Established as a statutory authority in late 1973, the South Australian Land Commission represented a new model of public sector intervention into the state’s land and housing market. It resulted from the Whitlam Labor government’s allocation of federal funds to the states to assist in developing urban areas, encouraging decentralisation and ensuring that rising land values benefited the community rather than individuals. In South Australia the Land Commission Bill was steered through parliament by Minister of Lands Alfred Kneebone.
The commission was empowered to acquire land for urban expansion and development, providing services and amenities for the resultant new suburbs. Its chairman and two members were empowered to acquire unoccupied land, if necessary by compulsory purchase, largely using federal funds. By 1979 the commission had purchased 35% of land on the metropolitan periphery zoned for present residential development, 37% of land zoned for future development, and 25% of blocks actually on the market. As its property sales could be coordinated with the public provision of services, the commission was able to undercut private developers and by the mid 1970s the rate of increase in property prices had slowed markedly.
By the late 1970s, however, it became apparent that earlier predictions about housing demand had been too optimistic. Moreover, growing criticism of the commission’s activities, particularly by private developers, saw a review of government involvement in land sales. In 1981 the Tonkin Liberal government replaced the Land Commission with the South Australian Urban Lands Trust, a body resembling a ‘land bank’ rather than a developer.