A Far North Queensland family at the centre of allegations of illegal tree clearing claim details of the case were provided to media prior to the family being notified.
Warren and Gail Jonsson have vowed to fight the charges brought by the State Government and say any clearing activity on their property, Wombinoo Station, has been undertaken with full approvals.
It is understood the charges relate to clearing outside the approved area.
Queensland Country Life has been reporting on the complicated case of the Jonsson family since ABC TV ran a news story in November, incorrectly alleging the family were under a federal investigation for tree clearing. Read our first story here.
The Federal Government has since confirmed the family are not the subject of any investigation. Full story here.
But last Tuesday, Mr Jonsson claims he was was contacted by a reporter from the Cairns Post seeking comment about a press release from the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) alleging illegal tree clearing.
Mr Jonsson asked the reporter to send him a copy of the press release for comment as he had no knowledge of the allegations. No copy was forthcoming and Mr Jonsson was given no opportunity to respond.
Later in the day, Mr Jonsson said he became aware of an email from DNRM advising he was in breach of the permit and imposing a fine of $2356. He has been given until the 23 January 2018 to respond.
In a statement provided to QCL by the Jonsson’s lawyer, David Kempton, Mr Jonsson said he had no notice of the allegations or been given any opportunity to respond before DNRM released details of the allegations to the media.
“The Jonssons have acted in good faith at all times and to the best of their ability have complied with the terms of their permit. Any discrepancies are a result of the difficulty with reconciling the mapping with the features on the ground, which was acknowledged by DNRM. The Jonssons deny any wrongdoing and will strenuously defend the allegations by DNRM which come after the ABC program and some 18 months after the clearing took place”, the statement reads.
The statement also confirms that in November 2016, six months after the clearing, DNRM undertook an inspection following a complaint and advised the only clearing of concern was in relation to a road which was not on alignment. A warning letter issued stated no further be would be taken.
“In an email of the 3 November 2017 DNRM advised the Jonssons in writing: ‘We are concerned there may be a difference in where the area is approved on the permit and where it is believed to be on the ground...We would like to meet with you to show you our concerns, discuss how to rectify the matter and to see how better we can assist you in determining the permit areas’ There was no follow up meeting by DNRM,” the statement reads.
Support from AgForce
AgForce has today called on the State Government to stop the “grubby political tactics” and instead provide producers with workable Vegetation Management mapping.
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said the Jonsson case highlighted the need for a better approach.
"The owners of Wombinoo Station have worked closely with the department every step of the way through the permit process and were surprised to find out that they were being fined for illegal land clearing through the media," Mr Guerin said.
"It is common knowledge that there are significant issues with many of the Vegetation Management maps used by the Department of Natural Resources, mines and Energy and this makes it easy for landholders trying to act in good faith to inadvertently clear outside of permitted zones, even with the use of GPS technology.
"Combined with about 50 amendments over the life of the Vegetation Management framework, it is a full-time job trying to keep both up-to-date and compliant with the laws.
"This highlights the urgent need to find a consistent, fair and practical approach for landholders to manage their land.
"AgForce does not condone any landholders deliberately engaging in any illegal activity.
"If someone has done the wrong thing, then AgForce supports the Department taking appropriate action.
"However, Department official's focus should be on working effectively with the landholders in the first instance, not to rush to report the allegations to the media which results in tarnishing the landholders and the industry's reputation.
AgForce is calling on the Government to stop its heavy-handed approach which unnecessarily scares off other producers from managing their vegetation in any capacity and instead improve its flawed Vegetation Management maps.
"These producers have been dragged through the mud and subjected to arson attacks, vandalism and verbal and written abuse just for trying to provide food for family dinner tables.
"AgForce is calling on the Government to stop its heavy-handed approach which unnecessarily scares off other producers from managing their vegetation in any capacity and instead improve its flawed Vegetation Management maps.
"The State Government's own data confirms the vast majority of landholders are doing the right thing.
"AgForce called on the DNRME last month to clarify the State Government's view on this matter and they have finally done so three weeks later, largely through the media."