AGM Presentation – John Purcell, Chairman – Turning the Tide

24th May 2007 Ladies and Gentlemen: 

It is once more my privilege to present the PRA Chairman’s Report. 

The year 2006/2007 has been one of mixed fortunes; however, in my view, the positives have exceeded the negatives.  About this time last year we had the wind taken from our sails with the receipt of Mr Bob Gotteson QC’s Brief which gave us little-to-no hope of mounting a successful challenge to the Queensland Government’s actions of disallowing landholders’ rights to manage vegetation on their land, including freehold/fee simple land.  To refresh our memories of the outcome, it was stated that the Government recognised that fee simple landholders did own the land and did own the vegetation on fee simple land.

 However, the State claims that in fact, they the State, held the right to manage the land and the vegetation under a decree handed down to the colonies by Queen Victoria.  This decree is included in the Australian and all State Constitutions.  Queen Victoria decreed that the governments have ultimate power to ensure “peace, welfare and good governance.”

While we certainly question the belief that Queensland is enjoying ‘good governance’, this is a matter for the Parliament to decide.

 Queensland, since 1922, has no parliamentary house of review.  In short, the party holding a majority in the Legislative Assembly can do almost anything.  Added to this, the Queensland Constitution is a simple Act of Parliament, which, with few exceptions, can be changed by the Parliament of Queensland-not a difficult exercise for the Government with a sound majority.

There is belief that fee simple still exists in numerous places.  North Queenslander, former Northern Territory police officer and police prosecutor, David John Walter and his supporters have reportedly had two cases accepted into the High Court of Australia.  I do not have detail of their cases, however PRA wishes them every success.

 Likewise in NSW there are diverse groups who are carrying out direct confrontation with compliance officers by disallowing entry to properties for inspection.  Again I believe these actions should be applauded.  Let us not forget the behaviour of Queensland compliance officers.  In one instance landholders in Queensland were threatened by compliance officers to the extent of threatening “if you don’t cooperate with us we will send you broke.”  (nice people!) 

It is my understanding that in very recent times the Beattie Labor Government amended the State Constitution to prevent parties appealing to a Judicial Review to consider the Government proposition of forced shire amalgamations. 

While on politics I must place PRA’s absolute disgust on the performance of the State Coalition’s efforts in the 2006 State Election.  For the first time ever PRA declared support for the Coalition over the Labor Party.  Most rural producers agree with this view yet representative groups balk at open support for a particular party. 

The performance of the Coalition in the new Parliament has done little to engender support or respect.  The next election is getting closer by the day.  A strong opposition is central to having a responsible government.  Change is needed urgently in both attitude and effectiveness.

 I believe the time is right to consider the happenings since the Beattie Government began the onslaught against rural Queensland in the name of the environment.  This had its beginnings in the passing of the Vegetation Management Act 1999, enacted in 2000. 

The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol preceded this time.  Let me state categorically that Governments, both State and Federal, both Labor and Coalition, contributed to the program to stop broadscale clearing on leasehold and freehold land in Queensland.

The environmental lobby together with the Beattie Government berated landholders as ‘environmental vandals’ who were destroying the State of Queensland.

Legislation stripped Queensland landholders of civil liberties, such as the presumption of innocence and the right to remain silent.  Fines of

up to $300,000 plus are possible.  Tall poppies such as Ashley McKay were charged with illegal clearing, some seven court appearances, and a fine of $127,000 or a year in prison was imposed.  In the final hearing in the District Court in Brisbane Ashley McKay was discharged as the Government clearing permits he held during all the previous court hearings were legal and valid!

At the time of the introduction of the Vegetation Management Act 1999 rural lobby groups were in a state of flux in Queensland.  During this formative period AgForce was understandably focused on building a workable and successful organisation.  The Government took full advantage of the lack of resistance to their VMA.

As a worn out previous industry advocate I was totally disgruntled with the lack of resistance to the Government action.  A real vacuum existed.  It was not until December 2002 that Property Rights Australia was founded by a group led by Dominic Devine of Charleville.  This took place in Charleville.

Both my wife Mary and I joined PRA shortly after the launch.  Both made a donation to PRA and have played a role in PRA’s efforts. PRA received excellent coverage and support.  Congratulations to Dominic Devine and the early provisional board members.

While on lobby groups, I must express sadness and disappointment on one decision by AgForce.  That was in joining with the Beattie Government in the creation of the “Blueprint for the Bush.”  In my view this joining in partnership with Beattie side-lined and compromised AgForce, particularly the acceptance of some millions of dollars of Government funding.

It is not my role or intent to harm AgForce which is Queensland’s largest lobby group.  What I do believe is that AgForce should have been shoulder to shoulder with PRA in opposition against both the VMA and Water Act.

What is certain, Beattie used the divide-and-conquer approach = “PRA is only a minority group,” this is in spite of staging a truck rally in Charleville that stretched from the Quilpie Road in the west to the Charleville showgrounds in the east, holding meetings in ten

rural towns for a total attendance of 2,000 people, organising a street march in Brisbane during Exhibition week 2005, which attracted 500 marchers, and a follow-up meeting against the Government in Rockhampton attracting 350 people at the time of a country cabinet meeting.  All of this was fine.  Please consider the success if AgForce had joined with PRA.

Land valuation is simply a sick fraud.  The DNRW should be stripped of the valuation role.

Land tenure and land rental is a mess.  The management of water is a joke.  Health matters are a disgrace.  Law and order is out of order.

What is the situation as of today, 19th May 2007?  As the title of this report states, I believe we are “turning the tide.”

  • PRA members have enjoyed success in three magistrates court decisions. All of these three cases have been appealed by the Government.
  • The Government seems to be in no hurry to bring on the cases. Could it be the Government has heard PRA has undertaken to support these three cases with membership donations?
  • Ashley McKay has caused somewhere between six and nine public servants to be investigated by the Crime and Misconduct Commission.
  • Could it be the Government has heard of another batch of public servants who are due to be reported to the CMC for similar reasons as those previously named?
  • PRA congratulates and fully supports Ashley McKay in his action against those who allegedly wronged him.

It is noteworthy to report the required groundwork/paperwork was compiled by Ashley and Doris McKay-well done.

As to the environmental lobby-we now hear little from them.  Could it be that now the previous ‘environmental vandals’ in the bush, clearing new growth vegetation, are only bit players?  Research indicates many trees express greenhouse gases and do not act as carbon sinks.  Could it be the recent QDPI study into vegetation

thickening is finally supporting that great retired rangeland scientist Dr Bill Burrows?

Could it be the real culprits have now been publicly identified, eg mining, coal-fired powerhouses, transport, air-conditioning and manufacturing?

In closing, I do believe the “tide is turning.”  I believe the ‘people who care’ do not now point the finger of blame at the farmer.  They have looked to the big picture and identified the real culprits.

I believe DNRW compliance officers, Crown Law personnel, administration officers in EPA and public servants generally, are not so cocky following recent CMC enquiries.  It is stupidity to risk a career simply to side with their workmates to distort the truth. 

On behalf of all PRA members I thank those who took the hard decisions to fight for that which is right, and reject the kind of people who enjoyed hurting innocent farming families.  I believe we have indeed “turned the tide.”