- Inaccurate mapping undermines basis of tree legislation
- Law Society criticises breaches of citizens rights in the pursuit of “efficient” prosecutions
- Local Member says laws motivated by green groups desire for more convictions
The release of the parliamentary committee report into the ALP’s proposed changes to the Vegetation Management laws starkly highlights the flaws in the legislation, but gives no guarantee that these flaws will be addressed, according to local member, Lachlan Millar MP.
“Reading the report makes it very clear that this legislation is rotten to the core. It really just needs to be dumped altogether,” said Mr Millar.
“The entire foundation of this legislation is the Department of Natural Resources vegetation mapping. To pass the legislation without having the mapping correct is reckless and unworkable. To do so with retrospectivity, reverse onus of proof and no defence of Mistake of Fact is completely unjust,” he said.
The Committee received evidence of serious concerns about the accuracy of the maps and the difficulty of having those maps corrected.
“Evidence given showed the maps have been physically inaccurate in the type of groundcover described and then landholders have struggled to get the maps corrected. There are also major problems with scale.”
Mr Millar said the Committee heard that landholders have been fined under existing laws for being 10 metres out when the Department admitted to the Committee that the maps could be out by kilometres.
“The problem is that when you zoom down to your property, or particular part of your property, the scale is wrong, so the mapping is wrong for the purpose proposed by the legislation,” said Mr Millar.
“However the same legislation has removed your right to use the inaccuracy of the map as a defence of your actions. The Committee also heard that information and advice provided by departmental officers has often been found to be incorrect, but the legislation won’t let you plead Mistake of Fact in this regard either.”
Mr Millar said the Queensland Law Society had told the Committee it was inappropriate to remove the Mistake of Fact Defence for the “convenience” of the prosecution.
“It becomes chillingly clear in the sections of the report dealing with both Mistake of Fact and the Reverse Onus of Proof that these two aspects of the legislation were lobbied for by green groups because they want to see more successful prosecutions of landholders than they have been able to achieve under the Beattie- Bligh laws or the existing laws,” he said.
“The legislation will compel the Court to see landholders as guilty unless they can prove they are innocent. So, the legislation not only removes the presumption of innocence, it also removes the landholder’s right to silence.”
Mr Millar said the report reveals that the Queensland Law Society, Property Rights Australia and the Institute of Public Affairs told the Committee there were insufficient grounds for such a serious breach of principles on the basis of “prosecutorial efficiency”.
Mr Millar said the report was not unanimous. Both the LNP and KAP made Statements of Reservation, but the Government Committee-Members supported the legislation with the exception that they recommended Clause 6 be removed.
“This is the clause relating to Reverse Onus of Proof. It accidentally scoops up all Local Governments and private urban landholders who could be held guilty for the actions of neighbours, tenants and trespassers. I believe that is what motivated this recommendation and as Agforce said, it doesn’t relieve agricultural landholders,” said Mr Millar.
Mr Millar said the legislation will not be debated until August due to budget estimates hearing this month.
“I urge people to read the report and let the independent crossbenchers know about their concerns. The legislation cannot pass without their support. People can also sign the ePetition against the legislation at www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-assembly/petitions/e-petitions,” he said.
View Committee Report here: http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/AEC/2016/11-VegetationMangt/11-rpt-019-30Jun2016.pdf