Bill: Crown Land Management in relation to private shacks on public land

Today Mark outlined the Greens' opposition to this Government Bill which reverses the law that when the leaseholder dies, the shack revert to public land and structures must be removed. It provides for ongoing tenure (freehold or leasehold) as an incentive for shack lessees to upgrade their shacks to modern standards.

Crown Land Management (Section 78B Leases) Amendment Bill 2019

This bill comes as no surprise. The Liberal Party has for years wanted to undo the policy of resumption of private shacks on public land. In opposition, they introduced a bill to do this, but they failed. Now in government, they are trying again. As they are now the government, they have certainly got the numbers in one house, so again the Legislative Council will have the final say.

I was taking a trip down memory lane and looking at the last time we had this debate back in 2013. I am very pleased that the Labor opposition have not changed their opinion. At the risk of channelling Mr Hunter, who was recorded in a number of country newspapers in relation to what he said in this parliament, this bill is the Liberal Party at its privatising best. He went on:

Michelle Lensink wants to hand out prime chunks of South Australia's Crown land to benefit a select few.

Mr Hunter also said:

The Liberal Party should be ashamed of this blatant electioneering, which not only contradicts its 1994 policy that resulted in life tenure leases, but also shows a clear lack of care for the environment and the public at large.

I am glad the Labor Party have stuck with their policy.

Depending on what statistics you look at, it seems as if the private shacks that are affected by this bill only number around 230 or so on Crown land. They are located at Milang, Glenelg River, Fisherman Bay and along the Murray River. I understand there are another 80 to 90 shacks in public parks, 62 of which are in the Coorong National Park and 20 in Innes National Park.

In relation to the shacks on Crown land, many of these have been held by the same family for generations, and there is no doubt that many families with access to a shack have a strong connection with their shack and the local area. For others, it is a good source of holiday season rental income. But it is interesting that we are now down to the last few hundred. When you look at the statistics of South Australian shacks in previous freeholding exercises, there were 4,200 that were being considered back in 1983. Ten years later, 1994, the debate was around 2,000 shacks, and we are now down to the last couple of hundred.

Despite the undoubted pleasure that a small number of lucky families derive from these shacks, the decision that we make as a parliament should be in relation to the public interest, not just the private interest of shack lessees. I refer members to the consultation report that the government published just last month, entitled 'Retaining shacks as part of vibrant holiday communities', a summary of consultation May to August 2019 on the preliminary discussion paper, and the Crown Land Management (Section 78B Leases) Amendment Bill.

It will surprise members to discover that the people who responded to a survey on whether they should have more rights over their shacks were the people who had rights over their shacks. They were the bulk of the respondents. When they were asked whether they would consider applying for longer tenure—in other words, 'Would you like to not have to hand back your shack to the state when the lessee dies?'—shock horror, nearly 80 per cent said yes.

Who would have thought that nearly 80 per cent of people who, for many years, have had access to public land for their private holidays thought that having more tenure would be a good idea. In fact, there was only one, solitary shack lessee out of 143 who said they did not want to have longer tenure. They were then asked, 'What sort of longer tenure would you like? Would you like to own it or would you just like to be able to lease it permanently and then sell the lease to someone else when you did not want it anymore?' Nearly 40 per cent wanted freehold ownership and 60 per cent wanted transferable term tenure. So there were no surprises in the government's consultation asking people who stand to gain whether they like the bill that provides them with that gain.

I will declare at this stage that, to the best of my knowledge, I have never stayed in one of these shacks on Crown land, but I have certainly seen plenty of them, and I will go through some that have piqued my interest. I do not know whether other members of this chamber, or indeed members of the other place, made any declarations about whether they were shack lessees, whether it was a place at which they would holiday or whether they knew people who had shacks and used them.

I know my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks raised the issue of when it is appropriate for members to declare an interest. I would suggest that anyone who is involved with one of these shacks would have to declare that interest. It is not an interest that they hold in common with the bulk of South Australians, nor with a majority of South Australians, or even a large minority of South Australians. We are talking about a couple of hundred shacks; 99.9 per cent of South Australians do not lease them, own them or stay in them.

There are a few shacks that have come to my attention. When you are boating on the Coorong, you can see the shacks on the peninsula, and you can see them if you go hiking in Innes National Park. They are hard to miss, and it usually elicits two reactions: the first is, 'What a spectacular place to have a holiday'; and the second is, 'How on earth did they get permission to build that there?'

My first exposure to shacks in South Australia was as a young law student in 1984 and 1985, when I took two canoe trips along the navigable section of the Glenelg River. We canoed from Casterton to the sea over two separate trips. It is around 150 kilometres, and the last 60 or 70 kilometres are through the Lower Glenelg National Park in Victoria. My enduring memory of that trip is how peaceful it was. It was quiet; you could observe kingfishers and musk ducks, and Australian darters that were drying their wings on the riverbank.

Then, the peace and tranquillity of Victoria morphs into South Australia when the river crosses the state boundary, and everything changed. The tranquillity and unspoilt beauty of nature were replaced with rows of ramshackle shacks that stuck out over the water. There was the noise of speedboats and waterskiers—I expect, by now, that jet skis have added to that din—and once the river turned back into Victoria, the tranquillity returned.

I know that since I took that trip, the Victorians have opened up some of their stretch of the river to waterskiing in their special purpose areas. Still, in that Lower Glenelg National Park, over 95 per cent of the river is still limited to canoes and slow-speed vessels that travel at five to 10 knots. There are some slow put-put fishing boats, but you do not get the waterskiers and speedboats. Most importantly, there are no visible buildings on the bank; all you see on the Victorian part of the river are the river, bushland and wildlife.

I do not believe the Victorians have ever allowed shacks on their part of the river. Across the rest of Victoria, the shacks that were built on Crown land or in national parks were removed decades ago. In fact, I was told that by a Victorian national parks manager who was recruited from Victoria to come and work for the National Parks and Wildlife Service in South Australia. I remember him saying to me, 'I don't understand your attitude to private shacks in national parks. In Victoria, we just bulldoze them.'

South Australia has never had the courage to make that hard decision and my guess is that too many influential citizens owned or leased shacks and they were not about to give up their good thing. I think that is the difference between Victoria and South Australia. It is worth exploring some of the history of this because it helps us understand why we are in the position we are in today.

The very early shack licences were annual licences. They were issued under sections 244 and 246 of the Crown Lands Act. They permitted entry and occupation of land for 12 months and they were renewable. After the First World War and up until the end of the Second World War, licences were generally issued for camping on licensed sites. After 1945, the practice apparently was to issue shack site licences in place of the camping licences for all new occupations. In the period after the Second World War, up until about 1960, upon request from councils it was common practice to issue annual licences to individual councils for the shack areas that were in their jurisdiction.

In 1960, the shack policy was modified to allow new areas approved by the department of lands to be licensed to councils for shack sites and the transfer of these shack sites took place from 1960 to 1965. The first review of shack sites on waterfront Crown land was undertaken in 1973-74, following which a cabinet subcommittee was formed to determine the government shack policy. Criteria were developed to determine those areas of shack occupation that fell within acceptable and non-acceptable sites. Areas generally within 50 metres of the face of a frontal dune or the edge of a cliff along the coast were classified as non-acceptable.

In 1979, the then government announced the shack site policy, which included an undertaking that a review would be made of all non-acceptable shack sites. The most important aspects of the policy were that, in acceptable areas, individual shack owners were able, upon request, to apply for freehold title to their site and in non-acceptable areas some shack owners were issued with a 10-year lease. Persons who were owners of shacks at 5 November 1979 were given an undertaking that they may retain their shacks for the remainder of their lifetime plus the lifetime of any surviving spouse. Upon the deaths of the present shack owners and any surviving spouse, the shack was to be removed.

The 1983 review recommended the creation of three classifications for shack sites: acceptable sites; miscellaneous lease sites, which were to go from 30 to 40 years; and life tenure sites. In the end, the recommendation of the 30 to 40-year leases was not proceeded with because of a change in government. In November 1989, the government announced the change in policy for shack sites held under terminating tenure, with terminating dates as outlined in the lease document. This was that unacceptable Crown land lease shack sites held under terminating tenure would be granted non-transferable life tenure effective from 4 November 1989.

Under the policy at that date, there were two categories of shack sites on Crown land: (1) environmentally acceptable sites that could be converted to freehold and (2) environmentally unacceptable sites from which shacks would eventually be removed. The reason for going down that track is that it is these environmentally unacceptable sites that the government now wishes to privatise either by freeholding or permanent leasehold.

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Library for providing some of that information and also the district council of Yorke Peninsula, which had a good summary on its website, both of which refer extensively to the 1994 report, 'Freeholding of shack sites on Crown land', a report of the shack site freeholding committee from November 1994. I think it is also important to refer to the comments that were made in this place by the Hon. Trevor Griffin. In July 2000, he made it very clear why what the government is now proposing is the wrong way to go. He says:

The intent of section 78B was to ensure that sites that were considered unacceptable for shacks and holiday accommodation for environmental and amenity reasons would cease to be used for those purposes but at the same time would also accommodate the interests and expectations of those who held existing shacks on such sites at the time the policy that shacks should be removed from unacceptable sites was announced.

So, back then, the Liberals were with the program. They recognised that some of these holiday shacks really should not be there. They had failed every previous test of freeholding and privatisation; they were unacceptable. These few hundred that are left that have failed every previous test to improve their tenure, they have allowed to be privatised—they are the ones the Liberals want to do. I agree with the Hon. Ian Hunter that this is the Liberal Party at their privatising best.

The issue of private shacks was actually on the agenda of the local council at Murray Bridge today. In fact, I think it was at 3 o'clock today that submissions closed on a proposal, in that council area, as to what to do with a number of shacks that are effectively in the heart of town. They are on the river at Wildens Way. There is a community campaign at present to oppose the sale of this riverfront land because it is denying the public right to access the river.

I will not go through a lot of the history of access to rivers and access to the sea, but, since the origins of colonisation, the policy was always to maintain public access to rivers and to the sea. Whilst those policies have been ignored on many occasions over the last 150 years, still it was the official policy to maintain free public access to these important community assets—our rivers and our coasts.

The Greens' position on this bill is that, over the years, there have been more than enough concessions granted to those who have been lucky enough to acquire leasehold interests over public land. Those people have benefited from the privatisation of the commons. The vast bulk of shacks have already been freeholded, and really the only ones left are those that are in unacceptable locations, whether it is environmentally, aesthetically or for other reasons. They did not make the cut when the privatisation freeholding juggernaut was in full flight, and they do not make the cut now. This is pure and simple privatisation of the commons, and the Greens do not accept that this is the right way to go.