River Murray Commission powers and/or responsibilities of River Murray Commission with regard to lands required for purposes of River Murray Agreement: valuation of and compensation for land acquired
River Murray Waters Act 1915 (NSW) s 15: Public Works Act 1912 (NSW) ss 39, 124: River Murray Waters Act 1915 (Vic) ss 15, 17: Water Act 1915 (Vic) Part VI, ss 256, 282
The Secretary, River Murray Commission, has forwarded to me the following communication for advice:
I have been directed to submit to you the appended copy of a letter from the Hon. the Premier of New South Wales, which letter was forwarded to my Commission through the Prime Minister’s and Works’ Departments, and shall be glad if you will furnish advice as to the powers and/or responsibilities of the River Murray Commission with regard to lands required for the purposes of the River Murray Agreement.
With reference to your letter of the 31st October, No. A.216/1, advising the despatch under separate cover of a copy of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate the cost of the Hume Reservoir Works, I desire to inform you that this Report came duly to hand and has now been perused.
It appears from the document that Victoria is paying considerably more for land on the Victorian side of the River, than New South Wales is paying for somewhat similar land within its area, and the suggestion is made in the report that the Committee is of opinion that the Victorian prices are in excess of what may be regarded as reasonable value. As any excess so paid is borne in the proportion of one quarter by Victoria and the balance equally by the Commonwealth, New South Wales and South Australia, my Government would suggest that before Victoria makes any further resumptions strict inquiry should be made as to why the values are so very much higher on the Victorian side of the Murray than they are on the New South Wales side.
The Constructing Authority for the State of New South Wales is empowered to acquire land for the purposes of carrying out the River Murray Agreement. The power is contained in section 15 of the River Murray Waters Act 1915–1923 (New South Wales), which reads as follows:
- The construction, maintenance, operation, and control, pursuant to this Act and the Agreement, of works by or on behalf of the Government of New South Wales shall be carried out by the Minister for Public Works.
- For the purposes of such construction the said Minister shall be the constructing authority within the meaning of the Public Works Act, 1912.
- Land required for such works may, under and subject to the said Act, be appropriated, resumed or purchased by the Governor.
Section 39 of the Public Works Act 1912 (N.S.W.) as amended by the subsequent Amending Acts, provides as follows:
39. The Governor may direct that any land required in his opinion for any authorised work may be acquired either by taking the same under the provisions contained in Division 1 of Part V of this Act or under the provisions contained in Division 2 of the said Part. Thereupon, subject to the provisions of this Act, the land so required may be acquired in the manner directed, and the compensation for such land shall be ascertained and dealt with in all respects pursuant to the provisions of this Act applicable in either case respectively.
Section 124 of the lastmentioned Act contains provisions for the assessment of compensation for land taken or required. The basis of this assessment is the value of the land at the date of acquisition.
The River Murray Waters Acts of 1915 to 1923 (Victoria) authorise the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission of that State to carry out certain operations in accordance with the agreement.
Section 15 of the River Murray Waters Act 1915 is as follows:
- The construction maintenance operation and control pursuant to this Act and the Agreement of works or the carrying out of the operations referred to therein by or on behalf of the Government of Victoria shall be carried out by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.
- For the said purposes so far only as is necessary to give effect to this Act and the Agreement the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission may exercise all the powers authorities and privileges (subject to the like conditions) conferred upon it by the Water Act 1915 for the construction maintenance operation or control by it of any works thereunder.
Section 17 of the Act provides as follows:
- All claims for compensation for the compulsory taking of land under this Act by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission shall be settled under the provisions of the Lands Compensation Act 1915 as modified by and incorporated with the Water Act 1915 which provisions shall with such alterations modifications and substitutions as are necessary be equally applicable to such claims for compensation.
- For the purposes of this section—
- in the construction of the Lands Compensation Act 1915—
- ‘Board’ or ‘Board of Land and Works’ means the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission;
- ‘The Special Act’ means this Act; and
- in the construction of the provisions of the Water Act 1915 ‘Authority’ means the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.
Section 282 of the Water Act 1915 deals with the general powers of the Authority as defined in that Act, which in this instance is the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission. Section 282 provides as follows:
282. For the purposes of this Act any Authority by its officers or servants may be subject to the provisions and restrictions herein contained and in accordance with plans approved by the Governor in Council exercise any of the following powers:
It may enter upon take possession of and appropriate such land as is necessary for the construction or improvement of such works or for securing or improving the water to be supplied therefrom or the quality or purity thereof; but if any such land taken and appropriated be Crown land it shall as soon as possible after such taking and appropriation give notice thereof to the Secretary for Lands:
Part VI of the Act contains provisions with respect to claims for compensation for land taken for works or undertakings. Section 256 sets out the principles to be applied in determining the amount to be paid by way of compensation. The value of the land, subject to certain adjustments, is to be assessed as its fair marketable price.
The basis of valuation adopted with respect to lands acquired in Victoria would appear to be different from that adopted in New South Wales. Assuming that the land in each State has the same intrinsic value, the question has been raised as to why such difference in values should exist.
As the power to acquire land for purposes of the Agreement is a power vested in the State in which the land is situated, I do not think that the Commission can exercise any authority in determining what values are to be adopted with respect to the land acquired. I would point out, however, that under section 23 of the Agreement, a general scheme of the works to be constructed is to be prepared and submitted by the States concerned to the Commission for its approval, and before the States commence the construction of any of such works, designs and estimates of the work are to be prepared and submitted to the Commission.
In the preparation of such estimates, the amount of compensation to be paid for land which would be subsequently acquired must be taken into account. It would thus be necessary to make an estimate of the area of land affected, and also of the value of such land. In this manner, an examination could be made as the method of valuation adopted in any one State, and if the values in one State were found to be higher than in another, the Commission could, if it thought fit, decline to approve the estimates. The Commission has, however, no power to compel a State to bring its legislation, in relation to lands acquisition, into line with the legislation of another State.
[Vol. 24, p. 483]