Spencer land clearing case continues

Spencer land clearing case continues


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Peter Spencer is suing the Commonwealth and State governments for compensation for lost productivity opportunities from his property.

Peter Spencer is suing the Commonwealth and State governments for compensation for lost productivity opportunities from his property.

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GRAZIER Peter Spencer's landmark case against the Commonwealth and State of NSW has continued in the Federal Court this week.

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GRAZIER Peter Spencer's landmark case against the Commonwealth and State of NSW has continued in the Federal Court this week.

Mr Spencer is fighting for compensation for the Cooma property he owned until 2010, which he alleges went bankrupt due to the enactment of the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 and the Native Vegetation Act 2003.

The case hit the headlines when Mr Spencer staged a 52-day hunger strike in an elevated wind tower on his property in 2010.

A similar case was previously dismissed in the same court in 2010 on the basis it had "no reasonable prospect" of success.

Mr Spencer's claim for awards from both governments is centered on the argument the Commonwealth placed overbearing pressure on NSW to hasten and tighten its land clearing laws to aide its own Kyoto Protocol targets.

Among other projects, Mr Spencer has claimed he is entitled to compensation for the lost opportunity to establish a wind farm, a commercial firewood business, and profit from the carbon stored on his heavily timbered property.

In the final week of proceedings, on Tuesday Judge Debbie Mortimer received oral submissions from Senior Counsel for the Commonwealth, Richard Lancaster, and Senior Counsel for NSW, Jeremy Kirk.

Mr Lancaster told the court Mr Spencer's projects came to a halt for a "bundle" of reasons.

He said there was substantial evidence to doubt a wind farm would have been constructed.

"Mr Spencer did not lodge a single application to remove native vegetation for his proposed firewood business and at the time no mechanism existed to trade carbon credits," Mr Lancaster said.

Mr Kirk said pre-existing regulations, including State Environmental Planning Policy Number 46 (1995) and the Soil Conservation Act (amended in 1974), already prevented him from clearing his land.

He said Mr Spencer's plans to clear the amount of timber required to service his various projects was never economically feasible in the first place.

Mr Kirk also rejected the allegation NSW was pressured into enacting the 2003 legislation.

"NSW clearly led on the issue of land clearing; it was nobody's agent," Mr Kirk said.

"The laws were entirely, factually independent of the Commonwealth."

Mr Spencer, who is representing himself in court after he lost the financial backing of the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund, will have the opportunity to respond to his opponents' submissions today.

His written submission (the purpose of which is to persuade the court why his case should succeed) is due at the end of January.

He hopes to attract the assistance of a constitutional lawyer in the coming weeks to help him prepare the lengthy document.

"I'm hoping I'm able to get some assistance from a top, whiz-bang constitutional lawyer to help me with my final submission," Mr Spencer said.

"Please, landowners, if you know a top man, send him to us - we've got money to pay him."

Mr Spencer said the money had come from donations from supporters both here and overseas.

Witnesses appearing before the court last week included former NSW Farmers leaders Mal Peters and Charles Armstrong, Liberal MP Dr David Kemp, who was environment and heritage minister in the Howard government from 2001 to 2004, and Tottenham farmer Brian Plummer, a former secretary to the NSW Farmers' Tottenham branch.

Last Thursday, Federal independent MP Bob Katter threw his support behind Mr Spencer outside the court, claiming the case was equally as important in Australian history as Mabo.

"If Mr Spencer loses his case then we have decided the Crown, and not the Australian people, own their land," Mr Katter said.

"We will have set the history of our rights, privileges and freedoms in this country back to the date before the Magna Carter was signed.

"That's how serious the case is."

Mr Katter said he was personally working on finding some legal assistance for Mr Spencer, but did not say he would provide him with monetary assistance.

"We are looking around desperately for assistance for him," he said.

"Peter is one of those blokes that will starve himself to death before he asks for help."

The story Spencer land clearing case continues first appeared on Farm Online.

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