Mulga madness exposes property rights dilemma

Fundamental questions about property rights in Queensland remain unanswered despite a landmark ruling in the Queensland Government’s case against drought-stricken Charleville grazier Dan McDonald, Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) State Leader Robbie Katter has said.

Mr McDonald’s case, lodged with the Court of Appeals, was finalised last week with his tree-clearing convictions remaining in place despite a substantial decrease in fines.

The grazier had previously been ordered to pay fines and costs of more than $116,000 after being charged by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines for using his own native Mulga trees to feed hungry cattle during 2013-15.

Mr McDonald said last week’s ruling had offered a small dose of justice but that it was bittersweet, as fundamental questions about property rights in Queensland remain unanswered.

“Fundamental principles of property law enshrined in legislation vests absolute ownership and right of use to the title holder, and as the freehold owner of my property I own the vegetation on my property and the right to use it,” he said.

“However the government, through the complex Vegetation Management Act and Planning Act – repeatedly amended over the last 20 years, have decided that they have the right to use my vegetation and the vegetation of anyone else who owns freehold land.

“This is for the purpose of conservation and carbon sequestration for their benefit without any form of compensation to the landholder, nor any compliance with the established principles of property law.”

“This is a blatant conflict of law that the state of Queensland, in all its capacities, refuses to address.”

“When someone purchases freehold vegetation from the state, the State Government has a statutory obligation to advise the purchaser whether or not they intend to retain any power over that vegetation.

“I can assure you, in my case, they did not do this – they sold me absolute ownership of the land, the vegetation upon it and fundamentally the right to use that vegetation”.

Mr McDonald said when the Queensland Parliament enacted the Vegetation Management Act and Planning Act scheme over free-hold land and vegetation, it failed to address the inconsistencies and subsequent conflicts with the established and enshrined, legislated principles of property law.

“This has effectively set a trap of self-incrimination of landholders using their property,” he said.

“In failing to address this then and now, the Queensland Parliament is failing in its duty as a legislator and in its moral and ethical obligations to the people.

“Any freehold landowner who inadvertently contradicts the rules the state has now applied to our property could end up in the same situation I have, and I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone.”

Mr Katter said the State Government’s obsession with preventing tree-clearing at all costs was unreasonable, unjustified and as demonstrated by Mr McDonald, is in conflict with the fundamental property rights laws of Queensland.

He said the way the laws applied to freehold property owners, particularly those involved with primary production, was cruel.

“Here these people are, producing wealth for our country and battling away with drought and fires, and they just have to accept that retrospectively the state can control what they do on their own property,” Mr Katter said.

“In the case of the Mulga lands, where Dan is based, the application of the vegetation management laws is just backward and cruel – Mulga has been used as renewable fodder source for more than a century.

“Drought-affected graziers in the Mulga lands are to this day being destroyed by what we can call a “legislated drought”.

“We have around 40 million acres of Mulga trees in southern Queensland unable to be practically used to feed stock due to a draconian decision made in Brisbane.”

The KAP had attempted to introduce legislation into the Parliament during the last sitting week of 2019 to allow for broader Mulga harvesting during drought, but were not given a chance to do so and now their efforts have been stalled until at least February next year.

“While the politicians enjoy their Christmas break over the coming weeks, drought-stricken graziers must continue to fight for their survival,” Mr Katter said.

“That will be the case unless the Premier decides to stand up immediately on this issue, and made a directive that gives these graziers in the Mulga lands a practicable way to feed their stock again with their own resources.

“This could be done without going back into the Parliament.”

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