Rights caught in the thorns

Some people are naturally obedient, but I am not one of them.

PROPERTY rights are being eroded in many different ways. Some are high profile, such as restrictions on land clearing, while others seem relatively trivial.

Yet in the context of private property in the common law and our capitalist economy, they all add up to a serious challenge. As John Locke put it, “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property.”

I recently experienced an intrusion into my rights as a property owner on the issue of noxious weed control on my farm. In isolation it was no big deal, yet it serves to illustrate how far we have deviated from William Blackstone’s famous maxim: “So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community”.

It began in June last year with a letter from my local council’s Noxious Weeds Inspector advising of an intention to inspect the property. A month later another letter arrived advising that “the control plan does not meet the requirements of the Noxious Weeks Act” and suggesting I “expand” my control program.

In February this year came another letter advising of an intention to undertake a re-inspection, followed in March by one advising that the council’s Noxious Weeds Inspector is “now satisfied that appropriate actions are being undertaken”.

While this is a happy ending and some would suggest no cause for concern, I disagree. What it demonstrates is an important infringement of property rights. And to add insult to injury, my rates were used to fund it.

The fault is not specifically with the local council. Under NSW legislation the council is the local control authority for noxious weeds to “ensure that owners and occupiers of land (other than public authorities or other local control authorities) carry out obligations to control noxious weeds”.

The council is given wide powers. Inspectors may enter land and inspect it, using force if necessary, and it is an offence to obstruct or hinder such inspections. It is also an offence to fail to control noxious weeds.

In my case the inspector was concerned about blackberries, which are widespread in the area (especially on public owned land).

As it happens I despise the things.

Apart from having nasty prickles they encroach on pasture, provide a haven for feral animals, and occasionally kill sheep that get too close and are trapped by their wool. The only ones I like are on someone else’s property with lots of ripe fruit.

But my personal view of blackberries, the fact that they were on my own land, and the economic interest I have in controlling them, are irrelevant. What the government says, via the council, is what matters.

If I had been unconcerned about blackberries, being told that I must expand my control program would have immediately led to cessation of spraying. Some people are naturally obedient, but I am not one of them. Often the best way to ensure I don’t do something is to tell me I must do it. That could have ended with me in court.

As it happens, the inspections coincided with a concerted effort to make serious inroads into the blackberries during the spring and summer growing period using a spray mixture I had recently found to be effective with a single application. I completely ignored the letter from the council telling me I must do more, and did exactly what I had already intended to do. By coincidence it satisfied the inspector.

In the end the council entered my property twice, without my permission, to tell me to do something that was in my interest and I would have done anyway.

Moreover, my farm is in rocky and hilly country well off the beaten track, requiring a four-wheel drive and two creek crossings to get there. The cost of undertaking the inspections would not have been trivial.

Some might argue that blackberries are not my problem alone as they can spread to neighbouring properties. The council gives a nod in that direction by concentrating on infestations within 100 metres of a property boundary or recognised watercourse. But blackberries are spread by seed as well as vegetatively (ie by runners), and the birds and foxes that carry them travel a lot further than 100 metres. They are a potential problem wherever they occur.

And in any case, there are legal remedies available to those who are adversely affected by their neighbours that do not involve the government wading in with its big stick. In a country that respects property rights, these should always be the first choice.

If the little incursions on our property rights are tolerated, the government finds it a lot easier to justify the big ones.

  • David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at reclaimfreedom@gmail.com
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    READER COMMENTS

    macca
    8/04/2013 7:41:42 AM

    Councils or local government as they are refferred to, have long ago desserted in principal and have escalated shire rates beyond affordabiliy. They have also become a fourth tier of Government which the people of Australia opposed on 2 referedums. They are stacked with real estate, developers,and many other forms of self interest groups. More concerning is the councils of Australia that have signed onto sustainable development , Which started out as local agenda 21. The 40 chapters in this program is a profile on how your local government will control every aspect of your life .
    Inverell
    8/04/2013 10:44:46 AM

    It’s all a double standard. Councils don't control the weeds properly on roadsides, including noxious ones because their weeds officers are not given enough money. But on a farm where we have virtually no money to do anything, we are persecuted and harassed into keeping them under control. Who makes council control the weeds on the land their responsible for???? A complete double standard and yet again councils don't seem to be responsible to anyone. Why is it farmers do the wrong thing, we go broke and anyone in Local, State or Fed Govt has a job for life?
    Damien Rogers
    8/04/2013 1:04:23 PM

    Try this one. An couple of elderly disability pensioners own a rural block and have purchased all the materials to build their dream home. Their possessions are well out of site from the public road and they have allowed trees to reclaim most of their grazing land. Council jump the fence without telling them and poke around, taking photos. They then reclassify ALL their personal and farm possessions as "illegal waste" Including things like their working tractor, caravan, boat, plastic water tanks, fibreglass kayaks etc. Read the rest of this story on facebook site "TOO HOT to publish"
    R
    8/04/2013 5:14:35 PM

    Juliar was recently boasting about the number of bills that her govt has put through parliament. This avalance of new laws are all eroding our rights and freedom.
    Bagheera
    9/04/2013 6:32:32 PM

    Whining, self serving BS from DL, served hot from the microwave. " issue of noxious weed control on my farm" "The fault is not specifically with the local council" No, the fault lies with the property owner. That would be you.
    ando
    10/04/2013 6:25:07 AM

    Agree that local councils and other rates collectors need to take more responsibility for noxious weed and animal control, however, I for one am sick of upstream neighbours that perform no control over noxious weeds thus allowing them to infiltrate my property at will. I would welcome inspectors serving them with a notice. I especially detest the attitudes of people such as the author, this has nothing to do with an invasion of your rights, its all about ensuring you are being a responsible landholder and neighbour.
    Dickytiger
    10/04/2013 8:12:17 AM

    First they came for the upstream neighbours, and nobody cared. Then they came for the adjacent neighbours, and nobody cared. When they came for me, there was nobody left to care.
    Top Ender
    10/04/2013 10:16:11 AM

    The need to be seen to do something is often more important than actually doing it. If you can pick a fight with a land owner then you have someone with something to loose to fund the fight for you. Doesn't really matter whether it is black berries or land rights - the property owner is always at fault because they can afford to pay - they must be able to they own land!
    Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at reclaimfreedom@gmail.com

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