Jubilation, elation, relief – grown men and women were shedding tears of joy today when they heard the news that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull had pledged that no landholder will be ‘forced’ to sell their property to the defence department.
Charters Towers grazier John Brownson was one of those cheering when auctioneers broke the news to Dalrymple sale complex attendees mid-morning that no compulsory acquisition of local agricultural land would take place for defence expansions.
“I just couldn’t believe it at first – I thought people were kidding me,” he said. “We’ll be able to go back to normal now, and do the many things we’d stopped on.”
“What the defence department wants to take makes us not viable,” Di said at the time.
Marlborough landowner Linda Geddes had a similar reaction today, saying she was “just ecstatic” at the news.
It was just over two months ago that she talked to the Queensland Country Lifeabout the shattering letter from the department that had “pulled a mat from under our feet” and saw her and husband Lawson facing the prospect of losing not just valuable land but country that had been in the family for 140 years.
“I had to go and have a search to prove to myself that the news was real,” Linda said today.
“The weight has completely gone, I feel we can cope with whatever is coming next.
“Compulsion was the bad word and that’s gone now.”
She paid tribute to husband Lawson’s insistence that deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce walk out and see the country in question when he visited their property, Couti-Outi last Friday.
“He (Barnaby) is someone who knows whether you can fatten a bullock or whether you wouldn’t feed a bandicoot. He could see that straight away.
“Thank heavens people saw sense.”
According to the federal member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, graziers that do want to voluntarily sell to the defence department will still be able to apply to the Commonwealth directly themselves to have their land acquired for use by the military, under a move that could provide them with greater financial compensation.
“But there is no guarantee that Defence will want to purchase every block on the open market,” she said. “We know there are landholders who want to sell and we know that there and landholders who don’t want to sell.
“So, this pledge will provide a sense of relief to both groups.”
John Brownson flavoured his excitement with caution, saying he thought any country abutting land owned by the defence department would now be tainted with uncertainty, resulting in a devaluing of that land.
“I hope the officials still go out and look at that land at Pentland,” he said.
“This could still come back and bite us a few years down the track.
“I’d like to see something in legislation.”
This morning’s announcement has been welcomed in many quarters, including from Property Rights Australia.
President Dale Stiller congratulated the communities of Charters Towers and Marlborough “for showing determination and commitment to convey the message of the high level of food production this land is capable of; how the government’s thought bubble was completely ill thought out and then badly managed”.
He said the news would be a huge relief not only for the landowners in the firing line of being bought out against their will, but also for community businesses where there was no requirement for them to receive compensation.
“The obvious inadequacy of what the government proposed and the injustice imposed onto these communities gained the Australian population’s attention and it is also thanks to the Queensland Country Life and other media that this issue was kept in the forefront and the government was placed under considerable pressure.
“This is a major win. Usually what the ADF wants, the ADF gets.”
He said people should not be seen as simply an impediment to implementing what has already been decided.
Before today’s announcement, PRA released a cost benefit analysis that clearly demonstrated in the case of the Rockhampton regional economy that the $1 billion injection of funds arising from the Singapore Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership would not match the cost of the permanent loss of the economic contribution of a 60,000-head cattle herd from the Marlborough district.
“Decision makers, politicians and public servants must examine the productive capacity of the area in which any land use change is sought to be imposed,” Dale said.
“If a cost benefit analysis were to compare the land that was to be acquired at Charters Towers to the alternative suggested near Pentland it would have showed a stark difference.
“The cost of removing the Charters Towers land from the economy significantly outweighs any defence spending benefit.
“The opposite would be the case at the alternate site.”