Crown Land Management (Life Lease Sites) Amendment Bill

02 May 2012 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the Crown Land Management (Life Lease Sites) Amendment Bill regarding tenure shacks on Crown Land. This bill aims to resolve issues with leases, rent prices and shack maintenance, among other things.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:30): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Crown Land Management Act. Read a first time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:31): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In moving this motion, I would like to acknowledge that this piece of legislation has faced this chamber and the House of Assembly before, in a slightly different form, in 2005. I would also like to acknowledge that there are a number of people who have been behind the scenes lobbying us and keeping the fires burning since 2005.

I would also like to commend some of our shack owners, who are here in the gallery today, particularly Mr Bob Honor, Mr Bruce Gallasch, Mr James Powell, and Ms Cate Telfer. I would also like to acknowledge some who cannot be here today, Michael Glasson and Robyn Telford, and acknowledge mayors Kym McHugh from Alexandrina Council and Richard Sage from the District Council of Grant, as well as The Border Watch, which has taken a very strong interest in relation to the Glenelg River shacks.

This bill impacts the life tenure shacks which are on Crown land. Many of these are in various states of repair or disrepair, and it is likely that a number of them will deteriorate further because the owners have no incentive to improve or maintain them. Some of them have been there for 80 years and they could really do with some maintenance; the problem is that they are at the end of the line. When the current tenure holders pass on, the tenure returns to the Crown and the shack must be pulled down at the expense of the estate. In the meantime this leaves no incentive for lessees to invest or upgrade.

The Liberal Party thinks this is an unnecessary loss. Families will lose their holiday traditions, with all the recreational activities that used to take place in and on the water, and local towns will lose tourist opportunities and seasonal income. A lot of tourists do remark on the uniqueness and attractiveness of the shack sites—particularly, I have heard personally, across the border in Nelson in Victoria, where they have made their views known at the visitor centre and the local boat hire shop.

Shacks have a tradition over many generations in this nation. They represent an annual pilgrimage to the coast over Christmas, signalling a time of rest and recreation, catching up with family and friends. People with shacks have pride in their patch, and they look after them. Frequently the sites are used by informal campers, and the shackies may clean up after them. Shackies protect the place from vandals and keep the invasive weeds down.

There was an extensive program of freeholding in the 1990s under the last Liberal government—I think it has been quoted in the order of some 3,000 sites—and most of those shacks have been renovated. Many have been removed and new structures built in less environmentally sensitive locations, such as behind primary dunes where they occur on the coast.

The remaining shacks under ongoing life tenure arrangements are a different proposition, and a number of issues have been raised. Many are small, and some are without toilets and showers. Shacks on the Glenelg River have access to some shared toilet blocks, which are maintained by the local council. At Fisherman Bay, there is a row of loos behind the shacks, known informally as 'Dunny Lane'. At Milang, however, the sewerage facilities were provided in the late 2000s by the council, and all shacks have been required to be connected at the owners' expense.

The amendments in this bill aim to encourage shack owners to maintain their shacks to a higher standard, not only for their use but also to improve the general environment for all users, and provide a long-term assurance to shack site owners. The credit for initiating the bill really does need to be given to the district councils of Alexandrina and Grant in the early 2000s. Alexandrina put a report to the old DEH, called 'Port Milang shack sites: proposed change of land tenure', and Alexandrina agreed to provide the care, control and management of the shack precincts under a heads of agreement signed by shack owners and council.

Their proposal sought to assume management via a similar mechanism in the Local Government Act. A crown lease for the whole site was to be issued to Alexandrina, which would then sublease to existing shack lessees for 21 years, with a right of renewal for a further 21 years. Comments attributed to the regional manager for crown lands were:

The proposal would be recommended to the minister for approval on the basis that the lease between the Crown and council would have a fee similar to the revenue being received from the existing arrangements, which is approximately $30,000 per annum.

I understand that that is across the site. These figures are now over 10 years old. Below this section is a section entitled 'Comments', which states the following:

On the basis of council administering a shacks site lease, the costs and implications to council were investigated on the assumption that all costs are to be borne by the shack owners.

This is an important point because there is some risk for the current lessees. There is a detailed table in the document that refers to surveys, legals and so forth, and at that time the average cost per site was estimated at $1,323, or $111,000 across the 84 sites. Further costs listed under administration had a starting point per site of $1,544, with some costs, such as sewerage rates, plumbing and renovation, unknown, but, I would suggest, not insignificant.

A STEDS scheme had been approved by the department of human services, and I understand that sewerage systems have now been installed. There are comments about costs and comparisons with services being currently received, which is also to do with concerns expressed by unsupportive councils. There is a table regarding risk assessment for Milang, which is kept up to date, and I understand that some $1.69 million has been invested in the precinct, some $15,000 to $35,000 per shack.

A very similar document was produced by the Grant council in 2004, and they did identify the difficulties with the current arrangements; some of those I have mentioned already. They also identified that, in the event that there is no surviving estate, crown lands are left with the financial costs of improving removals. Council currently has limited involvement with the management of the shack sites, other than a covenant requirement imposed on the shack owner which enables a retrospective management role for council.

They also identified a whole range of risk issues in a report prepared by Richard Oliver International. I will not go through all those, but it is a public liability summary review which talks about falls, falls of rocks or persons, earthquakes and slips, fires, water supply, electrical supply, road and access, ramps and slipways, and the like. Their proposed solution in this document is to 'instigate new policy and revise current licences to reflect changes in tenure to enable the formal recognition of the extension in lease tenure to enable transferability', and they identify a whole range of actions that would need to be undertaken. So, clearly those two councils were able and willing to undertake those roles.

If I can turn to the provisions of the bill, as I said, it is almost identical to the bill introduced in 2005 by the member for MacKillop in another place, and my leader, the Hon. David Ridgway. The bill amends the Crown Land Management Act, and I would just like to note that it does not amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act, and that is something that I think deserves further investigation, because some of the shacks that are on life tenure are in fact located on those lands. So, it inserts a new section 44A into the Crown Land Management Act, and that sets out details of the subleasing arrangement, which are as follows:

A head lease will be granted from the state government to participating councils for at least 99 years with a range of conditions. It is expected that councils will appoint shack management committees which will determine management plans for each set of sites. Councils will also audit all infrastructure including vehicle and pedestrian access. Each shack will be audited for its existing services, which need to comply with Australian standards for safety and environmental compliance. Subleases between councils and lessees will include the following conditions:
•leases will be for five years with a subsequent right of renewal;
•leases will be transferrable with the consent of the council; and
•the lease will contain details regarding all infrastructure, effluent and environmental requirements.

Lessees will have two years to apply for a sub-lease to ensure that they decide whether to migrate to the local regime. Following signing a lease with the council they will then cease to hold a lease with the state government. Other features of the bill include a requirement that proper public access is provided, which is an issue that is raised regularly, even as recently as today on Sonya Feldhoff's program on the ABC. Regulations may be established which outline the details to be included in management plans.

In the case of a series of adjacent shack sites, measures must be undertaken to ensure proper access for public amenities and recreational access to boat ramps and so forth. The council will have means to recoup costs in the form of charges incurred in the management and establishment of sites, and this is included but not limited to: surveying, effluent management, environmental management plans, access and infrastructure.

Following some of the feedback that I have had from councils, we have had two clauses inserted into the revised bill: one is 44A(13), which states that the government cannot make regulations without consulting councils first; and subclause (1) makes it abundantly clear that this is indeed an opt-in scheme.

In January I wrote to the LGA and to as many councils as I could identify which had coastal areas or significant inland waters, to provide them with a copy of the bill, and I also wrote to a significant number of shack owners and associations. The response, as to be expected, from life tenure lessees has been very positive. Shack lessees from Milang and the Coorong are now attempting to revitalise the SA Shack Owners Association, and I commend Michael Glasson of Kadina who has been incredibly organised and has been in contact with a number of people across the state.

Some councils have responded. The LGA has decided to remain neutral. I do note that the President of the LGA is also the mayor of Alexandrina, so he is very familiar with the situation. Some councils are concerned at becoming responsible for management because of existing issues that the environment department has failed to resolve, such as access and egress, lack of resources within their council or fear of risks and liabilities. I have made it as clear as possible to them that the bill does not compel a council to enter into a lease arrangement.

Some of the council feedback—and I would like to thank them all for their correspondence, and let them know that I will be formally responding to them—is that, in relation to the District Council of Tumby Bay, they have complications with the Lucky Bay ferry. There has been some conflict in relation to the land there which I think they were hoping to resolve, so I can understand that they may want to deal with that in advance.

The District Council of Grant and District Council of Alexandrina have given a big thumbs up. Kangaroo Island Council, which has only a very small number, is concerned about existing zoning issues and a range of unresolved issues from the environment department. Ceduna has raised a range of issues but not actually said whether they are in favour or against.

The Coorong District Council is seeking more information, and I have been attempting to get to one of their meetings so that we can explain it in more detail. District Council of Yorke Peninsula and District Council of Barunga West, who have sent me the most detailed letters vehemently against it, have raised a range of issues, most particularly the passing of responsibility onto local government and some environmental issues, which I do not think are relevant to the bill, particularly coastal protection. I also received correspondence from the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary which has a fairly complex land tenure issue, and I can understand their concerns, but I think they probably need some sort of mediation to sort out some of those issues.

In short, there is a risk to councils. Some certainly have looked at the liability side of the ledger and said, No, thank you,' but it depends on whether or not they support the shacks in the area. I think that is probably the base question that they need to ask themselves. Curiously enough, some have said, particularly the Yorke Peninsula councils, that they would rather not see the bill pass at all because they might feel some pressure from the people who have the leases to adopt the scheme.

Others see it as a possibility and understand that they are entitled to undertake cost recovery in undertaking all the assessments and so forth. There is also a risk to lessees. I have spoken to a number of people in various shack areas around the state and some have said, 'This might mean we would need to comply with things and we might have to upgrade our toilet systems and so forth,' and that is certainly true. So, those are very real issues for them.

This government, I fully expect, is going to oppose this bill as they have done in the past. The environment department has had a long-term agenda to oppose shacks, which goes back some time, and I think it was probably revealed in a speech by the then minister John Hill on 5 May 2005 when he said that it goes back to the Dunstan era:

In the mid to late 1970s, the then Dunstan government initiated a policy to remove all the shacks from along our coast, whether it was a river or a beach front. The basis of that policy was that that coastal land, that river land, should be in the public domain. The government had that as a policy position and, I understand, gave a time frame to shack holders to remove their shacks in the late 1980s...

I think that is really what is behind it: there is a certain view in the department and among members of this government that nobody should have coastal or river land, which I think is a huge double standard when we look at all the tenure which takes place, particularly along the metropolitan area. If we are to take that view to its full conclusion, then we would have to be removing places at West Beach and Noarlunga. I am sure that they are not suggesting that.

I really do not understand that attitude at all. That is one of the things that really makes me quite wild and makes me scratch my head. People who have seen the shacks and heard about what their fate is and why do not understand that concept at all, particularly because no shack lessee that I know of has ever refused anyone access—in fact, they welcome people into the area.

Take for example the Milang site. It is 150 metres of lakefront and there are several kilometres available for everybody else. Nobody is excluded from those 150 metres in any case. Mr Keith Turner, who I may have neglected to acknowledge at the start, was on radio this afternoon talking about the fact that in the holidays when people come down to the area, it is certainly the shack sites that people flock to and where all the boat racing and so forth takes place. I think over Easter there is a visit from the Easter Bunny which takes place at Milang and the arrival site is in front of the shacks, from memory. A whole range of these issues are raised that I think are complete nonsense.

I mentioned Nelson in Victoria, which is just across the border and part of the Glenelg River. The Glenelg River is perhaps a historical anomaly in that about nine-odd kilometres venture into our border. People suggest that maybe that was the natural border and it should not have been in South Australia at all, which is unfortunate for people who have shacks on this side of the border because it is a very different regime over there, which is very positive.

They have a management committee which is appointed for a three-year term through the Victorian government. It looks after all the crown land in the Glenelg River region and it meets every month. It has the responsibility for all licences for landings and boat sheds—public landings, boat ramps and crown leases, such as the Nelson kiosk, the Glenelg River cruises, the Information Centre and associated crown land, such as toilet blocks, the caravan park and some roads.

They have boat sheds there. The ones that are on crown land are much more rudimentary and require an annual inspection to ensure their insurance cover. Any disputes or appeals could be overseen by the Department of Sustainability and Environment, but these rarely occur.

The annual fee covers administration and insurance. It is kept low to try to retain the boat sheds as they are, strangely enough, believed to be a valuable asset. They are flexible about time requirements for repairs. In the 1980s, the then Labor government tried to get rid of them but did not, and it implemented a range of rules stipulating that no new structures were to be erected, no overnight stays, and so forth.

On this side of the border we have had massive increases in fees from the environment department, with no services provided at all. I think that is a blatant rip-off and I think it is an attempt by the government to try to move people off. The valuation is allegedly based on a rate of return of 4 per cent to be comparable to rental properties; however, this is a nonsense as people are not allowed to rent them out. In any case, I think the understanding was that it should be on the unimproved site value.

Going back to 2005, minister Gago in this place talked about 'wholesale, irreversible excavation' of cliff faces (which is hard to comprehend given that no further development of shack sites has been proposed), the loss of native vegetation (in spite of the existence of the Native Vegetation Act and bearing in mind that a lot of shack owners look after the weeds) and narrow and rickety boardwalks. We also heard that there was nothing in the bill to stop the head lease going from the council to individuals or other entities, which is also not envisaged and another red herring.

More recently, the acting minister Chloe Fox's response was published in The Border Watch. In relation to the Glenelg River shacks, she said that most of the shacks were subject to seasonal flooding (which was very rare. There may have been episodes in 1946, 1956 and 1983) and, in any case, so what? These are not permanent homes; many are just boat sheds and are used as such. She also used the grey and black water disposal issue, which is clearly something that can quite readily be addressed with modern engineering practices. Several products on the market are available in Australia with a simple internet search. Various toilet products will fit into small spaces and require little if no water, and they meet Australian standards. Even our national parks use them.

Regarding access and pathway issues, most shacks are easily accessible; very few are not. In any case, the relevant lessees know about this and they obviously want to stay. Some of these lessees are getting on in age and, with the increase in rentals, some of them are choosing not to hang around. For this reason, I thought it was important to table this bill and let people know that this is definitely Liberal policy and something that we will be pursuing after the next election if the parliament unfortunately decides not to support it. So, we are hoping that people will hang in there. We would like to see these shacks passed on to the next generation.

Whether councils choose to avail themselves of it is an assessment that each of them must make for themselves. My prediction—what is likely to happen—is that we will win the next election and the District Council of Grant and Alexandrina will get on with it post-haste and other councils will sit back and see how that one goes.

When they realise that it is not such a scary proposition, they will become interested as well, because it does involve them being able to access rate revenue, and that would be very attractive. The national parks sites I think will also need a similar bill, and that is something I need to investigate, but the crux of it will rely on a good relationship between the two parties, which is the very basis of any contractual arrangement, the two parties being the council and the shackies. So, the time for negotiation is very much prior to the initial signing of the subleases.

If there are disputes, then the state government would need to step in. It is very difficult in legislation to address all the concerns that some of the councils have raised. Some are certainly external to what is in the content of the bill, but I will be writing to all of them to address their individual concerns. Unfortunately some of them have completely misread aspects of the legislation: whether or not that was deliberate I am not too sure, but I hope they see this as an opportunity and as a way of preserving something that is part of our heritage and which ought to continue.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J. M. Gazzola.