$1 million land clearing fine a warning for property owners
A QUEENSLAND District Court appeal decision against a grazier ordered to pay almost $1 million in penalties and costs for illegally clearing native vegetation for fire breaks was a stark warning to all landholders, a Toowoomba-based legal firm has claimed.
Creevey Russell Lawyers principal Dan Creevey said that while many disagreed with the impact of Queensland's Vegetation Management Act, the reality was the laws were here to stay and the ramifications for breaking them were severe.
Mr Creevey said last month's unsuccessful District Court appeal by Eidsvold grazier Michael Vincent Baker highlighted how the courts would deal with these matters seriously and reject inherently improbable submissions.
"Everyone, including owners of freehold and leasehold land, are subject to the existing law until is it repealed or amended by an act of Parliament," Mr Creevey said.
"With an increasing environmental focus, and the rising involvement of agencies like the Department of Environment and Science (DES), the Department of Mines and Natural Resources (DMNR) and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), we should all anticipate a crackdown on breaches of these sometimes inconvenient laws.
"These laws can be tricky, and to expect everyone to know their ins-and-outs might be unrealistic, but landowners and lease holders alike need to be aware that an ignorance of the law or disagreement with the law, does not provide a defence to it.
"Wilfully breaking the law will be a factor a sentencing court takes into account, but many environmental laws also do not require intent, and people can and are being prosecuted on a strict or absolute liability basis.
"This means that even if you have breached one of these laws inadvertently, harsh penalties can still apply."
Mr Creevey said landowners needed to go through the appropriate approval processes built into the legislation to avoid financially crippling penalties and costs orders that would almost inevitably flow from these sorts of prosecutions.
"It is imperative that landowners take the necessary steps to inform themselves and make sure that any conduct is not breaching one of these pieces of legislation," he said.
Mr Creevey said his firm specialised in such areas and was equipped to assist in all areas from dealing with applications for approval, to representing clients prosecuted under these increasingly misunderstood but serious laws.