By Sharon Webb
MEANDER VALLEY councillors have thrown out a rate rebate for landowners who maintain and conserve their private land for the public good.
The total rebate amounts to $11,641 in the 2019-20 financial year and the council had already decided to support the scheme until 2023. It will now be discontinued from 1 July 2020.
In a pre-organised ambush, several councillors supported Cllr Michael Kelly’s motion to ditch the scheme rather simply review the policy, as was proposed on the August meeting agenda.
Opposition to the scheme among anti-conservation councillors has been ongoing for several years. It has been a consistent issue for Cllr Tanya King and Cllr Kelly. The motion to discontinue the policy was seconded by Cllr Andrew Sherriff.
In Meander Valley about 80 landowners who establish a covenant under the State Government’s Private Land Conservation program claim the rebate in return for not developing their land and controlling weeds.
Reedy Marsh landowner Andrew Ricketts who has two covenants, said council supporting the rebate was an important part of the national reserve system and could not be replaced by public land.
‘There’s a public interest matter at stake here. Australia has signed an international agreement that binds Tasmania and local government to put in place incentive measures for ratepayers to protect their land.’
Cllr King said the issue had nothing to do with local government and should be between landowners and the State Government.
‘People purchase property for a multitude of reasons and to expect fellow ratepayers to subsidise it is unacceptable.’
Cllr Sherriff said he found it ‘hard to get excited’ about the scheme: ‘We have plenty of locked up land. If landowners want to keep their land the way it is, that’s up to them.’
But Cllr John Temple used the analogy of community sports facilities, to which all ratepayers compulsorily contribute financially but don’t necessarily use.
‘All the people I know with these covenants are proud of them – they feel they are providing a community good,’ he said. ‘
In the same way the amount we forgo for sporting grounds is a common good.’ Mayor Wayne Johnston said times and priorities change: ‘As a council we have other issues before us: feral cats, fallow deer. And a lot of these covenanted properties do house cats and deer.
‘We need environmental outcomes to benefit the whole community, not just a select few.’
The rebate level is calculated on the number of hectares that are covered by the conservation covenant: a base rate of $5.67 per ha of land area.
Cllrs Kelly, King, Sherriff, Bower and Johnston voted to end the rebate, outvoting Cllrs Synfield, Temple and Nott.