The Legislative Council's Transport Committee today handed down its long-awaited report on the State's acquisition of land in relation to major transport projects.
Media Release: Unjust land acquisition process leaves residents distressed and displaced
10 August 2022
The Transport Committee has found that NSW residents have been on the receiving end of a systemic process of undervaluation, bad faith negotiations and time delays by government acquiring authorities, in service of the government’s intensive transport infrastructure pipeline.
The inquiry and report provides an overview of the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991 and two previous government commissioned reviews conducted in relation to the Act - the 2014 Russell Review and the 2016 Housing Acquisition Review (Pratt Review).
The Committee has recommended a number of measures to protest NSW residents and ensure they are given a fair deal and just compensation when the NSW government acquiring authorities determine their land must be acquired for infrastructure purposes. Significant recommendations include the introduction of a ‘reinstatement’ approach to calculating the value of compensation, the discontinuation of the use of non-disclosure agreements, a review of the solatium payments and hardship acquisitions, and an independent and retrospective review into the acquisition of land in relation to each of the major transport projects that were examined in the inquiry, with retrospective compensation to be made available where previous payments were found to be insufficient or unjust.
Abigail Boyd, Chair of the Committee and Greens Transport spokesperson, said:
“Extensive evidence heard by the committee shows that countless residents have been left angry and dismayed by the conduct of government acquiring authorities.
“The current process causes additional distress to those going through the shock and inconvenience of having their properties acquired, and appears to have been used in a way that is clearly contrary to the intent of the legislation, with acquiring authorities not negotiating in good faith..
“Residents described protracted valuation processes, characterised by repeated lowball compensation offers, apparently intended to wear down residents’ resolve rather than face a lengthy and expensive legal process.
“We heard of acquiring authorities refusing to engage in genuine negotiations, which saw valuations rising by upwards of 70% from first to final offer, and then only following an expensive and drawn out legal process.
“There is currently an enormous power imbalance between acquiring authorities and those facing acquisition of their homes and properties. It’s vital we fix this power imbalance, and place parties on a more equal footing to ensure negotiations are genuine, equitable and transparent.
“Non-disclosure agreements have similarly been wielded by acquiring authorities, in an attempt to further reduce the negotiating power of community residents. This report strongly recommends that these non-disclosure terms be removed, and no further non-disclosure agreements be entered into by the NSW government.
“The terms on which a final offer is determined still remains unfair, with displaced residents finding themselves priced out of buying back into their own community. This understandably causes great distress to the individuals and families who find themselves wrenched from their community, support networks, schools and local employment - it is anything but ‘just’.
“New South Wales is the only Australian jurisdiction that does not allow for the concept of ‘reinstatement’ to be considered in determining compensation and ‘market value’. A significant recommendation of this report is to rectify this fundamentally unfair methodology, and bring NSW government practices in line with community expectations.
“We are calling on the NSW government to listen to the very reasonable expectations of the community and adopt this recommendation of a ‘reinstatement’ calculation, and also to make retrospective compensation available to residents who have been unfairly disadvantaged and displaced by the previous cruel process.
“We have already heard earlier this week of the enormous power wielded by private toll road operators, with contracts shrouded in secrecy. These toll road projects provide billions of dollars in revenue to private operators, and are often the same projects that see residents shortchanged and displaced. The NSW government needs to decide whose interests they are looking out for - whether they are on the side of the residents of this state, or on the side of the developers and mega-corporations spreading their tentacles across our cities.”