In Parliament

Bill - Land (Revocation of Reservations) Bill 2023



Wednesday, 29 November 2023.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (10:51):

I rise to speak on the Land (Revocation of Reservations) Bill 2023.

When one looks at a Bill of this nature, a Bill that effectively changes the status of pieces of land around Victoria, you could mistakenly think that these changes have little impact or are not particularly important. How wrong you would be.

The status of land and the status of land around this state is important, and it is important because it characterises what can be done in terms of government land and, in terms of non-government land, what the users can do with it.

In this case this Bill proposes to remove the permanent reservation on a number of sites in both metro and regional Victoria – to break that down, 10 sites which are for the intention of sale and in three cases aligning the legal status to their actual use. Just to explain a little further, on 10 pieces of land, from the advice provided by the Government, a nearby user, owner or neighbour has expressed an interest in that piece of land, and so the proposal would be that the permanent reservation be lifted off those 10 sites so that there can be some conversation between the Government and those interested parties in relation to sale. Now, that does not mean that there are not a lot of processes to go through before we get to the point of sale or the Government reaches a point of sale. However, this Bill allows those conversations to start. In three cases – I spoke about the alignment – there have been longstanding uses for those three pieces of land and the legal status currently overlaid, for want of a better term, on those pieces of land does not align with their actual use, which is also important. In those cases, which I will refer to in more detail, oftentimes the local council has approached the Government and said that the alignment does not suit, and in one case for some 150 years the use and the overlay alignment have been different. So, a request has been made to change the overlay on those sites.

These changes actually do matter, and we know that because there are so many pieces of land around this state. You could talk to every Member in this place and they will have had an experience of an alignment of land not suiting potentially the use and a legal change that may be required or a community request for a changed use. I will talk about a number of instances of that. Although the Department I am sure works hard to ensure that changes occur, I think it would be fair to say that most Members have experienced an instance where they have made a representation to the Government, to the Department, to ensure that a piece of land is either aligned properly or such and that has not yet occurred. So, I would say that although we are dealing with 13 pieces of land today in this Bill, there are, I am sure, many Members in this place who have more than that in their own electorates that are outstanding in relation to the Government providing advice to requests for proper alignment of those pieces of land.

For background, the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 specifically precludes the sale of Crown land unless the alignment is correct in terms of the reservation being lifted, so that is what we are proposing to do with this Bill in relation to 10 pieces of land. I will mention each of them specifically for the record.

Victoria Park Lake in Shepparton: this proposal relates to a permanent reservation at that site. The lake is permanently reserved for public park purposes which are managed by the local council, Greater Shepparton. The revocation aims to enable the purchase and refurbishment of a caravan park located on the southern end of the reserve by the council in an attempt to increase tourism. The sale could take some time to effect. As I said earlier, the potential sale is in its very initial interest stage rather than anything further than that.

The second site – I have the Member for Eildon with me – is in the Member’s electorate, a former potato research station at Toolangi. The revocation relates to a piece of land that was once a site for agricultural research purposes. I understand there are actually three parcels of land in what is being proposed in this Bill. The research station was closed in 2008, and there has been interest expressed by one of the leaseholders in terms of part of that land.

It is worth noting in all of these instances, as potentially an advisory note to the Department, that though there has been interest expressed potentially by a leaseholder or a neighbour or an interested party, there are other affected parties. There are other neighbours, there are other leaseholders surrounding these pieces of land, and no consultation has occurred with any of those people. I say that not in a way to reflect on the work of the Department, because of course they have noted quite clearly that this Bill has come from a place of interest being expressed by one party and have been quite open in saying that full consultation and negotiations have not proceeded further than that. It is worth noting that the Department, should this Bill pass, would want to ensure that it does consider the impact on surrounding parties and surrounding neighbours and that full consultation would occur to ensure that any potential sale does not disadvantage any of those parties, who in some cases may have been looking after all good neighbours for many, many decades. I think that is an important point to put on the record.

The third site relates to Merriman Creek in Seaspray, which is a small area of land on the banks of the creek which is currently permanently reserved for public purposes. I have been advised that due to a survey error part of a house is located on the permanently reserved waterfrontage, so this revocation aims to rectify that survey error, and potentially an adjoining landowner has interest in acquiring that land. It is worth noting that in terms of this piece – and there are a number of pieces that we will deal with today – that will require consultation with traditional owners, but I will speak to that a little later.

The fourth site relates to the Port of Geelong. Part of a permanent reserve which was created in 1873 at that port is targeted for revocation. Changes in Corio Bay’s foreshore position have prompted the revocation, and the intention is to sell that piece of land to GeelongPort Pty Ltd, who have expressed interest.

The next site relates to borough chambers reserve in Clunes, which is, as many would know, leased to Wesley College. Wesley College is interested in the purchase of that piece of land relating to the borough chambers, and again this site would be subject to agreement with traditional owners.

Further, Stringers Creek in Walhalla – the revocation relates to certain land on the banks of Stringers Creek. As I understand it, there is an unsatisfactory arrangement for current owners of that land, so allowing the sale of the occupied land would correct that. The advice received from the Department is that in that case the traditional owners are aware of this issue and a potential sale and have at this point made no objection to that. In terms of consultation with traditional owners, I understand that that is further along in this instance.

The next site relates to Alexandra Park. Following the completion of upgrades to the Swan Street bridge, a small section of the permanent reservation forming Alexandra Park was incorporated into the bridge structure. This is one of the instances where the revocation will align the legal status of the land to its current use. That is also the case with Melbourne City Baths. There is a small piece of land, as I understand it, on the corner of the baths which has been used as a road for over a century, as I am advised, and this Bill will align that use to its actual use.

There are five former mechanics institute reserve sites – two in Gippsland South, one in Gippsland East, one in Narracan and one in the electorate of Lowan. So, there are five sites where there was a former mechanics institute, which would have been a community use site, but in all cases, none have functioned for many, many years, and the land is used for various purposes, including things like grazing. In all of the cases other than in Narracan, the trustees of the reserves are deceased, so there is no lineage at four of the sites. In one of the sites there is a trustee who has been spoken with and contacted in relation to this proposal, who has confirmed in writing that they have no objection to the Bill.

I mentioned earlier that there are a number of sites – and touched on them as I noted them – and there are four in total that are impacted by traditional owner arrangements. Those sites are at Clunes, Walhalla, Mirboo and Seaspray. There would of course be processes in place that would need to ensure that, both at a legislative level in terms of the requirements that sit around that and otherwise, negotiation occurs with traditional owners in relation to any proposed sale of that land. As I noted each of the sites, I did mention in one case where consultation has occurred, but there would need to be a fuller negotiation and consultation in relation to those other sites. Those are the sites that are being dealt with in the bill.

As I noted earlier, there are many, many sites that I am sure we will hear about from members throughout the debate on this Bill where land use may not align with current use. As this Bill has been considered over recent weeks a number of Members have spoken to me about many, many outstanding instances where they have made representations to the government in relation to the overlay of status in relation to land. I was speaking, for example, to the member for Polwarth about a piece of land in his electorate just behind the Lorne foreshore. In that instance he, the community, the site owner and the council have been making representations to the department for over a year, and none have actually received a response – not even an acknowledgement.

You have got instances where acknowledgements are not even being received from the Department, and I am not in any way reflecting on the Department’s good work, because I am sure they are dealing with a lot of requests in relation to land. But it is worth noting that in relation to the Lorne site, which is just behind the supermarket, at 10 Erskine Avenue, that land was purchased five years ago. Since that time the owners have been working through the status of a carriageway behind the supermarket to the site, currently a cottage home site, which is used for accommodation of course. What the site owners are hoping to do is build 15 more sites on the property, which is fantastic. I mean, we have a housing crisis in Victoria in terms of the need for more housing, and we have an instance where a site owner has gone to the government and said ‘We want to build 15 more sites to allow 15 more people or families a place to live, a roof over their head’. An issue has arisen in that the driveway, as it were, into the property itself has not got the correct legal status. The banks have said, ‘Well, we’re sorry, we can’t support you in your proposed developed until the legal status of that piece of land is corrected.’ So, for over a year the owners but also council, in recognition of the important proposal, have contacted formally the Department and said ‘We have someone here who wants to build more homes. We want to build 15 more homes. All we need is a correction to land use’. To not have received an acknowledgement after all of those representations from various authorities is deeply concerning.

I use this instance to illustrate what many Members of this place speak to. They speak to representing constituents about legal status changes being required to land, and many have occasions where they have made representations, and an acknowledgement has not even been received by the Department yet. I do not think it is unreasonable where we are proposing to do things that actually make a big difference – in the case of the Lorne site, to build 15 new homes at a time that they are really needed – to assume that a Department can work through issues in a year. I do not think it is unreasonable for an acknowledgment to be received and the process started to bring about any change, or if there is a concern around making that change, to stop it.

I was recently talking to a number of farmers who own a particular property. They had for some 100 years driven over a bridge onto their property. The bridge was washed away in recent flooding. Because that piece of land that had been used for some 100 years had not been aligned correctly, the Department refused the rebuild of the bridge. The landowners were told to use what is technically allocated as the right-of-way access onto the property, which no longer exists – it is bush – but has been classified as the original right of way at best since early last century. So, the only way the owners could actually get into their property was to drive through a busy utilised caravan park, which I do not think in any way benefits anybody. In that instance the homeowners had been battling with the Department for a very long time just to help them understand that a proper right of way and access existed and should be the point of access into the future.

I would say, with due courtesy, where there are instances of outstanding representation from the community or from Members of Parliament, I would hope that we can perhaps look at the backlog. There has been some debate around planning reform and ensuring that decisions are not left on Ministers’ desks. I would say in relation to land usage and whether applications or representations have been made in relation to those pieces of land – I have just spoken about two, so I am sure many Members will raise those instances. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the Government to consider those occasions where representations are made and clear off that backlog. Perhaps there could be an assessment as a result of today and the Government could have a look at what is outstanding and work through any issues, because in the case of the Lorne site, we do not want to see someone who wants to build 15 homes for the local community not able to build them. I would leave that point.

I did talk about the importance of ensuring that the overlay is correct on pieces of land. I know in my community there is a current amendment to the planning scheme in relation to a rezoning of land which is very, very close to my heart, and that is Elsternwick Park North, which is now the Yalukit Willam Nature Reserve. There is an application underway to change the status of that site. It is a very, very important site. There is a proposal to ensure that that site is protected as the nature reserve and wetland that it is. This is one of those issues that I have spoken about many times in this place and have been very passionate about since before I became a candidate to represent my community. This issue is one that I am very passionate about – ensuring that the rezoning of this piece of land protects it into the future. There are very few opportunities where you can have enormous pieces of land protected in the centre of Brighton, so close to the city, as a reserve and wetland.

When I first became the candidate, one thing that I was very concerned about was of course the flooding that occurs in Elwood. Brighton is an original seat in terms of this chamber – an 1856 seat – and over that time nothing has been done to mitigate flooding. Setting aside politics, you look at issues that happen in your community and you say, how do challenges not get solved over the best part of 175 years? How do they remain outstanding? I am sure that we all, as members in this place, have issues that drive us in terms of wanting to fix those challenges, and ensuring that flooding was mitigated in Elwood, in my community, was one of those challenges.

When we got wind that the golf course at Elsternwick Park North was not interested in proceeding with a new lease at that site, a number of us put our heads together and said ‘Well, why couldn’t we use that site as a reserve – a beautiful reserve – and also install wetlands on that site to catch water as it comes down towards the bay?’ That vision was led by a number of people. Jo Samuel-King, who is now a local councillor in Bayside, and Marcus Gwynne have been instrumental in that vision and in ensuring that we have seen that vision come to life. When the proposal first came to pass at that site, only about four locals supported that vision. I remember talking to each of the local councillors, who all thought we were mad. Only one local Councillor had the vision to accept it as an important project for the local community.

Over time the Council learned that the community was on board. It is one of those instances where you find a local project that is meritorious and the community gets on board before everyone else does in terms of representatives, I note, having had very engaging debates and such with local Councillors and also the State Government – I recall the Member for Bentleigh being very outspoken in his opposition to the proposed project – that this project was one that the local community supported. To give them credit, the former Federal Liberal Government and the now Federal Labor Government have both committed funding to ensuring that project comes to pass in the way that it deserves. It is an incredible site; in fact, CNN just identified it as one of the six most important conversions in the world. So, it is an incredible site which is currently underway in terms of a land use change application. But to have an international media organisation list it as one of the six most significant conversions on the globe is an incredible testament to the local community for their support but also the visionaries who have seen this change come to pass and led that change. And it is not finished yet; we have a lot more to do at the park. There is a lot that we can do in terms of protecting endangered species, but I will not say too much on that. I think that there are more things that we can do on that site, so the reclassification of that piece of land is an important thing.

In terms of the Bill, though, I have implied but not stated clearly that the Coalition will not be opposing the Bill. The sites listed in this Bill – I can understand, based on the advice the Government have provided, why they have taken the path that they have in terms of the revocation of these sites. Again, the Coalition will not be opposing this Bill.