Crusader: Former farmer Peter Spencer
Crusader: Former farmer Peter Spencer Marc Stapelberg

Katter flies to hungry farmer's side in land rights case

A NEW South Wales farmer who starved himself to protest laws preventing him from clearing his own land has grilled former Federal environment minister Dr David Kemp over why the legislation was enacted.

Peter Spencer is locked in a three-week Federal Court property rights hearing in Sydney to fight for compensation for his bankrupt sheep farming business from the Federal and NSW governments.

He made headlines in 2010 when he was hospitalised after a 52-day hunger strike protest on his property near Cooma.

Dr Kemp was questioned over the Commonwealth's commitment to achieve carbon emission reduction levels set out by the Kyoto Protocol which led to a change in legislation.

He agreed the reduction of land clearing, especially in NSW and Queensland, was seen as the most important aspect of the scheme.

"The government I was associated with was determined to reach the targets and believed it had in place the policies to reach those targets," he said.

Mr Spencer has argued the Commonwealth should not be allowed to profit, through carbon offset rights, from restrictions on clearing land it does not own without properly compensating the landowner.

He blames the introduction of state laws which made it illegal for him to clear about 80% of his land for destroying his now-defunct farming business.

Dr Kemp agreed Australia was falling behind in 2001 and 2002 of its target to keep annual emissions to 108% of 1990 levels.

The NSW Native Vegetation Act was enacted in 2003, requiring landholders to gain a permit before clearing any native vegetation on their property.

Mr Spencer was refused a permit.

"The Commonwealth's concern was that whatever legislation the NSW Government introduced, it would be legislation that was supportive of the strategies and programs the Commonwealth was seeking to implement," Dr Kemp said.

"But it was not up to the Commonwealth to write the legislation for NSW."

Dr Kemp rejected the suggestion an informal agreement existed between the Commonwealth and NSW Governments to buy Mr Spencer's property "other than on just terms" and without appropriate compensation.

"I don't believe that can be inferred from any of the agreements that were made," he said.

Federal MP Bob Katter flew to Sydney from Canberra to be at the hearing and support Mr Spencer.

He told media outside court the case was "as big as Mabo" and would determine the future of landholder rights in Australia.

The matter continues.