Terms of reference were provided to the ALRC on 7 July 1977. The inquiry looked at laws relating to the acquisition of land by the Commonwealth, which was dealt with in the Land Acquisitions Act 1955 (Cth), and compensation for persons whose land or business was adversely affected by the construction or use of Commonwealth works.
At the time of the inquiry, the existing legislation dealing with Commonwealth acquisitions was widely considered to be inadequate. ALRC Report 14 identified that people who were affected by government acquisitions were not only concerned about the adequacy of compensation but also desired an opportunity to examine the need for the proposed acquisition. The report highlighted that existing procedures for obtaining compensation were unsatisfactory in that they were not only costly to the owner but also resulted in long periods during which the owner had neither title to the land nor monetary compensation. Other flaws identified by ALRC Report 14 included a lack of information provided to owners and the inability to provide resettlement packages in place of monetary compensation where this would be more appropriate. The report concluded that the absence of a mechanism at the federal level to deal with situations where property was devalued by federal government action was unsuited to notions of fair government.
- People with an interest in property to be acquired by the Commonwealth should have an opportunity to seek review of that decision.
- Simpler compensation procedures should be introduced.
- Compensation should also be available to those whose property was devalued as a result of Commonwealth activity.
The Land Acquisitions Act 1989 (Cth) implemented the majority of the Commission’s recommendations. The most important parts of the legislation were the rights to compensation and the right to seek a review of the decision to acquire the land. The right to seek review of the decision to acquire is, however, more limited than that recommended by the Commission—it enables the Minister to declare in a pre-acquisition declaration that the land is required for implementation of a government policy and that the decision to acquire the land is therefore not subject to judicial review. The Act does not implement the Commission’s recommendations regarding injurious conduct. The Northern Territory also adopted some of the ALRC’s proposals in the Lands Acquisition Act 1978 (NT).