Anyone whose home is compulsorily acquired in NSW will be offered up to $75,000 in compensation, as the state government tries to plug systemic holes in the scheme.
The NSW government will also give up to $50,000 in extra retrospective compensation to people whose homes were compulsorily acquired since February 2014, as it finally responds to a long-awaited review it received at that time.
The pricey promises, worth $30 million in back-payments and roughly $30 million extra per year going forward, coincide with the release of a report on land acquisitions by David Russell SC, which was commissioned in 2012 but kept secret since its 2014 release.
Premier Mike Baird and Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet vehemently denied the acquisitions overhaul was an admission they had been ripping off home owners and treating them unfairly.
Instead, Mr Baird insisted the Russell report, and another prepared by Customer Service Commissioner Michael Pratt, revealed most acquisitions were sound but some were handled unacceptably.
“It’s clear that the government can do better in relation to acquiring homes and today we’re announcing we will do better,” Mr Baird said.
“We must be more generous and we must be more caring.”
There will also be compulsory six-month negotiation periods and dedicated case managers.
Property owners will no longer have to pay rent for the three months they’re entitled to stay in their house once it’s acquired, but those who already have will not be reimbursed.
“Never again will someone find out their home is being acquired through receiving a letter in the mail,” Mr Perrottet said.
“We will be with you each step of the way.”
Late last year, Mr Perrottet urged the premier not to act on many of the recommendations in the Russell review following advice from an interdepartmental committee, warning him they’d be costly and delay infrastructure projects.
On Tuesday, he conceded: “I think some of the concerns that certainly arose in relation to the WestConnex project has evolved our thinking.
“I believe that the position we’ve landed on today really does balance the needs.”
The pair tried to defend the two-and-a-half yearsit had taken to release and respond to the Russell review.
NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley was scathing of them.
“It’s taken 1000 days for Mr Baird to respond to a report that told him his government was treating families and business owners unfairly,” Mr Foley said.
“Thousands of families have been ripped off here by Mr Baird’s government.”
The state government has acquired hundreds of millions of dollars worth of properties to make way for infrastructure projects such as the Sydney light rail and WestConnex motorway.
Landowners have argued the process offers compensation hundreds of thousands of dollars below market value.
Slater and Gordon compulsory acquisition lawyer Vincent Butcher said the reforms were welcome but “don’t go far towards fairness”.