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May 12, 2021

Minister admits to misleading parliament over Crown land

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NSW primary industries minister Niall Blair has admitted to misleading parliament over the Crown lands management. Photo nationals.com.au
NSW primary industries minister Niall Blair has admitted to misleading parliament over the Crown lands management. Photo nationals.com.au

In a rare and embarrassing back down for the NSW government, the Minister for Lands has apologised to Parliament for providing incorrect information on Crown Land leases that have commenced since 2012.

During debate this week on the Auditor General’s recent scathing report into the sale and leasing of Crown Land, the minister, Niall Blair (Nationals), advised the House that no lease had been directly negotiated by Crown Land since 2012.

It turns out there were 19 – involving leases to airports as well as transactions tied up with the privatisation of Newcastle Port and the NSW electricity generators.

The report reflects also longtime concerns by campaigners against the takeover of public foreshore Crown land at Brunswick Heads by a government-appointed trust which runs three public holiday parks in the town.

Byron Shire Council recently renewed operating licences for the holiday parks amid a public outcry over the encroachments of public foreshore land.

The Opposition says that Crown Lands was clearly dysfunctional and now in crisis mode.

Shadow lands minister Mick Veitch said Crown Lands’ staff numbers have been slashed by the Baird government, and a lot of corporate knowledge has walked out the door since 2011.

‘The Auditor General’s report said that the Crown Lands agency did not know what was occurring on Crown Land,’ Mr Veitch said.

‘The minister’s false response actually affirms that Auditor General’s grave concerns for the management of public land in NSW.

‘Savage job cuts by the Coalition means that Crown Lands is no longer aware of many transactions are taking place on public land.

‘It has now provided incorrect information to the minister on leases – and the minister has admitted to misleading Parliament.

‘While the minister was quick to blame public servants – the real reason behind the dysfunctionality of Crown Lands are job cuts which have left many Crown Lands offices with a skeletal staff.

‘Without staff, you simply can’t know what is going on across land that comprises 42 per cent of NSW’.

Hansard transcription

(Hansard: 20 September 2016, Auditor-General’s Report)
The Hon. NIALL BLAIR (Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Lands and Water) (14:52 :25): By leave: On 15 September 2016 I participated in debate, under Standing Order 57, along with a number of other members, on the Auditor-General’s report into the sale and lease of Crown land. When speaking about direct negotiations since 2012, I advised the House that no new areas of Crown land were allocated by direct negotiation for commercial use by lease during this period. I have since been advised by the Department of Industry—Lands that, in fact, 19 commercial leases have been approved for direct negotiation with new tenants by the department since 2012. I apologise to the House for this regrettable error, which was contained in draft speech notes prepared by the department but not corrected prior to the debate. As soon as I was advised of this error, I wrote to advise the Clerk of the Parliaments of my intention to update the record.

Given the topic of the debate last week, the irony of the situation is not lost on me or the department, and I have no doubt it will not be lost on other members. I have ensured that processes have been put in place to mitigate the risk of this reoccurring. Regarding the leases, I am advised that they were granted with appropriate consideration of all issues, including receiving a fair return for citizens of New South Wales. Seven of the leases that have been executed since 2012 were approved in 2008, and one was approved in 2009. While it is regrettable, this error does not detract from the key point I made during the debate last week, which is that the Department of Industry—Lands has agreed to all six recommendations in the Auditor-General’s report. I table a full

Avoiding public scrutiny

The Auditor-General’s report report targets a ‘culture of avoiding public scrutiny’, Mr Veitch said.

It also reflects longtime concerns by campaigners against the takeover of public foreshore Crown land at Brunswick Heads by a government-appointed trust which runs three public holiday parks in the town.

Byron Shire Council recently renewed operating licences for the holiday parks amid a public outcry over the encroachments of public foreshore land.

Mr Veitch said the report also highlighted the NSW government’s ‘inadequate’ oversight of decision making and ‘limited’ community involvement in the sale and lease of Crown land.

‘Shockingly, the report reveals 97 per cent of leases and 50 per cent of sales over the past four years were hidden from public scrutiny because the government chose to enter into direct negotiations with buyers,’ he said.

‘The overwhelming conclusion is that more often than not the community is being excluded from the sale and leasing process and unable to contribute to, or question, decisions made by the department.

‘Furthermore, the audit found that the Department of Industry and Land does not have a clear view of what is happening on most leased Crown land, having only just started monitoring tenants.’

The report recommends the government improves transparency of decisions and clarifies the criteria used to justify the closed direct negotiations of leases and sales.

The minister is being urged to address the concerns raised by the NSW Auditor General as a matter of priority and hold off on introducing new Crown Lands legislation.

Mr Veitch said the Baird-Grant government’s ‘veil of secrecy means that the community is being left in the dark when their Crown land is sold off or leased’.

‘Many tenants are left with free reign on what they can do once they occupy Crown land – with very little monitoring by the government,’ he said.

‘This is a scathing report and Mike Baird and Troy Grant should sit up and take notice that the community can no longer be shut out of the process.’

 


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Is this not consistent with Premier Baird’s style of doing things secretly because it is contrary to the wishes of the Community – such as the privatisation of the Land Titles, privatisation of public hospitals and so on?

  2. An investigation should be conducted into the way the South Grafton aerodrome was previously leased to Clarence Valley Council and administered under a Sect.355 committee. In October 2015 this lease was transferred to the South Grafton Aerodrome Hangar Owners Association Inc who are now self-administering the aerodrome amid a lot of public squabbling and dreadful conflict of interest. The annual Crown land lease fee for the entire aerodrome is somewhere between $5000-$6000 p.a..

    There are approx 20 hangars on the aerodrome Crown land and their owners pay about $1200pa each to lease the individual parcel of land where their hangars are situated. In addition, each aircraft owner pays an aerodrome usage fee of about $160.

    When the Crown lease was handed to SGAHOA Inc, the Council also handed over trust money amounting to about $70,000 which was for the resealing of the runway.

    This is a prme example of how Crown land is not being correctly administered and accounted for. The aerodrome should either revert to a lease to the Council, or should be sold as freehold land.

    I would be extremely pleased if this matter could be referred to the NSW Auditor General and a thorough investigation conducted.

  3. Baird’s style of governing is all about “control”, so nothing surprises me what this lot do, we just have to remember their entrenched MO when we next go to the polls so that we get to empower ourselves!

  4. Council, State & Federal Governments need to be observed so that Crown Land doesn’t disappear with sleight of hand using false and misleading information. If not for observant public then public and behind the scenes fighting Beresfield wouldn’t have the culvert Golf Course and a culvert Dam across the Highway that protects homes from floods. Be your own neighbourhood ICAC. Finding documents and naming brings more information. Don’t fully trust your faithful representative if you do receive hints of help. Be aware of business psychopaths. Time is of the essence and not on your side.

  5. The Auditor General’s scathing report into the sale and leasing of Crown Land exposes a ‘culture of avoiding public scrutiny’ according to Shadow Lands Minister, Mick Veitch.

    ‘The overwhelming conclusion is that more often than not the community is being excluded from the sale and leasing process and unable to contribute to, or question, decisions made by the department.
    The report recommends the government improves transparency of decisions and clarifies the criteria used to justify the closed direct negotiations of leases and sales.

    In response to the Auditor General’s recommendations we ask NSW Crown Holiday Park Trust CEO, Steve Edmonds and Byron Council to release the briefing notes and minutes of meetings leading up to the decision made at 25 August Council meeting, which changed the operational boundaries of all three Brunswick Heads caravan parks.

    What is the case for extending commercial activity onto public recreational lands or vulnerable foreshore land?
    How is it possible to secure approval for new development within metres of the waterfront when it clearly violates a raft of regulations including Council’s Estuarine Management plan.

    Why did Council endorse CHPT’s proposal that would ensure the Brunswick foreshore will be cluttered and overshadowed with large permanent structures all along the riverfront?

    Was Council offered inducements? What deal was put on the table in exchange for Council’s support?
    Throughout negotiations was there anyone on the team representing the Public Interest?

    I think the Bruns community has a right to know what’s going on. Council must explain the rationale behind their decision made, while in caretaker mode, just prior to the election.

  6. This isnt the only time Niall Blair has mislead the government he continues to lie over the commercial fishing industry reform that the Baird government is destroying. This arrogant misinformed leader needs to be stood down!

    • Denial Blair needs to be sacked over another scandal he has allowed.When is enough -enough.This Mike Baird Government has blood written all over it–The Greyhound Racing debarcle is a disgrace.

  7. Why has Port Macquarie Council sent out the valuers?

    Is it in preparation to gobble up more Crown Land to expand their airport?

    Another secret deal that converts public assets into private profits… all in keeping with neo-liberal ideals.

    Well done Mike, Troy and Niall.

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