We are delighted that the government plans to launch a public crown land register that can be viewed online.
Even better, the register is only one part of ongoing reforms surrounding the administration of crown land in the territory.
As the recent Commission of Inquiry highlighted — and we ourselves have argued for many years — an appalling lack of transparency has surrounded the administration of crown land for decades
Various programmes, for instance, have awarded crown land to first-time homeowners and others under terms that are often shrouded in mystery. At times, crown land leases have been handled similarly.
Given that crown land is one of the territory’s most valuable public resources, this situation is not acceptable.
The COI reviewed particularly egregious examples, not surprisingly finding a high likelihood of “serious dishonesty” and recommending wide-ranging reforms.
Indeed, the COI report released last year says it all: “The disposal of crown land is another area where decisions are taken by ministers without any published criteria in relation to the assessment of applications: assessments are made in the unfettered discretion of the minister, approved by Cabinet in their unfettered discretion.”
Fortunately, the government appears committed to changing this status quo in keeping with its post-COI commitments.
As part of that effort, a COI-recommended review of crown land policy was recently completed and published. It recommended the public registry and many other sound measures:
• appointing a central, independent entity to receive and vet applications for the use of crown land;
• appointing a Crown Land Advisory Committee to advise the government;
• documenting the criteria and requirements for crown land awards;
• carrying out an inventory of all crown land and updating it regularly;
• fairly valuating all crown land that is subject to disposal;
• requiring Cabinet to follow established guidelines for land grants; and
• implementing new legislation to ensure that crown land is disposed of fairly and transparently, among others.
This is excellent advice, and leaders appear to be following through. Besides announcing plans for the public register, the government is currently taking feedback on a draft Crown Land Policy. We hope everyone will review it and provide input.
Kudos to everyone pushing forward these important reforms. We look forward to seeing them take shape in the coming months.