It was one year ago this week that the ACT government initiated the loose-fill asbestos insulation eradication scheme.
Since my election to the Assembly past that date I have had the opportunity to get a better understanding of the Mr Fluffy issue, its history and the current policy framework around the buyback scheme, including through this legislation being debated today and the planning committee’s report tabled this morning. It is a complex issue, and one that will change our city and impact on the families involved in a way similar to that of a natural disaster but played out in slow motion.
I know the task force has been working hard to get our response to this issue right, and that this legislation is a step forward. The Building (Loose-fill Asbestos Eradication) Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 proposes a number of amendments to facilitate the implementation of the demolition and resale components of the scheme, as the Chief Minister has previously said. These amendments relate to the Building Act 2004, for the demolition of residential premises, the Building and Construction Industry Training Levy Act 1999 and the Dangerous Substances (General) Regulation 2004.
The amendments will provide a more streamlined process and introduce some efficiencies into the regulatory oversight of the demolition phase of the scheme. The Planning and Development Act 2007 is also being amended to address the demolition of asbestos-affected heritage buildings, so the automatic impact track assessment will not apply. The legislation also amends the Land Rent Act 2008 to make land rent available to former Mr Fluffy home owners who are seeking to return to rebuild on their former block if they meet the land rent eligibility criteria.
The outcomes of the amendments as they relate to the land rent scheme are to: first, make the land rent scheme available to Mr Fluffy home owners at all, as currently it is available only in greenfield sites; second, prevent a land rent lease granted under the first right of refusal from being transferred to another person, and ensure it is a provision that is available only to Mr Fluffy owners; and, third, restrict conversion of the lease to market value.
I am aware that the land rent aspects of this legislation are contentious for some people impacted by Mr Fluffy. Last week I met with a group of home owners to discuss these issues as they relate to the land rent scheme and get a better understanding of how it impacts on them. I am aware also that some people thought that land rent would operate in a different way, allowing them to convert their lease at an average unimproved value. Other people, though, have told me they did not think this would be the case, and agree with the amendments as they are outlined in this legislation.
I have considered these issues that some home owners have raised, but I believe that restricting the conversion to market value only gets the best balance for all Mr Fluffy home owners. It is equitable across the Mr Fluffy scheme, the land rent scheme and it is equitable across the community. It will avoid a situation where some owners would be able to pay a lot less to get their block back than anyone else.
I thank the families who came to see me about this issue. I know a small number of them believed the scheme would operate differently. I have learnt firsthand that this change has implications for how they plan for their and their families’ next steps.
Other aspects of the land rent scheme, including eligibility criteria, calculation of land rent and its applicability to single dwelling house leases only remain the same as the existing land rent scheme. I think this is a good outcome and for some families it will be an affordable way to return to their land at a particular point in time.
I believe the scheme has been moving as quickly as it can. It is unlike anything else in the territory’s history. Decisiveness was important, families have certainty about the parameters of the scheme, and its parameters are equitable within the Mr Fluffy community and the broader community as a whole. And it is a compassionate scheme. Sadly, it is not, and could not ever have been, a scheme that enabled everyone to return to exactly the same situation as before. But land rent is a viable option within the scheme as a whole.
Ultimately, this legislation will help the ACT community to move closer to eliminating the legacy left behind by Mr Fluffy. The government will continue to work closely with all stakeholders affected by loose-fill asbestos, and this bill reflects the essential changes required to provide an enduring solution to the Mr Fluffy legacy.