Brickmakers Point Landslip Bill (No 15) of 2020
Wednesday 9 December 2020
Second reading speech
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, when I read legislation like the Brickmakers Point Landslip Bill, I endeavour to put myself in the shoes of the people who are the innocent victims.
In this bill, the Government is offering to pay to the owners of the five properties 75 per cent of the value of their properties prior to the 2016 landslide occurring. The Government quite rightly accepts that the landslide has taken a substantial toll, both emotionally and financially on these landowners. One house was rendered uninhabitable, while considerable structural damage has occurred in varying degrees to the other four properties.
I ask myself how would I feel, especially when I did everything correctly when purchasing the property. Ask yourselves how you would feel. What would you do in the circumstances? Would you take three-quarters of the value of your property on 2016 values, or would you believe a fairer compensation should be paid by the Government?
The Government, it would seem, is correctly saying there is no real value in the properties now because the area is a landslip area, and it would appear to me that anyone buying it would have to have rocks in their head. Should the Government offer compensation based on today's value of the land, without any landslide having occurred?
But before answering my questions, consider the fact that property values in the near vicinity have risen by between 50 per cent and 75 per cent in the past four to five years and, therefore, these owners could not buy a similar property to that which they enjoyed prior to 2016.
What do they do? Do they join the long line of renters, or try to buy a vastly inferior property? Not only do they lose significant money on their property, but they have already had to pay stamp duties, and other government duties including department of mines' costs, council fees, solicitors' costs, mortgage and other loan costs, maybe water and power installation costs, rates and taxes, insurances - and it goes on.
This 75 per cent compensation is continuing to be worth less and less to the innocent property owners. I know how I would feel, and I think I know how anyone in this parliament would feel if it was their hard-earned money that has been frittered away before their very own eyes.
What has to be remembered in all of this is that the property owners employed solicitors to purchase the land in question. They signed a contract for sale in good faith. Their solicitors would have carried out requisite searches. These searches would have included a mines department search, and a search with the relevant council to ensure there were no impediments on the property.
These searches came back from government departments and councils. None of them highlighted any environmental instability risks that could affect the property. They had no indication that their nightmare of the last four years was going to strike. On the contrary, the searches indicated there was nothing wrong with the properties. If you look under the TAS Property Search - TPS - 'Mines & Landslip' Geohazard Searches website under the History subheading, it tells you that these searches have been undertaken for over 40 years, since the early 1970s. They were originally to obtain -
… conveyancing search information relating to Mineral Tenements and Landslide Hazard -
and I emphasise 'Landslide Hazard', but are -
… now broadened to include information about a wide range of geohazards.
It says they provide -
… comprehensive, high-quality ‘Mines & Landslip’ search property information that is frequently sought prior to purchase, during the conveyancing process.
It states that they provide additional information -
such as advisory landslide areas, flooding and coastal erosion hazard areas is also provided, as well as Municipal Planning Scheme overlay areas relating to geohazards.
It also states
At TPS we consider it important that purchasers are fully informed about political geohazards that might affect a property and require further risk assessment.
Then, specifically on landslip hazards, the Government website continues that they are assessed from the following sources -
· detailed Mineral Resources Tasmania mapping
· Department of Premier and Cabinet broad scale, statewide hazard banding
· planning scheme overlays
· specific area hazard mapping from major consultant reports.
It includes individual assessment of geology, slope and drainage features based on information for the property.
It continues -
The TPS search service is unique in that a geologist assesses background information for each property.
An interpretation aided by an exhaustive compilation of geohazard data that TPS has gathered from Government, Council and consultant report sources.
It concludes by stating that it is-
… not just the property itself that is assessed and reported on but also any important features in adjacent areas.
I asked myself: should the Government and/or the council have been aware of the problem which awaited these property owners? They obviously had plenty of information before them.
Having obtained a copy of the Pennington report from one of the home owners - which I believe has also been provided to all members - I note that report investigated the issues surrounding the landslide and the effect on property owners. On speaking with Derek Pennington, he told me the report was federally funded under the national disaster funding, commenced by Colin Mazengarb who put together a group of five, including the West Tamar Council.
The executive summary notes the report was initiated inter alia to understand the impact and the causes of the landslide. The report states that the landslide which caused the damage in 2016 was a deactivation event. The likely causes that contributed to its reactivation were -
· The geological unit known as the Launceston Group which can be a weak material that is prone to landslide
· Significant rain in August 2013 and May to June 2016
· Cliff erosion (recession) at the Tamar River edge
· Poor West Tamar Council … and private road drainage leading to locally elevated ground water
· Removal within the last 10 years of vegetation at #634, #648 and #650 Deviot to enable development.
· Water pipe leaks
· Watermain leaks due to landslide damaging underground pipes in the road corridor
· Inadequately maintained onsite sewage / stormwater disposal systems
· Onsite water management
· Increased water disposal (increased development density and household water usage)
· Concentrated surface flows associated with development (roofs and hard standings)
· Inadequate water flow management particularly on upslope neighbouring properties
· Changing demographic and wealth leading to more intensive land use.
· Increasing landscaping / landform modification
· Increased home occupancy
· Stabilizing works under Emergency Authority resulting in Driving forces that could have kept the slip moving
· The construction methodology of the stabilizing works
· Importation of road materials to repair driveways.
· Poor geotechnical advice.
I read those likely causes out verbatim because you can see that it would appear cases could be made against the council, the Government and all the developers, but certainly not against the poor landowners who have had to live through this nightmare. Cases like this drag on, they are costly and drain the emotions from people like landowners. It is just not fair on them and is not what governments are here for.
To ensure there is fairness to victims such as these landowners, there are options here and obviously ones set in accordance with this bill -
(1) For the landowners to walk away with 75 per cent of a 2016 valuation. I do not believe this is equitable considering how much money they have already foregone and how much property values in the area have gone up over the last four years.
(2) Settle on the basis the Government compensate the victims 100 per cent, on 2016 values. Even though again, this is not equitable, it stops ongoing court battle and the extra money would not be a substantial sum to the Government, considering there are only five properties and the valuation date is 2016.
(3) Settle on the basis that the Government pay the landowners the 2020 valuation without the landslip being taken into account. This is by far the fairest settlement considering all the evidence we have before us. Of course, this is still less than present real estate values
(4) The Government pays to the landowners the said 75 per cent, but does not require an indemnification for them to proceed to court and if successful take into account the sum already paid by the Government in assessing property damages.
As I said in my opening, please put yourselves in the shoes of the innocent victims here and ask yourselves honestly: what should be the fairest outcome for all parties? It is not 75 per cent of 2016 valuations when the fault does not lie with the landowners, but may well partially or fully lie with the council or the Government, as the evidence suggests.
I have today spoken with Mr Jaensch, and I appreciate that he took the time to call me with regard to the process here, should the bill get through. So, given that it is a government amendment and the lower House does not sit again until mid-March, he has advised me that should the bill proceed through the upper House, processes with interested parties could proceed. That is: calculations of amounts, individual conditions and other requirements would be instigated prior to the bill returning to the lower House. Mr Jaensch took pains to reiterate to me that the Government and council are both of the opinion that there is no obligation to compensate and this offer is purely compassionate. On this matter, we disagree.
Much has been made of the Rosetta landslip and the offer being in keeping with Rosetta. If that is the case, and I bring now the comment from the previous member for Rosevears in his second reading speech. He said -
While the minister's second reading speech goes to some length to emphasise that the bill is consistent with past precedence, in particular with the recompense provided through the Rosetta Landslip Act 1992, what is proposed in the Brickmakers Point Landslip Bill is, in fact, well short of the offer legislated in response to the landslip at Rosetta.
Under the Rosetta act, government offers to residents were calculated using valuations at the time of offer. In other words, valuations at current market value, and that was without any landslip occurring and they give 75 per cent. But with Brickmakers Point, current market valuations will not be used but valuations from four years ago.
I thank the member for Nelson for also pointing out to me that it also included a one-off payment of stamp duty for a replacement home.
I note the comments by the member for Rumney. It is a difficult one and I did ask the minister, Mr Jaensch, what would happen if we did not pass the bill or if we put an amendment in it: would it come back before them or would it not? It was certainly nothing that he could answer. As he said, this was a decision of Cabinet. I certainly appreciated the fact that he did give me the time to call and discuss it.
I would like to read some of the information from the actual affected landowners from the Pennington report and I seek leave to table this report and have it included in Hansard. I do have an electronic copy for Hansard.
Ms ARMITAGE - Thank you, Mr President. I also thank Derek Pennington for giving up his time today to brief us on this very comprehensive report.
As mentioned, the report was federally funded and it starts with -
The presence of landslide in the landscapes of the Tamar valley is not a new phenomenon but goes back millions of years as the valley has been progressively carved out by the Tamar River and its Estuary. This is indeed a natural process that is controlled by the geological materials, groundwater, streams etc.
As densification of developments occurred in the Tamar, landslide activity began to impact on the settlements, exacerbated by a wetter climatic regime in the 1950’s to mid-1970s. This reached the attention of the State Government who commissioned the then Department of Mines to undertake an extensive survey of the valley. The outcomes of this work included the production of a 5 class advisory landslide zoning map series and some site‑specific studies to better understand the soil mechanics of the landslides.
Mr PRESIDENT - Honourable member, if you wish to table the document, you need to bring it to the table.
Mrs Hiscutt - I am happy to give my copy to the member for Launceston to sign and table.
Ms ARMITAGE - I will give an electronic copy, which I think is easier for Hansard.
Ms Forrest - Are we just tabling it or having it incorporated into Hansard?
Ms ARMITAGE - Tabled and incorporated in Hansard.
Ms Forrest - I would not support that.
Ms ARMITAGE - It would have been very nice for people. You do not consider it is important?
Mr PRESIDENT - People can still get access to it, but it is a very big document to incorporate into Hansard.
Ms ARMITAGE - It was difficult to actually get access to it, you might recall.
Ms Rattray - Not now it has been tabled.
Ms ARMITAGE - It was previously -
It is considered that the principal landslide at Brickmakers Point … is an ancient feature that possibly precedes European settlement.
The Department of Mines landslide zoning, completed in 1974, did not recognise this or a number of adjacent landslide features, a notable exception to an otherwise impressive set of maps for its time that received international recognition. Mineral Resources Tasmania Tamar Valley - Advisory Landslide Zoning Rowella, produced in July 2001, similarly did not recognise this landslide. This is illustrated in Figure 2, which identifies the impacted properties as being in a 'Class II' zone. Zone II is described as 'Generally stable ground on 'soft' rocks, including very gentle slopes'. The footnote describes 'soft' rock as “Tertiary to Recent poorly consolidated sedimentary rocks and deposits'. Clearly these properties are not on 'generally stable ground'.
I would like to read a couple of letters from some of the affected landowners. I think it is really important to have some comments from them, as to how this has affected them. This is in the report.
If I go to Nick Daking: Nick's house was removed. He bought a home, did a lot of work to it, had his family there. His wife was pregnant. Not long after she had her new baby, their house started to fall to pieces and they had to move out, which was devastating for them. He says -
We purchased the property 12th September 2014 through Roberts Real estate in Launceston for $365,000. At the time of purchase there was no mention of the Deviot being a landslide area and specifically our block. There was also no indication from council when asked directly if there were any issues with the property or potential planning restrictions as we intended to renovate the property in the future.
We had moved from Launceston to live on a large waterfront block and at the time we had two boys aged 4 and 2 and were part owners in hospitality businesses located nearby. On June 21st 2016 our daughter was born and soon after we first noticed some cracks appearing in the bedrooms where the wall meets the ceiling, this along with the downstairs doors becoming hard to open and close.
This document is filled with detailed photographs of our property and house to show you the extent of the damage and just how quickly it occurred.
Prior to losing our home we had spent $9,400 with our architect with plans to completely renovate, which we planned to start in 2018, photos attached.
When the movement first occurred we engaged a builder to assist in helping rectify and prevent more damage by stabilizing the house, we also upgraded the exiting drains to assist with ground water. At this time no one seemed to know what we were dealing with and the sheer scale and seriousness of the situation. We ended up spend $12,000 with the builder and contractors attempting to save the home.
It was at this time a group of residents joined together and engaged geotechnical specialists to investigate the ground movement, drill test holes and form a potential solution to the problem at a cost of $5,500 each.
When it was clear that our house was beyond repair, breaking up and becoming a dangerous site with exposed asbestos sheets we decided to demolish it at a cost $5,200.
The financial and emotional stress this has placed on our family is extreme and very painful and as a result developed a serious health condition; we are still trying to come to terms with it. No one expects to lose their house (literally) when you are planning to turn it into your family dream home. One of the hardest things in being forced to move so quickly was uprooting our family the from the kid’s school and from our friends. We could not afford to buy another house so our family of 5 ended up living with relatives until we worked out what to do next. Throughout these struggles we continue to pay the mortgage on a house we can no longer live in.
I am more than happy to discuss this further …
I am not sure whether anyone has spoken to Nick.
Another owner is David Berry. David and Denise Berry are the owners of 654 Deviot Road, Deviot. He says -
We are the owners of 654 Deviot Road, one of several properties identified in the Report as very seriously impacted by the landslip event of 2016.
The house at 654 Deviot Road was built in 1998. We purchased the property in April 2008. At the time of purchase, we inquired with the West Tamar Council as to whether there were -