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Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Land issues: leasehold and freehold

Image 11: An aerial view of Woden Valley showing the expanding suburban growth of Canberra, 1968.

Image 11: An aerial view of Woden Valley showing the expanding suburban growth of Canberra, 1968.
NAA: A1200, L69148
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Since its creation in 1911, it was government policy that all Territory lands were held on leasehold to prevent speculation and to ensure that the Commonwealth retained any gains that might accrue through future land valuations.

Leases were usually offered through a series of public auctions and issued subject to the conditions of relevant ordinances. The first auctions were held in 1924, 1926 and 1927, and lessees were charged rent at the rate of 5 per cent of their land's unimproved value, with appraisals scheduled to take place every 20 years.

By the 1960s, there was public criticism over rising lease prices and allegations that the supply of land was deliberately restricted to maximise profits. In 1965, the Joint Committee on the ACT investigated the supply of residential land blocks and found that the numbers had been grossly inadequate for some years due to Canberra's explosive growth. The committee recommended that a departmental committee of inquiry examine issues involving the assessment of land rents.121

The system of 20-year appraisals created inequities with land values and rents. In 1970, the government abolished rentals and announced that people acquiring leases would pay reserve prices for all blocks that would return to the Commonwealth its land acquisition and development costs. At the same time, rates and municipal charges were increased to levels comparable with other Australian capitals.122

Freehold land

While there was substantial freehold land already in existence in 1911, the Commonwealth only resumed the land it required, preferring to leave the acquisition of remaining land until a later time. Compensation was paid on the basis of land values applying in 1908 (the year the Yass–Canberra region was chosen as the site for the capital). This remained the situation until 1955, when the Land Acquisition Act 1906 was revised and compensation was paid according to the value of the land at the time of its acquisition.

In 1968, the Joint Committee on the ACT reviewed issues involving freehold land and recommended that the Commonwealth introduce legislation to control its future use and subdivision, and to investigate the economics of acquiring all remaining freehold land.123 In November 1970, Cabinet approved a proposal to acquire all remaining freehold land over the next three years, subject to budgetary controls. Cabinet noted that there were 74,133 acres (30,000 hectares) of freehold land remaining, valued at $5,150,285.124

Commission of Inquiry into Land Tenures

On 3 April 1973, the Whitlam government announced an inquiry into land tenure in the ACT and Northern Territory. The commission, led by Rae Else-Mitchell, was asked to investigate the most appropriate methods of leasehold administration and management of land for urban purposes, consistent with the private rights of lessees and public interest in the land.

The commission presented an interim report in November 1973, and a final report in February 1976.125 It recommended that Territory land should continue on a leasehold basis, believing that current land price problems in the ACT were the result of an inadequate supply of serviced land, rather than the tenure system. The commission considered that there was a need for greater government coordination and planning of land use and development programs than currently existed. The commission also recommended the establishment of a national land use council comprising relevant federal and state ministers, supported by a citizen's advisory committee.

In 1988, another committee investigated issues involving ACT leasehold and recommended that the Commonwealth retain ownership of Territory land through a continuation of the leasehold system. It also recommended that leases be granted for a period of 99 years, not in perpetuity.126

Correspondence files, 'TL' (Territory Lands), 1932–62 A880
Auctions of vacant land, City NC60/00954
Restricted auctions, policies and procedures TL64/4903 part 1 and 2
History and problems of Canberra leasehold system NC–67/00026
City Area Leases Ordinance Section 7 (non-British subjects holding leasehold land) 68/3813
Private residential auctions progress NC69/01050
Auctions conditions of sale TL70/976–1 parts 1–3
Press cuttings, books, 1971–78 1–6
Leasehold system in the ACT NC–71/00825 parts 1–5
Restricted land auctions Advisory Council Committee Inquiry, 1972 NC72/01358
Inquiry into restricted land auctions, 1972 72/1548 part 1
72/1548 part 1 72/2181 part 2
Inquiry into restricted land auctions, 1972 72/2426 part 3
Inquiry into restricted land auctions, 1972 76/2614 part 4
Residential sales special projects, monthly reports 80/2225
Record of land development liaison meetings 80/2932
Detailed advice to Finance and Supply Branch of blocks sold at residential land auctions 81/3372
Residential property sales, monthly reports 87/11242
Residential land auctions, provision of shops in general statement 84/2983
Real property law advice, auctions, leases, licences 84/4067
Land Sales Office, record of residential land auctions 87/6554
ACT land development 88/763
Private enterprise land development, community facilities 88/4093
Record of residential land auctions 88/4146
Proposed perpetual leasehold system NC–88/00587
Correspondence files, 'TL' (Territory Lands), 1932–62 A880
Correspondence files, leases, 1970– A2642
National Archives
Papers of the reference – supply of residential blocks in Canberra, 1965 AA1980/347
Papers of the inquiry into freehold land in the ACT, 1967–68 A12579
Correspondence files, 'TL' (Territory Lands), 1962–76 A6345
Property records, 'P' (Property), 1968–97 A11009
Correspondence files, 'AT' (ACT Property), 1969–78 A5572
Correspondence files, 'L' (Leases), 1970– A2642
National Archives
Commission of Inquiry into Land Tenures
Exhibits, 1973–74 A4697
Administrative files, 1973–75 A4694
Transcripts of evidence, 1973–75 A4698
Rae Else-Mitchell – draft and papers pertaining to the commission's reports, 1973–76 M1577
Binder of documentation on the history of the commission, 1975 A4702
National Library
Land Tenure Inquiry, 1973–74 (Tom Uren) MS 5816, series 4, folder 135, box 23
1988 Leasehold Inquiry
Leasehold Inquiry 1988 NC–88/01253 parts 1–3
Leasehold Inquiry 1988, agent assistance NC–88/01254
Leasehold Inquiry 1988, case studies NC–88/01361
Leasehold Inquiry 1988, media coverage NC–88/01362
National Archives
Joint sub-committee on the ACT Leasehold Inquiry, 1988 A8205


Chapter notes | All notes

121 'Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, Report on the Supply of Residential Blocks in Canberra', 1 September 1965, Parliamentary Papers, 1964–66, volume 9, pp. 1–25.

122 'Land Charges in Canberra: Statement Outlining the Present and Proposed New Land Charges in Canberra, 22 October 1970', Parliamentary Papers, 1970, volume 5, pp. 413–20.

123 'Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, Report on Australian Capital Territory Freehold Lands Inquiry', 30 January 1968, Parliamentary Papers, 1968, volume 6, pp. 1005–45.

124 NAA: A5869, 610, 4 November 1970. The Cabinet submission contains a detailed listing of all freehold land in the Territory at this time.

125 Parliamentary Papers, 1974, volume 8, paper 10; Parliamentary Papers, 1976, volume 12, paper 1.

126 'House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure, Report on the Canberra Leasehold System', November 1988, Parliamentary Papers, 1988, volume 38, paper 409.


Chapter 6
Changes in the wind, 1972–89