LETTER: Was the ‘buyback’ of freehold land merely a land grab?
Letter to the editor
Under Constitutional s51 External Powers the Federal Government listed the Daintree as a World Heritage site in 1988, then gave large sums of money to the Queensland government to buyback freehold land in the area. This was mismanaged effectively undermining freehold land rights and human rights of many property owners and residents during this initiative. Recounts of forced land swaps and selective development approvals still survive today. The Queensland state government created legislation to ban grid power, forcing the community to rely on expensive polluting energy sources like diesel and petrol generators. The legislative ban was repealed several years ago as it conflicted with human rights covenants which Australia became signatory to as early as 1976.
Under its constitutional powers the Federal Government has always had the right to control the management of the Daintree World Heritage site and acknowledge the Queensland government has an interest in policy development(i) The Federal Government agreed to stay out of environmental matters unless they came under certain criteria, including foreign policy and international agreements relating to the environment. There was no need to wait for Queensland government to repeal the ban on grid power because the Federal Government had the responsibility to uphold respect for people’s rights to essential services. Additionally, s109 of the Australian Constitution states, ‘When a law of a State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid’. A lot of taxpayer money could have been saved and social injustice been avoided with an efficiently and respectfully managed buyback and appropriate policy implementation.
The current situation
No environmentally friendly practical assistance is made accessible to remaining households and businesses in the Daintree community previously affected by the ban on grid power. In fact, the only assistance available is provided through remitted fuel tax credits for fossil fuels used to generate power.
Households and businesses are required to maintain and run a backup generator, buy and replace batteries, solar panels, inverters and controllers, or rely heavily on gas. These practices are time intensive, wasteful, polluting, and cost much more than the subsidised power other Australians benefit from. Why has the Queensland government not already addressed the situation with effective policy measures? Considering historical taxpayer funded waste and human rights violations, no or low interest loans and subsidies to improve energy systems, reduce CO2 emissions and equalise energy costs need to be made available to properties affected by the ban of grid power.
The continued spending of taxpayer money on studies and solutions that have been and may still be unconstructed and filed away continues. The money spent by the Queensland government in generating numerous reports(ii) would have been better utilised in helping the community to access efficient solar panels, inverters and batteries as an interim strategy to mitigate emissions until the microgrid is commissioned. The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority is the perfect platform for this.
New planning scheme
The new planning scheme includes allowable development in World Heritage sites adjacent the roadway adding insult to injury to those adversely affected by the mismanagement of this area. Was the ‘buyback’ merely a land grab, given that development may occur under a different planning scheme?
The Federal Government has awarded funds to Volt Advisory(iii) to develop a microgrid. It is good to see some leadership encompassing 'climate justice' concepts which incorporate social and ethical considerations of dealing with climate change. The urgent need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels was agreed to by all parties at the COP26 in Glasgow. Australia’s Daintree microgrid complements COP26 commitments and Australia's involvement on the steering committee with the Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid. It also ties in with Australia’s obligations under World Heritage Daintree Wet Tropics which are to not prejudice land rights otherwise afforded to landholders.(iv)
Australia promotes itself as a leader in the areas of World Heritage management and green hydrogen grid technology. It would be embarrassing, to say the least, if the Daintree community was still reliant on and giving cash back on fossil fuelled generators while ignoring the science that says the microgrid is the most cost effective and energy efficient option available to de-carbonise the Daintree. (v)
Also worth noting, Articles 3, 4 and 12 of the Rio Declaration help to shape understandings of what sustainable development requires, namely a core belief that economic growth and environmental protection are compatible aims that may be harmonised. A green energy microgrid is a step in the right direction, it facilitates human rights for the local and global community through sustainable development and desperately needed reduction of CO2 emissions.
Queensland government criticisms of the microgrid include its cost, water allocation and reclamation of biodiverse and culturally significant land. These criticisms are questionable, divesting from fossil fuel and coal fired power must begin as soon as possible if we are to keep global warming under two degrees. The Daintree is one of the best places to implement a cleaner energy microgrid and economists will confirm, ’…we don’t have to wait until technology is cheap and perfect before deploying it. In fact, the only way to make it cheap and perfect is to deploy it, again and again’.(vi) Electrolysis for green hydrogen energy is more water efficient than coal generated energy.(vii) No land requires reclaiming, a parcel of land used as a cow paddock is available for the solar arrays and other infrastructure.
The Nitty Gritty
The Federal Government Daintree Microgrid legislative instrument disperses funds to Volt Advisory as they meet objectives, such as obtaining approvals and securing an investor. Lack of support from Queensland government is not expected to pose a problem since no approvals are required through them. However, a change in Federal Government means that continued support is not guaranteed. And, will it be economically viable for an investor to provide electricity to 500-700 businesses and residents over such a large area? It is possible that millions of dollars may be drawn upon, no investor found and not one cent will have gone to improve the situation for those in the affected area.
Stop circulating taxpayer money into the hands of people who do not need it.
The Daintree community has suffered under oppressive mismanaged green politics and like it or not, it is a legal subdivision. Millions of dollars have been squandered talking about it, where did all the buyback funds go and where does all the money for studies go? Not into the community.
Until and if the microgrid is built, which may be some years away given that a business case is yet to be developed. As a complement to these initiatives, the Federal Government must use its Constitutional and fiscal powers to deliver funding for off grid energy system installations. Whilst not ideal in a rainforest, off grid systems have improved dramatically and will improve quality of life and reduce emissions. People taking up this offer of assistance will then be ready to join the grid if it is constructed. If not, perhaps mini microgrids can be established in nodes and later connected.
Grants up to a certain amount and then an option for a no interest loan may be applied for through Queensland government QRIDA and available to every household and business affected by years of joint mismanagement. These off grid installs become the property of the owner and the funds are paid directly to the system installer. This is the best and immediately deliverable solution to raise standard of living and reduce carbon emissions in the Daintree.
(i) Environmental Planning and Climate Law in Queensland, LexisNexis Butterworths, 2020
(iv) Whilst fully respecting the sovereignty of the States on whose territory the cultural and natural heritage mentioned in Articles 1 and 2 is situated, and without prejudice to property rights provided by national legislation, the States Parties to this Convention recognize that such heritage constitutes a world heritage for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to co-operate.
(v) Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993 in Sch 2, Article 6, 1 / Whilst fully respecting the sovereignty of the States on whose territory the cultural and natural heritage mentioned in Articles 1 and 2 is situated, and without prejudice to property rights provided by national legislation, the States Parties to this Convention recognize that such heritage constitutes a world heritage for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to co-operate.
(vii) Does the Green Hydrogen Economy Have a Water Problem? Rebecca R. Beswick, Alexandra M. Oliveira, and Yushan Yan, ACS Energy Letters 2021 6 (9), 3167-3169 DOI: 10.1021/acsenergylett.1c01375
Tina Mrozek, Cow Bay
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