For Like minded people who like to see-
Property Rights Australia has been in existence since 2002 when it was formed to curb the excesses in the prosecution of the Vegetation Management Act.
In addition to the very high profile land clearing cases, we were successful in curtailing NRM, DERM’s predecessor in prosecuting cases outside the statutory period and clarifying that when a magistrate said “no compliance order” the law said no compliance order.
In more recent times we have been vocal in supporting the property rights of landowners who feel that their rights to peaceful enjoyment of their property and the business that property is meant to sustain have been curtailed by unreasonable and unfairly compensated acts of mining or CSG companies.
The property rights issue has become huge in the last few years with specialist groups springing up to deal solely with resource industries, mining or local government issues or, in the case of Peter Spencer, Federal Constitutional issues. Add to that State bodies who are trying to deal with a plethora of anti-development and anti-agricultural legislation and there is an enormous effort being put in to property rights on a wide front.
Property Rights Australia may not agree with every method or every sentence uttered by the literally dozens of these groups but it does appreciate what they are trying to do and offers support, particularly in the media, when it can with the resources it has at its disposal. We are after all volunteers with other businesses to run.
One thing we have NEVER done to my knowledge is throw stones at any credible property organisation that is taking reasonable steps to right an injustice.
PRA does not play Russian roulette with the lives of people in the very stressful situation of being charged with an offence by running unwinnable cases multiple times to push our own constitutional agenda but if someone is prepared to take the plunge and, more importantly has access to the mammoth funds required for a constitutional challenge, we will not stand in their way.
Our stance against David John Walter has been vindicated, not by any action we have taken, but by a Queensland Supreme Court injunction requested by John Briton, Queensland Legal Services Commissioner which has declared that he is no longer free to give legal advice to litigants who want to bring actions in Queensland courts .
“Damien Carrick: Standing in the shoes of David John Walter, if he firmly believes that he has right on his side, and if he can convince other people that he's got right on his side, shouldn't he be allowed to bring his cases into the legal forums?
John Briton: Well I think the answer to that is yes, once or twice, and to have it tested and to have his day in court and to get a decision. Now he's left in the position of thinking the law's an ass presumably, well that's his entitlement I suppose, but it doesn't follow that he's entitled to use the court process to run hopeless cases.”
This is in stark contrast to Peter Spencer who, on receiving a judgment against him went back to the drawing board and approached with a different argument and is still doing so.
Property Rights Australia is supporting people who are facing fines under the Vegetation Management Act in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and, if they plead “not guilty” legal fees that can be many more hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Some cases can and are taking in excess of six years to proceed through the courts. This is a huge stress in people’s lives and is a life-changing event. Not everyone who is charged is prepared for this enormous intrusion into their lives.
It is hardly remarkable that under these circumstances most people plead “guilty” regardless of their belief in their innocence and this has lead NRM /DERM staff to chance their arm with malicious prosecutions and fabrication of evidence.
Without PRA or a similar organisation departmental staff would still be thumbing their noses at landowners and the law over basic things like statutory time limits.
Professor Suri Ratnapala has pointed out many of the injustices perpetrated by the VMA and the full text of his paper “Constitutional Vandalism Under Green Cover” is available on the Property Rights Australia website.
It is Professor Ratnapala who draws our attention to the erosion of civil liberties in the VMA in the form of not having the defences of mistake of fact, the right to silence, the privilege against self incrimination and the reversal of the onus of proof.
He has also presented this paper to the prestigious Samuel Griffith Society.
“Reversing the burden of proof
Division 2 of the VMA, dealing with evidence, effects a total reversal of the burden of proof in trials concerning tree clearance. Section 65 makes it unnecessary to prove that official acts are done within the authority of the Act. A certificate issued under s. 66B is deemed sufficient evidence of the accuracy of remotely sensed images and the official conclusions drawn from them.
The key issues in a tree clearing offence are:
A certificate under s. 66B constitutes evidence of the above two matters. In short, the certificate makes it unnecessary for the prosecution to prove its case but necessary for the landowner to disprove it. This is a negation of due process in criminal and civil matters that is fundamental to civil liberty. Not content with this arsenal of prosecutorial weapons, the perpetrators of the VMA have even removed from land owners the defence of mistake of fact.26 These provisions cumulatively deny landowners the basic safeguards of procedural justice available even to persons accused of the most heinous crimes.”
One recent case brought under the Vegetation Management Act is for thinning the invasive, native woody weed known as turkey bush.
In the 2010 Senate Inquiry Report into Native Vegetation Laws, Greenhouse Gas Abatement and Climate Change Measures under the heading Unintended Consequences for the Environment:-
Agforce Queensland, Property Rights Australia and Dr Burrows held that restrictions on thinning or clearing woodland 'thickening' have inadvertently led to soil erosion and loss of biodiversity on the land whilst negatively impacted on grazing and therefore productivity.127
3.123 Dr Burrows outlined the consequences of woodland thickening:
Tree thickening on grazing land greatly reduces potential pasture (and hence livestock) production. In turn this lowers carrying capacity and property viability.
Tree thickening also reduces rainfall infiltration, run-off
and stream flows. It markedly changes the flora and fauna composition
(biodiversity) of affected areas.
The “litany” as espoused by Andrew Franks of the herbarium in the Trent Hindman case proposes that among other things the VMA is meant to protect against are erosion and loss of biodiversity.
There is a considerable of scientific literature which points to the greater propensity for erosion and loss of biodiversity where there is woody weed encroachment.
Property Rights Australia continues to shine a light on the injustices and inconsistencies of the various Acts which affect landowners.