There seems a growing ‘new breed’ within in some Govt circles that callously disregard the trauma and loss caused by compulsory acquisition, particularly the threat of it. Two major issues are (1) the stand-over tactics used to force owners to settle compensation without full knowledge of the resumption impact or their compensation rights and (2) future requirement “stealth” resumptions without timing, detail or compensation.
Stand-over tactics & deception
There have been growing examples in recent times where government representatives have bullied owners to settle compensation without full knowledge of the resumption impact.
Owners have been pressured to finalise their claims prior to construction works being finalised on the grounds that it’s only a “minor impact resumption”.
In a recent case involving a “critical infrastructure easement” for a busway, an owner settled a “minor” claim only to find out that when the works took place, a massive concrete noise-barrier was constructed along the boundary that overshadowed their property. They were later advised that it was a “subsequent engineering requirement” that wasn’t part of the original plans. A legal process is now underway to reopen that compensation claim.
There are numerous other similar examples where owners have found that the “construction works” turned out to be substantially different to what was initially indicated, and the disruption caused far worse than what was proposed.
Owners are often told that the initial “offer” of compensation would probably be reduced if it was further questioned or challenged. It’s a thinly veiled “stand-over” threat to accept what is being offered.
The use of semi-professional personnel by resuming agencies to deal with owners is also alarming. In some cases, the people dealing directly with owners have little if any real qualifications in assessing compensation, but rather it would seem good “marketing” credentials.
In some instances, owners have been advised that there is an allowance in the compensation for them to seek independent professional advice (typically legal & valuation), yet encouraged not to do so as it is suggested to be a minor resumption so, “you can pocket that money”.
In another recent instance, a resuming agency retained two valuation consultants to assess due compensation, then began negotiating on the basis of the lower figure without disclosing that the other assessment existed. That matter is also now subject to legal process.
Future requirements – resumption by stealth
Property rights are being continually eroded by government under the cloak of so-called infrastructure planning, land use planning, environmental and heritage legislation which enable the government to strip property owners’ rights without paying them adequate compensation or in some cases, any compensation at all.
The trauma of the resumption process for disposed owners is bad enough. For many, the future threat of it is far worse.
Both local and state government are increasingly using “future requirements” to effectively reserve private property without any real indication of when or how it might happen.
A group of home owners in southern Brisbane for example have been advised that part or perhaps all of their properties may be required for a future road widening. There are no definite plans, no timing, and of course – no compensation. Their properties are immediately blighted by the shadow of an unknown future resumption. The saleability and value of these properties is reduced, yet they have no legal avenue to force the issue.
In such circumstances, the government refer to a so-called “Hardship Policy”. Supposedly it allows an owner to apply for compensation on the grounds of hardship yet incredibly the onus of proof falls on the owner. Imagine having a Govt agency saying they might want part or all of your property at some future time and then being forced to cap-in-hand to that very body to seek compensation without the ability to action formal legal proceedings.
Whilst the February 2009 amendments to the Acquisition of Land Act bestowed more rights on those whose property is actually being resumed, it did nothing for those who live in the uncertain limbo of “future requirements”.
If you unfortunately find your property subjected to any form of resumption process, we suggest you think very seriously about seeking independent professional advice, whether it concerns a “future requirement” or a “minor resumption”.
Buying property is the biggest investment that most Australians make in a lifetime. In that purchase there is a natural assumption to have acquired certain rights: such as the right to enjoy, the right to exclusive use, the right to sell, etc. It is now evident that those rights are increasingly under threat.