Coverdale v West Coast Council

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania in a matter relating to the meaning of ‘land’ in the context of local government land valuations. West Coast Council sought a declaration that the Valuation of Land Act 2001 (Tas), the Local Government Act 1993 (Tas) and the Marine Farming Planning Act 1995 (Tas) required the Valuer-General to issue a valuation for several areas in Macquarie Harbour that are subject to marine leases, which would allow the Council to levy rates. At trial, Blow CJ held that while the areas would constitute ‘land’ under the Crown Lands Act 1976 (Tas), for the purposes of the LGA they were not liable to be rated (see at [24]). A majority of the Full Court allowed the Council’s appeal, holding that the Harbour fell within a broader definition of land set out in other statutes besides the Crown Lands Act, and could therefore be subject to rates (see at [14] and [29]ff).

The Court (French CJ, Kiefel, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) unanimously dismissed the appeal, holding that the seabed and waters are lands or Crown lands within the meaning of s 11. The question of whether seabeds and waters are ‘land’ in the context of a statute must be resolved by regard to the text as a whole, the subject, scope and purposes of the statute, and against its legislative history and prior circumstances (at [21]). While the meaning of the word ‘including’ in the text led to an ambiguity as to whether it restricted the definition of ‘land’ to Crown lands that fall within or outside the ordinary meaning of ‘land’, the background, scope and purposes of the Act favour the adoption of a definition of ‘Crown land’ that includes the seabed and waters above it (at [23]). In particular, the historical background of land rating statutes in Tasmania showed a gradual move towards removing the general exemption of Crown land from valuation towards a number of specific public purpose exemptions (see [24]–[35]), suggesting that ‘including’ was used to emphasise that the requirement that lands be within a valuation district applies equally to Crown lands as to ‘all lands’ (at [41]).

High Court Judgment [2016] HCA 15 14 April 2016
Result Appeal dismissed
High Court Documents Coverdale
Full Court Hearing [2016] HCATrans 43 1 March 2016
Special Leave Hearing [2015] HCATrans 228 11 September 2015
Appeal from TASSCFC [2015] TASFC 1 17 February 2015
Judgment TASSC
[2014] TASSC 42 18 August 2014
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About Martin Clark

Martin Clark is an PhD Candidate and Judge Dame Rosalyn Higgins Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School. He holds honours degrees in law, history and philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and an MPhil in Law from MLS. While at MLS, he worked as a researcher for several senior faculty members, was a 2012 Editor of the Melbourne Journal of International Law, tutor in legal theory, a Jessie Legatt Scholar, and attended the Center for Transnational Legal Studies Program.