• I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.                                                                            - Thomas Jefferson

Surprise! Your Home is Now a Railway

By Luke McGrath  
Thu, 15/07/2010 - 4:16pm
Thu, 15/07/2010 - 4:16pm

In the great Australian, libertarian movie The Castle, the Kerrigan family (and their neighbours) receive a notice of "compulsory acquisition" from the government. A new airport is to be built and their homes just happen to be in the way of this development. Ultimately, though, justice prevails and the court rules in favour of the Kerrigans.

Strike one for liberty against government theft and crony capitalism. 

But what if the movie had ended with the Kerrigans losing? Rather than the final scenes being family, friends and neighbours celebrating their victory, what if the final scenes were of them all behind a wire fence, watching hopelessly as their homes are bulldozed to the ground? 

No doubt the movie wouldn't have been as popular, that's for sure! Movies have to have a happy ending.

But in real life things tend to play out a bit differently.

For starters, in The Castle, the Kerrigans and their neighbours actually receive a notice of compulsory acquisition. The same can't be said for all those people living in Footscray whose homes are going to be knocked down to make way for a new rail development. They had to find out from the media.

Shocked residents of Buckley Street were informed by journalists yesterday of the state government's plans to forcibly take and bulldoze 26 of their homes.

Resident Rhiannon Modica was informally told by a Transport Department official yesterday that her house would be destroyed after the media came knocking on her door about 2pm.

But by 9am today, Ms Modica said she still hadn't received official notification - almost 24 hours after the announcement of the Regional Rail Link route.

"I made a phone call ... to seek some clarification and they said they were planning on delivering letters today stating something along the lines of we 'may' be compulsorily acquired," she told Radio 3AW.

"We still don't know what's happening."

She eventually received official confirmation and yesterday Premier John Brumby apologised:

"It's apparent that all of the people weren't contacted. I think that's a matter of regret. I'm sorry that these people were not contacted, they should have been."

When you have the power to forcibly evict people from their homes and to then use other people's money to pay them off, all those niceties that typically go along with buying and selling can go out the window. 

There's no need for the government to persuade or convince these people to sell because there's nothing they can do anyway.

Who can they appeal to for help to protect their homes? The police? That would be pointless because the government is in charge of the police. The police enforce the government's edicts. The same problem, of course, applies to the courts. As lawyer Ben Hardwick commented:

"Ultimately, there's no legal avenue to stop a compulsory acquisition for a rail project."

So that's basically it, then, that's the end of the story. Hardwick said their best hope is to just try and get more money out of the government than the amount originally offered.

But for some people, like the fictional Darryl Kerrigan, there's more to life than money. As he says in the film, "I don't wanna be compensated. You can't buy what I've got." Frances Muscat, who has grown up and spent 48 years in the house that will soon be demolished no doubt has similar feelings.

The saying that "a man's home is his castle" seems lost, though, on Premier Brumby. He said that

"In a sense your home is your castle, and so for anybody who's affected, of course, you feel for those. But we have gone to huge lengths to try and make sure that everybody in those communities was given advice and warning."

That's a slightly different interpretation from the one at least exemplified by The Castle.

In total, the plan is for "up to 193 properties, including 52 homes...to be acquired in Footscray, Yarraville and the Melbourne port precinct...as part of the government's $38 billion transport plan."