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Northern Tasmanian farmers who face losing land call for review of compulsory land acquisition laws

By Luke Radford and Jessica Moran

A man in a blue jumper stands in a green field, a border collie is in the background.
Farmer Oliver Scott-Young is fighting an irrigation project that would turn his central paddock into a water storage dam.(ABC News: Jess Moran )

Farmers in Tasmania's north facing the compulsory acquisition of their land for irrigation or power projects say the consultation process is hollow and law changes are needed to make sure forcibly acquiring land is a "last resort".

Key points:

  • The state government and government-owned businesses have the power to compulsorily acquire land for infrastructure projects under the Land Acquisition Act 1993 
  • The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association believes the current legislation hasn't kept pace with the changing nature of agriculture
  • Farmers like Oliver Scott Young are facing the prospect of losing farmland to infrastructure they believe can be built elsewhere

Oliver Scott-Young is one farmer faced with potentially having part of his property forcibly acquired.

His family farm lies in the foothills at Poatina, next to the tailrace — a channel that carries water from the nearby hydroelectric power station.

Tasmanian Irrigation wants to tap into the tailrace to create an irrigation scheme for the Northern Midlands.

But to do so it needs to build a storage dam, and the proposed site is a central paddock just 50 metres from Mr Scott-Young's front door.

"They [Tasmanian Irrigation] proposed the idea and we were very against it, and they went away but came back quite firm and said this is the preferred option for what we want to do," he said.

"We believe there are other alternatives out there, the main one being a hydro-owned re-regulation pond which stores three times as much water and is only 5 kilometres away. 

"They weren't willing to entertain the idea due to the elevation difference being 30 metres, so there is an extra pumping cost.

The concerns are echoed by the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA), which has called for a review of the state's compulsory land acquisition laws.

The government and publicly owned businesses such as Tasmania Networks, Hydro Tasmania and Tasmanian Irrigation have the power to acquire land under the Land Acquisition Act 1993 for infrastructure projects.

But TFGA president Ian Sauer says the laws are outdated and weighted against the farming community.

"We're concerned that the legislation is unfair, it's untenable, and it should be used as a tool of last resort," he said.   

A man in a yellow shirt stands directly in front of camera.
TFGA president Ian Sauer says he believes the current legislation is outdated and weighted against landholders.(ABC News: Jess Moran )

"Attached to that needs to be a modern method of compensation, not only for the immediate impact, but also for the impact on the operation of the farm in perpetuity.

"Those days where it was Hereford cattle, oats and some merino sheep are gone, we've got really high-value crops, and the infrastructure that goes in on those farms is just enormous."

Centre pivot irrigation
The Scott-Youngs will lose a centre pivot irrigation system if the land is acquired for development.(ABC News: Jess Moran )

In a statement, Tasmanian Irrigation CEO Andrew Kneebone said the organisation had consulted with any landowner impacted by the irrigation development.

"We continue to work with potentially impacted landowners to mitigate and minimise the impacts and, where that is not possible, determine the compensation that will be payable," he said. 

"Tasmanian Irrigation is committed to ongoing discussions."

Marinus Link to see high-voltage lines cut across farms

A three strand power line runs towards the horizon in a green paddock, the sun is setting.
The Tasmanian government as well as government-owned businesses have the power to compulsorily acquire land for major infrastructure, such as powerlines.(ABC News: Jess Moran )

Across the north of Tasmania, farmers face another issue: the proposed Marinus Link inter-connector with Victoria. 

The current model proposed by TasNetworks involves 220 kilometres of high-voltage power lines, which will cut directly across farmland from Burnie to the Northern Midlands.

Scott Colvin's property at Cressy is set to be affected.

"They need a new line to the east, so they're doubling the physical size and the carrying capacity is increasing tenfold," Mr Colvin said.

A man in a grey rain jacket stands in front of a green field, a power line snakes overhead.
Farmer Scott Colvin says the consultation process has been undermined by the knowledge the land could be seized regardless.(ABC News: Jess Moran )

"I have no problem with them upgrading their infrastructure, I do the same in our business, but I have a problem when their consultation is really poor.

"I'd like to see the legislation changed so the process is more consultative, and that's not the first thing they go to."

No land has yet been acquired for the project.

TasNetworks chief Seán Mc Goldrick said land acquisition was a last resort and the company was committed to finding an outcome that worked for both parties.

"[Land acquisition] is not something we want to do, it's not something we like to do," he said.

"The relationship with land owners is particularly important because these are important strategic assets, and they're going to be hosted on land for 40, 50 years so it's very important to have a good relationship."