I am glad New South Wales farmer Peter Spencer has ended his hunger strike, is well, and will be able to speak directly to legislators.
The NSW Native Vegetation Act 2003 is draconian. It not only stops clearance of previously unused land, but also the removal of regrowth, so that land which may have lain idle for a couple of years cannot be re-used.
The loss of income and loss of property value this causes is entirely met by the property owner. This is unjust.
The community, through State or Federal government, is perfectly entitled to decide that a particular piece of land, or building, or watercourse, is of special value and should be preserved.
When it does so, the costs of retaining that land or watercourse in its original condition should be met by the entire community, not by whoever owns it. This should take the form of realistic, market value compensation for loss of income or loss of capital value.
This does not apply, of course, if the land or other asset was purchased after the legislation was in place. In that case the purchaser could reasonably be expected to know that it applied to the property he intended to purchase. Purchasers have a responsibility to check whether a property is suitable for their purposes.
If the legislation was in place, and the purchaser did not check whether it applied to the property, or what its impact might be, then it is hardly reasonable to blame the government when the earning capacity of the property is not what he hoped.
The situation in that case would be similar to that of the tourists in Dubai who went to the police to complain after the woman was raped. The alleged rapist was arrested, but so were they.
The couple were on holiday from England. They celebrating were their engagement. They were sharing a hotel room, and had been drinking.
Well, so what?
The ‘so what’ is that the woman is a Muslim. In Dubai, a Muslim woman drinking and sleeping with a man to whom she is not married is a criminal.
To arrest a woman who has been raped because she has been having sex with her fiancé is monstrous. It would not occur in any civilised country. But Dubai is not a civilised country, and in Dubai, that is the law.
Those who travel abroad have a responsibility to ensure that they comply with the laws of the countries they visit – even if those laws are manifestly unjust and inappropriate. If you cannot comply with a country’s laws, don’t go there.
If we expect tourists to consider whether they are willing to comply with the laws of the countries they visit, then even more can we expect business people to check Australian legislation that might affect their use of any asset they purchase. The greater the value of the asset, the greater the diligence required.
But Peter Spencer bought his property beginning in 1980.
He had no way of knowing that the NSW government would enact legislation which would make what he purchased to be a business, a working farm, into an extensive nature reserve.
In his case, and the many others like it, the government has a clear moral obligation to compensate for losses suffered.
Justice Stephen Rothman said in the Supreme Court in 2008:
when .. restrictions prevent or prohibit a business activity that was hitherto legitimate, … and (the government) does not fully compensate for the restrictions imposed, society is asking Mr Spencer, and people in his position, to pay for its benefit … it is a most unfortunate aspect of the operation of the scheme that a person in Mr Spencer’s position is effectively denied proper compensation for the restrictions imposed upon him by a scheme implemented for the public good.
If we don’t stand up against this sort of injustice, and demand that something be to remedy it, what right do we have to expect justice for ourselves?