Local Nuisance and Litter Control Bill

18 May 2016
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Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 16:51 ): It is a pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on the Local Nuisance and Litter Control Bill 2015. It is a bill which has received bipartisan support in large part, and we have seen that today, with speakers from both sides of the house able to speak in broad support of this bill. 

It is a bill which is probably quite close to the hearts of many members of parliament because the issue of local nuisance and litter is something which is of significant concern to the vast majority of South Australians. There is nothing that riles people in our community more than dumped rubbish, general nuisance in the community and particularly unsightly buildings. 

It is the unsightly buildings component of this bill that I want to discuss. Several speakers have brought to the attention of the house the fact that this bill will be able to deal with unsightly buildings, and I do hope that is the case. Historically, local governments in South Australia, and in other jurisdictions in Australia, have found it particularly difficult to hold building owners to account when a building falls into a state of disrepair so that it gets to a situation where it is detracting from the general amenity of the surrounding community. 

As the member for Torrens mentioned, this is something that many of us see, particularly along main roads. These unsightly buildings significantly detract from the community of which they are a part. It appears that this is not necessarily something related to the socioeconomic status of a community. Across our city, from north to south and east to west, there are buildings, particularly on our main thoroughfares, which significantly detract from the area that they are in. 

I often find that these unsightly buildings are disused service stations, which may have been strategically purchased to lock out competition. These are areas which are hard to rehabilitate due to contamination and the like, and these buildings are the subject of complaint to local councils and local members of parliament. It has been a problem when I have approached local councils about unsightly buildings. The councils have said to me that they would love to be able to tackle these buildings. They would love to be able to initiate the clean-up of these buildings and then bill back the building owner in some way. 

You would think the very existence of such legislation would create a remedy in itself to discourage building owners from letting their buildings fall into a state of disrepair because they have the knowledge that the local council or the state government could intervene and tidy up the building, probably at greater cost than the building owner could tidy it up themselves. Councils have repeatedly raised with me that they find it difficult to hold building owners to account. I know from my time on the Marion council that this was an issue; I know dealing with the City of Holdfast Bay that this is an issue. I do hope that this legislation tightens that up. 

The biggest challenge that local governments have had was when they have ended up in the courts, the interpretation of statutes suggesting that it will create a situation where magistrates and judges feel uncomfortable going into the subjective area, which is interpreting whether a building is unsightly or detracts from the local community in some way or another. Traditionally, the judiciary has felt uncomfortable going down this path. 

I have some concerns about whether this legislation is explicit enough on unsightly buildings and whether it is also open to interpretation by our courts as to whether they can step in on this and enforce something that a council or the state government does if challenged by a building owner. I think there is still ambiguity in this legislation, and perhaps the minister in her closing remarks could provide some understanding about how an unsightly building would be dealt with under this legislation because I do not think it is quite tight enough in terms of giving councils and the state government the power to clean up an unsightly building and reclaim the money that it cost in order to do that. 

I think the ambiguity still exists, and that is the ambiguity that local government has struggled with through trying to use the Local Government Act in the past to deal with these sorts of buildings. That is a question I would pose to the government: is this legislation tight enough and does it go far enough to deal with those unsightly buildings that are such a blight on the communities that we represent? With those remarks, I will provide my overarching support for the Local Nuisance And Litter Control Bill and commend it to the house. 

Extracted from Hansard