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FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (VESTING OF PROPERTY) BILL The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN (Attorney-General)
obtained leave and introduced a bill to vest property of the Free Presbyterian
Church and for other purposes. Read a first time. The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time. Notwithstanding that the honourable
Leader of the Opposition proposes to speak on the bill this afternoon, I seek
leave to have the second reading explanation inserted in Hansard without my
reading it. Leave granted. This is a bill for an act to distribute the property
of the now defunct Free Presbyterian Church of South Australia. The Free Presbyterian
Church of South Australia (the Free Church) did not join the amalgamation of
Presbyterian churches which took place in the 1890s. Nevertheless, when the
Free Church disbanded in the first half of this century, the care and financial
responsibility for all of its land was undertaken by the Presbyterian Church
that was created by the amalgamation in the 1890s. In the 1970s the Presbyterian
Church divided to create the continuing Presbyterian Church and the new Uniting
Church. While most of the former Presbyterian Church's properties were divided
between the continuing Presbyterian Church and the new Uniting Church, the Free
Church's properties were not included in the division. Part of the reason for
not dealing with the former Free Church land appears to be that some of the
properties were vested in trustees for the benefit of the Free Church, who had
since died. As a result, the properties could not be disposed of by conventional
means. The properties have now become a financial burden on the churches, which
have financial responsibility for the properties. The negotiations regarding
the distribution of these properties extend back to the 1960s. Agreement has
now been reached between the relevant parties as to the distribution of the
various properties once belonging to the Free Church. The division of the Free
Church properties must occur through an act of parliament because these properties
cannot be dealt with through traditional methods of property transfer. An act
of parliament is required to extinguish existing trusts and to vest each property
in a body that will, either, assume care and control of that piece of land,
or will dispose of the land and deal with the proceeds of such sales as agreed
by the relevant parties. While two land parcels are to vest in councils, the
majority of the properties are to be vested in a body which will be responsible
for the sale of the properties. On 1 April 1999, such a body was created under
the Associations Incorporation Act by the churches. The `Free Church Negotiators
Incorporated' has been vested with the power to receive and hold property vested
in it by parliament, to sell the properties vested in it and other related powers.
The properties dealt with in the bill are as follows: William Street, Morphett
Vale-Allotment 500 of Filed Plan No. 42504 This is the site of the John Knox
Church and School. The property was held by trustees pursuant to an Indenture
upon trust `for the several members of the religious domination known by the
name of the Free Presbyterian Church who assemble for worship at Morphett Vale?'
Following negotiations between the Free Church Negotiators and the Anglican
Church, which currently uses a portion of this property, an agreement has now
been reached between the relevant parties that will allow for distribution of
this property to proceed without controversy. The Bill discharges all trusts
and encumbrances existing over the William Street property prior to the commencement
of the bill and vests the land in the Free Church Negotiators Inc., which will
organise the disposal of the property as agreed between the parties. Morphett
Vale-Limited Certificate of Title Volume 5696 Folio 444 A limited certificate
of title was issued in 1979 in relation to this property under the Real Property
( Registration of Titles) Act, 1945. The registered proprietors named in the
certificate were the trustees of the property, now all deceased, Peter Anderson,
Alexander Brodie and Henry Smith. This was the site of the so-called `Brodies
Church' which was established in 1850-1851 `for Presbyterians of all denominations'.
However, Brodie's Church fell into disuse when the congregation decided to establish
its own church (the John Knox Church), and it was burnt out in 1858. The site
is still actively used as a cemetery. The cemetery has been in the de facto
care and control of the Noarlunga Council (now known as the City of Onkaparinga)
since around 1977. The Council has assumed control of providing curator services,
maintaining register books, making new lease arrangements, and undertaking general
maintenance of the site. The City of Onkaparinga and the Churches agree that
this property will be vested in the City of Onkaparinga as community land. Myponga-Certificate
of Title Volume 5747 Folio 454 This was the site of a Free Presbyterian Church
built in 1870, now in ruin. Since April 1977, the Presbyterian Trust Corporation
has been the registered proprietor of this land. However, due to limitations
in its powers, it has been unable to sell the property and deal with the proceeds
of a sale as the churches have agreed. Therefore, any trusts existing over the
property are extinguished and the property vested in the Free Church Negotiators
Inc. for sale and distribution of proceeds. Ryans Road, Aldinga-Limited Certificate
of Title Volume 5696 Folio 439 This land is comprised in a limited Certificate
of Title issued to the trustees (now deceased) of the Free Church erected on
the land in 1856. Some years ago a transfer of the land to the Presbyterian
Trusts Corporation was lodged, but because of unsatisfied requisitions, it has
not been registered. James Benny laid the foundation stone of the Church, which
was last used in 1882. The Church is now in ruin. The Presbyterian Church of
South Australia, and more recently the Presbyterian Church and Uniting Church,
have paid the rates in respect of the land, and there is not a situation of
adverse possession by the adjoining occupier. The bill extinguishes the trust
existing over the Aldinga property and vests the property in the Free Church
Negotiators Incorporated for the purpose of organising the sale of the land.
Yankalilla-Certificate of Title Volume 5837 Folio 344 This land is presently
vested in the Presbyterian Property Committee Incorporated and the Presbyterian
Special Holding Committee Incorporated. Although the land (which is on the Normanville
Road, within the township of Yankalilla) is now vacant, a church was opened
on it in 1858. This site is the subject of a `full' certificate of title, and
held in trust for the Free Church by the two incorporated committees. The bill
provides for the trust to be extinguished and the land to be vested in the Free
Church Negotiators Inc, which will organise the sale of the land. Spalding-Certificate
of Title Volume 5829 Folio 507 This was the site of a Gaelic Church taken by
James Benny under his care. The Church was opened in 1879, last used in 1900
and demolished in about 1924. A Gaelic cemetery is also on the site, which is
under the de facto control and management of the District Council of Spalding
(now known as the Northern Areas Council). According to council records, there
have been no burials on the site since the council assumed control of the property.
The extent of the council's involvement with the property has been to generally
maintain the grounds, fence, gate and erected signs. The monuments existing
on the site will remain for historic reasons; pioneers of the district are buried
at the cemetery. No other use is intended for the land. The registered proprietors
of the land are Alexander McLeod, Malcolm McLeod and John Benny as the Elders
of the Spalding Church, who hold the land in trust for the benefit of the Free
Church. The Northern Areas Council and the Churches have agreed that the property
be vested in the Northern Areas Council as a cemetery. Therefore, the trust
is extinguished and the land is vested in the Northern Areas Council. Lucindale-Certificate
of Title Volume 249 Folio 241 Although this was originally a Free Presbyterian
Church, it was used by other denominations since 1890. The current registered
proprietors are five trustees (all deceased) to whom the property was transferred
in 1883. It was leased by the Presbyterian Church of South Australia early in
the century and is still in use as a Presbyterian Church. The property was awarded
to the Presbyterian Church by determination of the Supreme Court (Cox J, 10
March 1984). However, for various reasons, an application to vest this land
in the Presbyterian Trusts Corporation has not been lodged. It is now proposed
that the trust be extinguished, and the land vested in the Presbyterian Trust
Corporation for the benefit of the Presbyterian Church. This bill will facilitate
the distribution of the property of the Free Presbyterian Church. I commend
this bill to the House. Explanation of clauses Clause 1: Short title This clause
is formal. Clause 2: Commencement This clause provides for the measure to commence
on a day or days to be fixed by proclamation. Clause 3: Interpretation This
clause is an interpretation provision that defines a number of the bodies in
which land is vested under the bill. Clause 4: Vesting of land in Free Church
Negotiators Incorporated This clause vests four specified pieces of land in
the Free Church Negotiators Incorporated, an association incorporated under
the Associations Incorporation Act 1985 . Each piece of land is vested for an
estate in fee simple freed and discharged from any trust, estate, right, title,
interest, claim or demand, other than any existing statutory or other easement
over the land. Clause 5: Vesting of land in The Presbyterian Trusts Corporation
This clause vests a specified piece of land in The Presbyterian Trusts Corporation,
a corporate body of trustees incorporated under the Presbyterian Trusts Act
1971 . The land is vested for an estate in fee simple freed and discharged from
any trust, estate, right, title, interest, claim or demand, other than any existing
statutory or other easement over the land. Clause 6: Vesting of land in Northern
Areas Council This clause vests a specified piece of land in the Northern Areas
Council for an estate in fee simple freed and discharged from any trust, estate,
right, title, interest, claim or demand, other than an existing statutory or
other easement or burial right over the land or any part of the land. The land
will, on vesting, be taken to have been classified as community land for the
purposes of Chapter 11 of the Local Government Act 1999 (but that classification
can subsequently be revoked under that Chapter). Clause 7: Vesting of land in
City of Onkaparinga This clause vests a specified piece of land in the City
of Onkaparinga for an estate in fee simple freed and discharged from any trust,
estate, right, title, interest, claim or demand, other than an existing statutory
or other easement or burial right over the land or any part of the land. The
land will, on vesting, be taken to have been classified as community land for
the purposes of Chapter 11 of the Local Government Act 1999 (but that classification
can subsequently be revoked under that Chapter). Clause 8: Duty of Registrar-General
This clause sets out the duties of the Registrar-General in respect of the land
vested by the bill. The Registrar- General is required, on application by a
body in which land is vested by the bill, to make such entries on existing certificates
of title or other records and issue such new certificates of title as the Registrar-General
considers appropriate for giving full effect to each vesting. Any land not subject
to the provisions of the Real Property Act 1886 must be brought under that Act.
In giving effect to a vesting, the Registrar-General is not required to make
any further investigation of title or public advertisement or require the production
of duplicate certificates or other documents of title. No fee is payable in
respect of an application, or any action by the Registrar-General, under this
clause. Clause 9: Exemption from stamp duty This clause provides that where
land vests by virtue of this bill, no stamp duty is payable. Nor do the requirements
of the Stamp Duties Act 1923 to lodge statements or returns apply to a vesting
under this bill. The Hon. CAROLYN PICKLES (Leader of the Opposition): The opposition
supports the intent of this bill. We sighted it only today but I understand
that it is a bill that will need to be referred to a select committee. It seeks
to divest the property of the Free Presbyterian Church, which I understand is
the now defunct Presbyterian Church of South Australia. I understand that the
properties owned by this defunct church have become a financial burden on the
Uniting Church and other churches which have financial responsibility for the
properties. As it is the type of bill that will need to be referred to a select
committee, and despite the fact that this bill has not gone to the Labor Party's
party room, I support the bill being referred to a select committee where it
can be examined in more detail. The Hon. R.D. LAWSON (Minister for Disability
Services): I welcome this measure. As a legal practitioner I represented the
Uniting Church during negotiations for the resolution of a property dispute
and I believe that some years ago now the Attorney, in his legal capacity, represented
the Presbyterian Church in that effort. It was a very complex issue. Many of
the titles of property to the various churches that ultimately comprised the
Uniting Church and the continuing Presbyterian Church were not under the Real
Property Act, and others were vested in registered proprietors and trustees
who had died many years before. It was an issue of quite some complexity and
I know that on that occasion the issue of the various properties of the former
Free Presbyterian Church of South Australia were left to one side. I commend
the Attorney for introducing this measure to resolve outstanding issues and,
hopefully, to enable these properties to be used for an appropriate purpose
for the benefit of either the church or the community. I support the second
reading. The Hon. J.F. STEFANI secured the adjournment of the debate. FREE PRESBYTERIAN
CHURCH (VESTING OF PROPERTY) BILL
Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 10 April. Page 1303.)
The Hon. IAN GILFILLAN: I indicate the Democrats' support for the second reading of this bill, and I note that the bill is to be referred to a select committee. With that knowledge, we are prepared to support the second reading of this bill, even though it was introduced only yesterday. The bill relates to properties of the now defunct Free Presbyterian Church of South Australia. Many of the properties are in disrepair and have become financial burdens on the churches which have responsibility for them.
I note with interest that one of the properties dealt with in this bill was recently the subject of a front page article in the Southern Times Messenger , this being the old John Knox Church which lies in a ruin on William Street in Morphett Vale. The church was first built in 1856 and was actively used up until the 1960s. However, for many years it has been fenced off and allowed to decay. Notices on the fence warn people not to enter and that the building may collapse.
Over the years, considerable community effort has been put in to attempting to have the church restored or to have the site secured as a safe historic landmark. However, these efforts have been constantly frustrated by a lack of certainty over the actual owners of the property.
The John Knox Church is one of a number of buildings on the same block in the heart of Morphett Vale that formed a hub in the local community in the 1800s. The old courthouse, police station and institute building, as well as a school and an old labourer's cottage, are all still standing in what is a hidden jewel of the past not 100 metres from the Main South Road.
The Hon. T.G. Roberts interjecting:
The Hon. IAN GILFILLAN: I must check the background of that. I am sure it would have been a Labor member. I assume that the other properties dealt with in this bill may also be of similar local historic significance, and I hope that this will be taken into consideration in the future uses of these properties. I repeat the Democrats' support for the second reading of the bill.
The Hon. T. CROTHERS: I rise briefly to support the bill and I will give a little potted version of some of the history of the Free Presbyterians, or, as they were known in the kirk in Scotland, the Wee Frees-the Wee Frees because of Knox being a very hardline type of Christian. Knox had been a follower of Calvin in the early days in Switzerland, to such an extent that in fact Presbyterianism still is extant in some of the European countries. I understand, for example, that one-third of the population of Hungary is Presbyterian. Of course, as I said, the kirk, the Church of Scotland in Scotland, was in fact the Anglican Church in Scotland, just as the Church of Ireland in Ireland was the Anglican Church in Ireland.
It may not be widely known in this place, but I at one time was an altar boy in the Catholic Church when I was about 13. My budding Christian career ended when the Monsignor caught me and another boy smoking in the vestry, much to my mother's horror.
The Hon. T.G. Roberts: It was something to do with the sacristy wine, too, wasn't it?
The Hon. T. CROTHERS: There was a bit about that, but you wouldn't want to know about that. However, I find religious history very interesting, most significantly because of the fact that 58 per cent of people claiming Irish extraction in the United States are Protestant. As a Catholic boy, I know the history of both sides. Of course, the history of that was that for over 100 years, at least an average of 40 000 Ulster Presbyterians emigrated out of Ulster to America for the same reason as the evangelicals: the Methodists and the Congregationalists emigrated out of England to South Australia, which had great religious tolerance. Given that the Prussians were being ill-treated by the King of Prussia because they did not quite follow the strict dogma of Lutheranism, so they left, too-and it is well recorded.
However, what is not so well recorded is that the followers of John Wesley, the Methodist, and other independent people, because they were being ill-treated by the Church of England, which was the state religion in England at that time-and, if you did not belong to that you got no preferment; there was no future for your kids. That is why so many of them came here. Indeed, it is one of the reasons why the Scots-Irish, as the Americans now call them-they were in fact Ulster Presbyterians who had crossed over from Scotland to their kin in Ulster-
The Hon. T.G. Roberts interjecting:
The Hon. T. CROTHERS: No, that is not correct. Most of the planters were Sassenachs, not Presbyterians. Presbyterians were there long before the Elizabethan plantations. They went out in the beginning of Presbyterianism under John Knox and Calvin in Scotland. But that is another matter. However, I do support the bill. Obviously, there will be a Gaelic speaking church or churches somewhere, because the Protestant Gaelic areas of Scotland are another area that, generally, also belonged to the Wee Frees. I understand that there is a Gaelic cemetery. I made the comment to my very good friend Bobby Sneath, when he drew my attention to that, that I would love to be buried there. He said, `I'd love you to be buried there, too!'
The Hon. T.G. Roberts: He meant straightaway.
The Hon. T. CROTHERS: Yes. He has always been a good colleague of mine. Having made those few remarks and having given a bit of a historical reportage of the Wee Frees, I commend the bill to the Council.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN (Attorney-General): I thank members for dealing with this matter so expeditiously. The bill was conceived well over 25 years ago. When the Uniting Church was formed in 1977, the issue of the property of the Free Presbyterian Church and what could be done with it engendered a great deal of uncertainty. Although the titles were identified, trustees had died, congregations had disappeared and the property had certainly not vested in either the Presbyterian Church or, at union, the Uniting Church or the continuing Presbyterian Church, so all along it has needed an act of parliament to try to resolve this.
Fortunately, we are now at the point where all those who could have an interest in this have actually agreed with the process which is being followed and which is reflected in this bill. The Leader of the Opposition remarked that she understood that the bill seeks to divest the property of the Free Presbyterian Church, which is the now defunct Presbyterian Church of South Australia.
I would like to correct that: it really represented property that belonged to a separate branch of the Christian Church, the Free Presbyterian Church, which never came into the union of the Presbyterian churches and the Church of Scotland in Australia in 1899 and in all that time has been separate and distinct. There is still a continuing Presbyterian Church, which was that part of the Presbyterian Church of South Australia which did not go into the union with the Uniting Church in 1977.
The Hon. L.H. Davis: There's one at Norwood.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: There is one at Norwood, and one at Archer Street, North Adelaide, one at Seacliff, one at Elizabeth and one, I think, at Penola. There is a handful-
The Hon. T. Crothers interjecting:
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: No, none on the West Coast. The Presbyterians were never very strong on the West Coast. The Presbyterian Church was particularly strong in the South-East of the state, in the Mid North around Clare, even extending up to Whyalla, and down the Fleurieu Peninsula. But, back to the topic of the bill.
The Hon. T. Crothers interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable member is out of order.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: There are all sorts of varieties of the Presbyterian Church including the Bible Presbyterian Church in Adelaide, which is fairly much fundamentalist, so the Christian Church has this capacity to divide and develop and divide and develop.
The Hon. T.G. Roberts interjecting:
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: It is a bit like political parties.
The PRESIDENT: I warn the Attorney-General to address the chair.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I was being drawn away from my subject, Mr President. I have lived with this legislation and the development of the legislation for a long time, and I am delighted to see that it is in the Council and that it has now progressed to the second reading stage. It will go to a select committee.
The Hon. T. Crothers interjecting:
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: It is a hybrid bill, so it must go to a select committee. There has been extensive consultation over recent years, so I do not think there will be any difficulty and, hopefully, in a month or so we will have completed the processes required of us by standing orders.
The Hon. T. Crothers interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Order! This is the second reading.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: Legislation is the only way in which this particular problem can be resolved. It does not relate only to the fact that all trustees are dead: it relates to the objects of the trust. We considered taking the matter to the Supreme Court but even the Trustee Act would not facilitate resolution of these issues.
The Hon. T. Crothers interjecting:
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: With respect, that is a different matter. That dealt with the division of property of the Presbyterian Church. There is a special provision in the Presbyterian Trusts Act which deals with the division of property at the point of union with the Uniting and Congregational Churches. The negotiators had agreed a division of property that required endorsement or approval by a judge of the Supreme Court. That was because there is a special procedure required through the Church of Scotland and now in the Presbyterian Church of Australia about the way in which property could be divested.
The Hon. T. Crothers interjecting:
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: That is right. Again, I thank members for facilitating consideration of this bill.
Bill read a second time.
The PRESIDENT: As this is a hybrid bill, it must be referred to a select committee pursuant to standing order 268.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I move:
That the select committee consist of the Hons A.J. Redford, P. Holloway, R.R. Roberts, L.H. Davis and the mover.
The Hon. Mr Gilfillan was offered an opportunity to serve on the select committee and declined the invitation. With the concurrence of members of the Council, there are three Liberal and two Labor members on the select committee. This is not a contentious select committee.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I move:
That standing order 389 be so far suspended as to enable the Chairperson of the select committee to have a deliberative vote only.
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: I move:
That this Council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication as it thinks fit of any evidence presented to the committee prior to such evidence being reported to the Council; that standing order 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses, unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating; that the select committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place; and to report on Wednesday, 25 July 2001.
Motion carried.FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (VESTING OF PROPERTY) BILL
That the bill be recommitted to a committee of the whole Council on the next day of sitting.
Motion carried.FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (VESTING OF PROPERTY) BILL
The Hon. K.T. GRIFFIN: The bill was referred to a select committee on 11 April. The select committee was to report on 25 July, but I am pleased that we were able to report earlier. The committee comprised the Hon. Angus Redford, the Hon. Paul Holloway, the Hon. Ron Roberts and the Hon. Legh Davis, and I was the appointed Chairperson. The committee met on five occasions. We inserted an advertisement in the Advertiser newspaper on Saturday 5 May, and we invited evidence from interested persons and organisations. We approached various organisations, which had previously communicated with me and my office, inviting them to make a submission.
The purpose of this bill is to vest the property of the now defunct Free Presbyterian Church of South Australia in bodies capable of dealing with the properties. The properties are held in trust for the Free Church, but that church ceased to exist many years ago. The trustees are all long since deceased. Since the demise of the Free Church, the Presbyterian and the Uniting Churches have assumed the care and financial responsibility for four of the properties, and the churches are concerned to recoup their expenses from the sale of four properties dealt with in the bill and to free themselves of the financial burden of those properties so that these resources can be directed into areas of more benefit to the community.
The division of the Free Church properties must occur through an act of parliament because these properties cannot be dealt with through traditional methods of property transfer. An act of parliament is required to extinguish the existing trusts, which have long since become incapable of being satisfied, and to vest each property in a body that will either assume care and control of that piece of land or will dispose of the land and deal with the proceeds of such sales as agreed by the relevant parties. Two land parcels are to be vested in councils and one land parcel in the Presbyterian Trusts Corporation. Each body has already assumed care and control of the properties to be vested in it. The remainder of the properties are to be vested in a body which will be responsible for the sale of the properties. That body is the Free Church Negotiators Inc. It was a body created under the Associations Incorporation Act on 1 April 1999 and is representative of both the Uniting Church and the continuing Presbyterian Church. It has power to receive and hold property vested in it by parliament and to sell the properties and gives other related powers.
The committee received written submissions from various persons and organisations, and they have been identified in the report. Apart from submissions supporting the bill, a number of submissions were received which requested that one of the properties dealt with in the bill, the property at Ryan Road, Aldinga (and that is referred to in clause 4(1)(c) as the land contained in Limited Certificate of Title Register Book volume 5695, folio 439) be omitted from the bill or vested in a party committed to preserving the ruins of a church situated on the site. The committee heard evidence on behalf of the Tomatin McRae Association Inc. That is an association with an interest in preserving the church ruins on the Aldinga property. Its members include various descendants of persons who were trustees of the Aldinga property on behalf of the Free Church. The association argued that the descendants of the persons named on the title of the Aldinga property have a legal or equitable interest in the Aldinga property under the terms of a conveyance of the property executed in 1856.
Having considered the submissions, advice from the Crown Solicitor and the evidence, the committee accepted that the descendants of the trustees named on the title to the Aldinga property have no legal or equitable interest in the property. The committee agreed that, given the uncertainty regarding the title to the Aldinga property, the property should be dealt with by an act of parliament and, as such, the committee supports the inclusion of the Aldinga property in the bill. However, the select committee acknowledged the historical and emotional attachment of the Tomatin McRae Association and other descendants of the trustees to the Aldinga property and noted evidence of the Free Church negotiators regarding their preparedness to come to an arrangement regarding sale of the property to a party for heritage purposes.
When the committee considered this, we looked at what options were available for expressing the views of the committee in relation to that property. In the report we encouraged the negotiators, once vested with the property and able to deal with it, to endeavour to negotiate an agreement with the Tomatin McRae Association that may lead to the preservation of the remains of the Free Church located on the Aldinga property.
The committee recognises that costs have been incurred by the churches in meeting rates and other costs and in relation to the development of this bill. The committee accepted that the properties dealt with in the bill have now become a financial burden on the continuing Presbyterian Church and the Uniting Church, which have assumed financial responsibility for those properties. Agreement has now been reached between the relevant parties as to the disposal of the various properties once belonging to the Free Church. The committee accepted that disposal of the properties should occur through an act of parliament because the properties cannot be dealt with through traditional methods of property transfer. Trustees in whom the various properties were vested on behalf of the Free Church have all died long ago and the objects of the trust no longer exist. There was a unanimous conclusion on behalf of the committee that the bill is an appropriate measure and recommends that it be passed without amendment.
The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: The Attorney-General has just set out the findings of the select committee on this bill. It was, of course, quite appropriate that a select committee should look at this matter, given that it involves property held in trust, and that clearly there was the potential that people affected by the changes might wish to have a say. The Free Presbyterian Church, which is now defunct, owned a number of properties throughout the state. As the Attorney said, only one of those properties raised any concern as far as members of the public are concerned, and that was the remains of the Free Church at Aldinga. So, clearly, in relation to all the other properties there was acceptance of the arrangements proposed in the bill.
The committee, appropriately, took evidence from the interested parties in relation to the Aldinga property. We heard both from the Free Church negotiators and also from a representative of the Tomatin McRae Association who wished to see the property preserved in some way to recognise the historical links with the community. Clearly, it is a difficult matter when properties are so old-in fact, I think this particular property pre-dated the Torrens title system, so there was clearly some doubt in relation to who might have been the beneficial owners of the property. But, as the Attorney-General has pointed out, on considering this matter and on hearing legal advice, the committee as a whole came to the conclusion that, in fact, there was no way that this matter could be satisfactorily dealt with to determine ownership other than through an act of parliament for the property to be disposed of.
However, as the Attorney has also pointed out, I think those of us on the committee-certainly, speaking for myself-accepted that the Tomatin McRae Association did have a legitimate concern about the future of that property. Clearly, it is of great attachment to them. It is a significant part of this state's history and, if that property could be preserved in some way that is satisfactory to that association, that would be a desirable outcome. I will read the relevant part of the committee's report in relation to that. The Attorney has covered it but I think it is worth reading it again. The report states:
The committee acknowledges the historical and emotional attachment of the Tomatin McRae Association, and other descendants, to the Aldinga property. The committee notes the evidence of the Free Church Negotiators Inc. regarding their preparedness to come to an arrangement regarding sale of the property to a party for heritage purposes. The committee strongly encourages the negotiators, once vested with the property and able to deal with it, to endeavour to negotiate an agreement with the Tomatin McRae Association that may lead to the preservation of the remains of the Free Church located on the Aldinga property.
Clearly, a number of practical issues are involved in that. The committee was not able to make any assessment of the viability of such arrangements but I think, in principle, that sentiment expressed in that conclusion is something that we would hope and expect that the Free Church negotiators will take up to try to find some satisfactory way of preserving the heritage of this area. So, with those brief comments, I indicate that the opposition supports the bill.
The Hon. R.R. ROBERTS: I support the acceptance of the report of the committee into these matters. As previous speakers have commented, a number of properties are involved in this exercise and the only real point of dissent was in respect of the Wee Free Church at Aldinga. I have to say at the outset that an old saying was once put to me, `Wherever there is a will, there is a row,' and that did come to the fore. However, that was indicated in respect of one particular property. In respect of the other matters encompassed in this bill there was unanimous agreement with the proposals outlined by the bill.
As a bush lawyer, if you like, I do have some sympathy with people who are involved in testaments of this nature. It is easy over time to put a different complexion on the meaning of particular parts of wills or testamentary dispositions. My view in all these things-and I have been involved in a number of these select committees-is that the absolute wishes of those people who leave properties or other matter in trusts ought to be looked at very closely and, wherever possible, those wishes need to be fulfilled.
I was very comfortable in the early stages to accept that the Wee Free Presbyterian Church fell into the same basket as the rest of the properties listed in the bill until we started to take evidence. Ms Fryar, representing the Tomatin McRae Association, presented the committee with a copy of a deed which states:
Conveyance in fee from D. Stewart to John Tuthill Bagot and his heirs to the use of. . .
It then lists those people who paid their £5 for the property. It finishes off with the statement, `their heirs and assigns forever'. At that stage I must confess I was leaning closely to a recommendation that it be recognised that there was some claim by the Tomatin McRae Association, but then we were presented with a trust deed which clearly laid out that the church was to be run by a trust; and the history then shows very clearly that was the case. What it represents is that there is a close association with the McRaes and one can understand why their `heirs and assigns' maintain a particular interest in this historic site.
I was concerned that at no time during the evidence presented to us, although we were being told that the property was not of much value-and that is why I asked for a proper assessment from the Valuer-General as to what the property was worth; I am sure it is worth about $36 000-I was concerned the Tomatin McRae Association, while it professed-and I think genuinely and understandably professed an association and indeed, one could probably go further to say, almost a love of this property-it has not sought to buy the property. During the deliberations of the committee we had some discussions about it, and the report clearly shows that the committee unanimously decided or thought it was a proper recommendation for us to make that when this bill is completed reasonable and meaningful negotiations ought to take place between the new owners, that is, the Uniting Church and the continuing Presbyterians, and that meaningful negotiations ought to take place with the Tomatin McRae Association.
At no time did Tomatin McRae express a desire to be the purchaser with first right of refusal on this property. I would have preferred the recommendations to be stronger and that in those terms it be given the first right of refusal, but I am happy with the recommendation of the committee that those negotiations take into account the views and aspirations of the Tomatin McRae Association for the preservation of this site for future heritage. Whilst I can understand some disappointment among the Tomatin McRae Association, this bill clears up a matter that needed to be cleared up once and for all and gives the right to everyone to sit down and come up with a reasonable solution.
That solution may be that Tomatin McRae decides to buy it or it comes to some agreement with the council. Having mentioned the council I should conclude with the remark that it was suggested to the appropriate councils in the area that this was a heritage site-and I do not think there is any argument about that-and that the council ought to take it over. Tomatin McRae had agreed to do some maintenance work with respect to these ruins, but late in the piece the council did correspond to say that, if it was the desire of the committee and the parliament, it would possibly look at it.
Those matters are all open for negotiation with the interested parties. I am confident that the committee has come up with the appropriate recommendations at the end of the day, and I am also convinced that there is ample opportunity to get a reasonable solution to all the matters that were expressed as concerns during the proceedings of the committee. I support the proposition as outlined in the report of the select committee.
The Hon. A.J. REDFORD: I will be very brief. Unfortunately, I was unable to be present for the meeting at which the evidence from various people was presented, although I had the opportunity to read the Hansard record of that evidence. First, I endorse the recommendations of the committee. Secondly, I also offer my congratulations to the Attorney on bringing this bill to the parliament. This has been a very long, drawn out affair and hopefully we will be one step closer to resolving the difficult and vexed property issues that have dogged the Presbyterian and Uniting Churches over decades now. Hopefully both groups can now get on and deal with the more important issues that confront the respective churches in the 21st century. With those brief comments I endorse the report and would recommend the speedy passage of this bill through the parliament.
Clauses 2 to 8 passed.
The CHAIRMAN: I am bound to point out that clause 9, being a money clause, is in erased type. Standing order 298 provides that no question shall be put in committee upon any such clause. The message transmitting the bill to the House of Assembly is required to indicate that this clause is deemed necessary to the bill.
Bill read a third time and passed.