. In a briefing on this legislation that members of my staff attended earlier in the year there was discussion about the process of going to each suburb and identifying which trees would be “significant” and which ones were “protected”. Officers of Environment ACT at that briefing confirmed that there would be no dedicated officers tasked with this audit of trees. The three officers currently involved with compliance, who we were told are already underresourced and balancing a large number of tasks and priorities, are going to be expected to take up this work in addition to the compliance work they do now.

It seems that on the one hand there are high penalties and impositions placed on landowners and on the other hand there does not seem to be proper resourcing to put the process in place. I find that a little bit confusing and I am not quite sure what the government’s intentions are. But it does demonstrate perhaps that this has not been as well thought through as they would make out.

In summary, the opposition will be opposing this legislation. I am happy to lend my voice to that opposition because I think the bill does place an undue burden on property owners in the ACT. I think in some circumstances it will unnecessarily stifle development. In that sense it can add to the price of houses, it can add to the price of an extension. I think, for all those reasons, it is an undue burden on Canberrans. It is unnecessary. There is no compelling case to put in place this kind of legislation and I will be opposing it.

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