Should the Government Take My House?
Of recent years there has been a significant increase in infrastructure works around Australia, after numerous years of relative inactivity.
When the Victorian government compulsorily acquired a small number of houses in the CBD area, for then planned (but now cancelled) eastern freeway tunnel, there was public outcry and a lot of argument about the merits and rights of the property owners.
This prompted me to re-visit one of my university text books entitled An Anatomy of Risk (Rowe, 1977) which explores a variety of social issues around dealing with risk.
You can never achieve 100 percent agreement on any major project, so clearly our governments need to be able to make changes to prepare our cities for the needs of the whole community in the years to come.
It would appear every major monument ever built has had some level of controversy. Even the iconic and now much-loved Eiffel Tower in Paris was resisted by the locals and leading artists and intellectuals before it was built as a temporary structure for the Paris Exhibition (World Fair) of 1889.
It was planned to be demolished but events leading up to World War I saved it, as it served as a long-range radio antenna for the military. Today the Eiffel Tower earns significant income from tourists, and over 250 million people have visited the tower since it opened to the public.
Imagine the outrage if someone proposed building a large pyramid on the outskirts of Melbourne. The critics would cite the; exorbitant cost, shadows over neighbouring land, miss-use of public funding and dust, traffic and noise during construction and so on.
Now look at Egypt and ask what has been their best investment ever? The answer will almost certainly be the great pyramids of Giza, which continue to earn billions of dollars every year for the country 5,000 years after they were built.
These examples tell us we cannot wait until we have full consensus and that well designed infrastructure will create benefits for many generations.
So, returning to our original question – should governments be allowed to compulsorily acquire private homes? The essential answer is YES!
However, Rowe explains in his book how we should deal with the fairness and equity aspects of such decisions, which benefit the community but adversely affect individuals.
The principles for equitable government decision making include:
1) The project provides significant benefits for the community as a whole; and
2) Individuals adversely affected by the project are compensated; and
3) Families subject to compulsory relocation are generously compensated, not just given the current market value for their home.
What constitutes “generous compensation” is not possible to state conclusively, as once again you will never get full consensus. However, 30 to 50 percent loading on the value of the home seems a good starting point.
If we follow these simple principles, we should experience less resistance and avoid perceptions of unfair treatment of individuals adversely affected by infrastructure projects.
Gary Rowe, CEO Safety Action Pty Ltd and chair the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award in Victoria