May 17, 2019
This week in Parliament the Palaszczuk Labor Government granted itself the right to enter and cross private land without the knowledge of the owner, without obtaining the owner’s consent; in fact, without giving so much as a notice of entry.
Why isn’t this being shouted from the roof tops? Because it was buried in one clause of a 252 page “omnibus” bill.
Rural Land Owners Lose Property Right
Clause 45 of the Natural Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Bill now gives the Chief Executive (the senior public servant) the power to authorise access by government officers with no knowledge of, notice to, or consent by landholders.
This won’t affect city dwellers but it will apply to all rural land – be it freehold, leasehold or in trust (such as Woorabinda’s land). It is difficult to see this as anything other than the dismantling of rural property rights.
We Need It To Manage National Parks – But Not Everyone is a Neighbour
The justification is that the government requires this right in order to access state land, but the amendment applies to all land, not just those adjoining national parks or state land.
If it was simply a matter of accessing some national parks via the neighbour’s place, the Government could and should negotiate access agreements with that small category of landholders. It is simply not a justification for what has been done to all rural landholders.
No Democratic Government Should Be Above the Law
In fact, the state government should be a model of compliance with its own laws. That would require them to build and maintain their own access or to negotiate an access agreement.
If a private individual or a business buys a block of land with no access, they have to construct an access. They require a proper survey and plan, they require local government approval and sometimes Main Roads approval. They foot all the bills for the survey, planning, approvals and construction of that access.
Code of Conduct and Compensation
If a resources company requires access to rural land, they must negotiate an access agreement with the owner. It comes with a Code of Conduct for their employees and compensation for the reasonable expenses of the landholder.
Neither situation will apply to the state government and its employees.
Unfettered Access to all private rural land
The Minister said it is so the state government can manage feral pests, exotic weeds and fire hazard on state lands. Yes, the government should be a better neighbour in all three regards. But they don’t need unfettered access to every piece of private land across Queensland to achieve this.
More than 1 million hectares has been added to Queensland’s protected estate since 2015. This will only be an achievement if the protected estate is properly managed. Constructing and maintaining access on and through these lands is fundamental to that task and should be funded accordingly.
Free-riding on one hand; Taking away rights on the other
Every other landholder has to pay their way and provide their own roads so that they can fulfil their obligations under various state acts relating to vegetation, water, biosecurity and fire management.
I suspect this is not a land management issue at all. The only way I can see this is as a dismantling of rural property rights. They would never debase the rights of urban property owners in this way.
How this Access could be mis-used
There is nothing in the amendment to say that these entry powers can’t be used to assist the government in compiling data bases on vegetation and water regimes on individual properties. Such data can be used to target actions against individual landholders, with all the trauma and legal expense that can entail.
Using the Omnibus Bill to Avoid Scrutiny
The problem facing the Opposition and Cross-benchers is that this was another omnibus bill. Not a sitting week goes by without one or more of these bills making an appearance. I think it is a deliberate tactic by the Palaszczuk government to avoid public scrutiny.
An omnibus bill is like the odds and ends drawer in the kitchen – full of useful bits and pieces. It contains numerous amendments to one or more existing pieces of legislation. These are supposed to be minor tweaks to correct administrative difficulties.
Paint, Pot, Human Body Parts and Retirement Fees – One Bill for Them All
In April we had a real doozy that changed laws about the manufacturing, selling, supply and use of paint in the same Bill that dealt with laws on the prescription of medicinal cannabis, the lawful cremation of human body parts used in Schools of Anatomy and the timely payment of exit entitlements at retirement villages!
Hard to examine, Hard to Report
When you cobble together amendments affecting all these different topics, it makes it very hard for the parliamentary committee trying to assess its impact and it makes it very hard for stakeholders to have proper input.
The media find them almost impossible to report on so, by and large, they don’t. The Minister might issue a boastful media release on one aspect of the Bill, and the rest sinks without any public discussion. It is the perfect way to hide unpopular changes to the law.
These new rights of entry were only one clause in the Natural Resources and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. This omnibus bill amends 32 separate Acts and regulations.
That Puts a lot of Jam around the Hidden Pills
I mean that some of the Bill is good law. For instance, changes to ensure you can put firebreaks around sheds and homesteads. This is used to hide government over-reach in other clauses. It is hard for stakeholders to sort these out and see what the laws will mean in the real world. It is even harder when the government imposes a deadline.
Fifteen Days Not Enough
The Queensland Law Society, the Queensland Resources Council and AgForce all expressed the difficulty of fully understanding the Bill in the 15 business days allowed for them to make a submission.
Yes, No, Yes
The Opposition Members and Crossbenchers must then debate a Bill where they support some clauses and oppose others. The Government uses the Parliamentary arrangements to limit our speaking time, so members can’t speak about many individual clauses. I managed to speak on this clause and on Clauses 36 and 37 which remove the annual report on the foreign ownership of Queensland land.
Then the Bill was passed on the Government’s numbers.
The Media Announcement is all Good News!
The only media release issued by the Minister was about a minor change to mining exploration that will stop companies sitting on exploration authorities. That was the week that was.
As always, thank you for reading my newsletter about issues in Parliament and Gregory. It is an honour to represent you.
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Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.