Time for equal­ity for all own­ers

Tasmanian Country - - OPINION - Wayne John­ston

OVER the past cou­ple of months the TFGA has been in­volved in dis­cus­sions around pro­posed leg­is­la­tion and a pro­posed list­ing in the En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion and Biose­cu­rity Con­ser­va­tion (EPBC) Act. While some el­e­ments of these dis­cus­sions have been fruit­ful, there has been an un­der­ly­ing com­mon theme in re­la­tion to landowner rights.

What has be­come ob­vi­ous is that while in­di­vid­ual landown­ers have some rights, they do not have equal­ity with other landown­ers – by that we mean the Crown in all its var­i­ous forms, for ex­am­ple state govern­ments, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and its de­part­ments and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils and their var­i­ous sub­sidiaries.

It is a con­cern these land man­agers have sig­nif­i­cantly greater rights than those of us who own our in­di­vid­ual patch.

These land man­agers, de­pend­ing on leg­is­la­tion, claim no re­spon­si­bil­ity for bound­ary fences, no re­spon­si­bil­ity for in­va­sive species and na­tive species on the land, nor for the dam­age they do to pri­vate land­hold­ing neigh­bours.

They have ca­pac­ity to deny or pro­hibit de­vel­op­ments on their land – some­thing that in many cir­cum­stances pri­vate land­hold­ers do not have, for in­stance in re­la­tion to min­ing.

They are more of­ten than not ex­empt from their own reg­u­la­tory con­trols. For ex­am­ple, in­dus­trial forestry on pub­lic land is ex­empt from the EPBC Act and, in a re­cent pro­posal for a list­ing, it has be­come clear that Crown land will be ex­empt. How­ever, pri­vate landown­ers must bear the reg­u­la­tory bur­den eco­nomic costs.

This type of un­even play­ing field should be un­ac­cept­able in any demo­cratic so­ci­ety. We all know of regimes in other parts of the world where this is the ac­cepted norm, but in a coun­try such as Aus­tralia this dis­tor­tion is not demo­cratic, it is eco­nom­i­cally con­strain­ing and ar­guably erodes the foun­da­tion of the free­dom and democ­racy that we all cher­ish.

This sit­u­a­tion has been un­chal­lenged be­cause most peo­ple are un­aware of it un­til they face a dis­tor­tion of rights that has a di­rect im­pact on them. The con­cept that govern­ments at all lev­els should have a higher regime of rights, no mat­ter in what con­text, over in­di­vid­u­als is un­ten­able.

In Aus­tralia, where we strive for equal­ity, surely it is high time we call govern­ments to ac­count. No one should ac­cept the idea govern­ments can com­pul­sory ac­quire land, not pay a fair share of a bound­ary fence or not deal with pests on their land, and yet at the same time de­mand and reg­u­late pri­vate landown­ers must do this.

This is not just a ru­ral or re­gional is­sue, the dis­tor­tion of rights ap­plies equally in ur­ban ar­eas. It is is the com­mu­nity as a whole that should de­mand true equal­ity from our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. and the

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