IT WAS only a week ago that One Nation’s Pauline Hanson told agalert.com.au that she had met with the Defence Department, and suggested they utilise more of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area instead of resorting to the compulsory acquisition by the Department of Defence of properties in the areas surrounding Charters Towers (west of Townsville) and Marlborough (north of Rockhampton) for use by the Singaporean Military.
“I was told that it has become overgrown, and the government was restricted by environmental laws from clearing it,” Senator Hanson said.
“One Nation will continue to fight against the acquisition.”
“Not only will communities like Marlborough be affected, but this decision will destroy a farming sector handed-down from generation to generation.”
Yesterday (February 7) AgForce entered the argument, demanding the Australian and Queensland Governments work together to ensure the Department of Defence better manage their military training grounds.
AgForce released video footage and photos taken during a helicopter fly-over on the previous week-end that showcased the difference between the Department of Defence’s current training grounds at Shoalwater Bay and the neighbouring grazing properties the Department wants to acquire.
AgForce General President Grant Maudsley said the 60 farming families who face the prospect of losing their land wanted the Federal Government to explore all alternatives to the massive expansion currently being proposed.
“The Shoalwater Bay training area is set over 450,000 hectares of land and sea while the Townsville Field Training Area is on more than 200,000 hectares of land, yet the Department of Defence is saying it needs another 300,000 hectares of farm land,” he said.
“To put it into perspective, the amount of land the Department of Defence wants to take from Queensland farmers is four times the size of Singapore and almost four times that of Canberra.
“We’re calling on the Federal Government to examine how the Department of Defence is using the land it already has, rather than forcing farmers off good agricultural land used for food production.
“The Deputy Prime Minister says State Government restrictions are a hindrance to Defence’s land management, while the Queensland Agriculture Minister is adamant they aren’t.
“We just want all levels of Government to work together to ensure any environmental, transport or other regulations don’t stand in the way of Defence being able to better manage its own land.”
Marlborough helicopter pilot and property manager, Matthew Mollard, lives on the edge of the current Shoalwater Bay training area and regularly flies alongside the restricted airspace. Last week-end, he invited AgForce Central Queensland Regional Manager, Sharon Howard, to inspect the area with him.
“I’m not allowed to fly across the Army country, but I can see right across the country and it’s been completely let go,” Mr Mollard said.
“I know this country quite well, but seeing it from the air crystallizes the argument — Defence has simply dropped the ball when it comes to land management and, as a result, they want their neighbours’ places,” Mrs Howard said.
The video footage and photos Mrs Howard took shows pristine marine plains, open stretches of grazing country running to the ocean, mountain ranges and the Shoalwater Bay Defence training grounds.
“Everything in the vision is either Defence-owned land or land they want to acquire and the sheer scale is just terrifying,” Mrs Howard said.
Mr Maudsley said AgForce would continue to do everything possible to assist affected landholders during this difficult and uncertain time, and to hold politicians to account.
Defence Minister rules out forced land sales
In what amounted to a backdown, Defence Minister, Senator Marise Payne, on the same afternoon confirmed that her Department will only purchase land from willing sellers around Shoalwater Bay Training Area and Townsville Field Training Area in support of the Military Training Agreement with Singapore.
The Minister said she had received initial advice from Defence on its master planning, had listened to the concerns of local landowners, and was now able to remove the question of forced sales from the process.
“Following my further visit to Rockhampton a fortnight ago, and subsequent discussions, it is clear that the community have significant concerns and it is important forced sales are ruled out to alleviate these concerns,” Minister Payne said.
“Defence will continue to talk to landholders around the two training areas who are interested in selling. Officials will also continue to engage with the local communities while the Master Planning process and socio-economic impact study are finalised.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said the decision balanced the dilemma of the concerns of Central Queenslanders about the purchase of their property against their wishes.
“The Minister for Defence, myself and the Prime Minister, can now make the clear unequivocal statement that no person’s property will be purchased against their wishes, whilst trying to leave them every avenue of giving them the best price they can if they choose to sell.
“I hope this mollifies the concerns that were represented to me in Central Queensland.
“Shoalwater and Townsville remain premier defence facilities for our nation, and there will still be the voluntary sale of land to the Australian Defence Force.”
AgForce: Decision a victory for common-sense
GENERAL PRESIDENT of AgForce, Grant Maudsley, welcomed the joint announcement by Defence Minister, Marise Payne, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, saying the announcement was a victory for commonsense.
He said dozens of farming families in central and north Queensland are breathing a sigh of relief after the Federal Government confirmed it was abandoning plans to force graziers off their land to expand military training areas.
“AgForce has always maintained that farmers should not be forced to sell their land to the Department of Defence, so it is good to see the Federal Government has finally listened and acted on the concerns of local landholders,” he said.
“It’s disappointing that these farming families had to go through months of unnecessary stress and heartache, but we are pleased the right result was achieved in the end.”
Mr Maudsley said the issue highlighted the constant battle farmers faced preserving agricultural land for agricultural use.
“Agricultural land is constantly being taken away from landholders for a variety of reasons such as national park expansions and mining developments, as well as being rendered useless by ill-conceived Government regulations,” he said.
“Agriculture and farming are the lifeblood of regional communities, and we need governments to stop allowing good agricultural land to be taken away and we need governments to allow us to manage our land productively.”
Mr Maudsley said the backdown on the proposed Defence land grab demonstrated yet again how good outcomes could be achieved when farmers united and stood together against poor Government policy.
“Farmers campaigned hard to defeat the Palaszczuk Government’s harsh and unnecessary vegetation management laws last year in the Queensland Parliament, and we fought hard to get the Federal Government to retreat on their proposed Defence land grab,” he said.
“It shows that politicians can’t take rural support for granted. AgForce will continue to stand up for our members to make all politicians understand the need to get behind farmers to grow our businesses, create jobs in the regions and produce more food for a growing global population.”
Bill Byrne: a victory for landholders
Queensland Agriculture Minister, Bill Byrne, said the news that the government’s plans for forced land acquisitions have been scrapped is a victory for landholders.
“It has been an extraordinary saga to get to this point, and I have no doubt it would not have happened if it had not been for the determination of the graziers and the local community,” he said.