Queensland Law Society

Scrapping of key piece of tree clearing law a win for rural landowners: QLS

Date 01 Jul 2016
Contact Tony Keim
Phone 07 3842 5835
Mobile 0488 433 884
Email media@qls.com.au


A Parliamentary Committee’s recommendation to scrap the “reverse onus of proof’’ provisions from proposed controversial tree clearing laws was a win for common sense and the rule of law, according to the Queensland Law Society.

Society president Bill Potts said it was refreshing that the Parliament’s Agriculture and Environment Committee’s unanimously recommended removing a provision under which landholders were to be considered guilty of illegally clearing land until they could prove themselves innocent.

However, he said the changes do not go far enough.

“It is great to see these unfair provisions, which are a recipe for injustice, get the boot – and pleasing that the government is listening,” Mr Potts said.

“But the job isn’t done yet.  If the act proceeds in its current form, a person could be charged for something done by mistake rather than deliberate law-breaking and that’s not fair.  Other aspects of the proposed legislation are retrospective, which breaches fundamental legislative principles.”

Mr Potts said the defence of mistake of fact should be maintained to ensure that the rights of Queenslanders were protected.

“The stakes are high with these prosecutions – the fines can run in to the hundreds of thousands of dollars – so we have to make sure we get the legislation right,’’ he said.

“Justice isn’t a race horse, you can’t have an each way bet on it.’’

Mr Potts said the Society, in its submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry, opposed the change to the onus of proof – which meant the holder of any land on which trees were illegally cleared would be held responsible until they could prove it was done by someone else – did not accord with natural justice.

“This is a victory for common sense, for farmers, rural landholders and for democracy.

“To reverse the onus of proof would have been a departure from well-established rule of law principles. The presumption of innocence is a foundation principle of our justice system.

“The decision to axe the provision is proof that determined Queenslanders who want to protect their rights can be heard in this Parliament.”

The committee, in its report, said: “In light of the significant concerns raised … about the proposal … to reverse the onus of proof in relation to vegetation clearing offences and the potentially significant fundamental legislative principles issues raised by the amendment, the committee recommends ….[the proposal to] reverse the onus of proof in relation to vegetation clearing offences, be omitted.’’

Mr Potts also paid tribute to AgForce and the Queensland Farmer’s Federation for the hard work they had done to protect the interests and the rights of its members.


ENDS 

For further information, please contact Tony Keim on 07 3842 5835, mobile 0488 433 884 or via email, media@qls.com.au.