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Jan 2, 2012

Charged for controlling parthenium weed.

By Dale Stiller on behalf of Property Rights Australia.

Property Rights Australia chairman, Joanne Rea said it is beyond belief that the Qld government would prosecute anyone for controlling weeds especially parthenium, a declared noxious, exotic weed which spreads aggressively into neighbouring property if not treated.

This follows hot on the heels of the capricious prosecution of Trenton Hindman of SW Queensland for renovating country infested with the invasive woody weed, turkey bush.

This reveals a pattern of unacceptable activism by some departmental officers. “What is the agenda of the State Government in pursuing people who have, in essence, done nothing wrong? Is common sense ever going to return to the pursuit of justice in this State?” Mrs. Rea, Chairman of Property Rights Australia said.”
The above quote was included in an article on page 9 in the 29th December 2011 issue of the QCL written by Troy Rowlings called, “Moore grazier defends weed ‘damage’ charge.” (not online - Ed)

Peter Leo lives on the farm that his family first settled in 1897 not far out of the hamlet of Linville. In 1911 a railway easement was cut through the farm and was used for this purpose until its close in 1989. Then in 2008 the Department of Infrastructure and Planning (DIP) took a sub-lease from the Department of Transport and Main Roads for the rail corridor land which was previously known as the Brisbane Valley Railway Line that ran from Wulkuraka Railway Station to Blackbutt. The DIP then started to develop the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail as part of the Queensland Government’s South East Queensland Active Trails Strategy and community greenspace network. The rail trail is supposed to be for walking, cycling and horse riding.

Photo sourced from ATHRA

The start of Peter Leo’s recent problems was the floods in January 2011; the same floods known nationally and internationally for the havoc they wreaked along the Lockyer Creek and the Brisbane River. After the flood waters had long gone, weeds germinated. In a phone call that I had with Peter he related not only of the abnormal amount of weeds but the variety of them, some that had not been seen before. Amongst the normal weeds such as noogoora burr were patersons curse and parthenium. The parthenium plants were found on the rail trail and Peter sent a sample to the Queensland Herbarium who confirmed that the plants were indeed parthenium.

The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail employs a Trail Ranger to whom Peter Leo reported the weeds on at least two occations but no action was forthcoming. Peter wrote a letter to the Minister whose portfolio included the DIP. When a new minister, Paul Lucas took over this department a letter was despatched to him as well. In all his efforts to have action taken about weeds on the rail trail after 8 months Peter received no satisfactory response. An unwelcomed response was for the Director, Resource and Landscape in DIP, Steve MacDonald, sending a letter of demand for records of any agreement that the family had with the railway. An unlikely event that even if there was any agreement of the chances of documents surviving from 1911.

By mid-August the weeds were out of control, Peter did not wish for the weeds to go to seed so he decided to control the weeds by the means of a tractor & a disc implement to plough the weeds in. “A light harrow job””, as Peter called it. At the end of August parthenium was found by Peter & a friend on the rail trail. Peter sprayed the parthenium and also ploughed again. This was the first time that he had ever found parthenium but controlling weeds and encouraging natural grasses had been practiced by Peter along this easement ever since the railway had left.

On this map the railway is shown as a dotted line. Peter Leo's farm is just south of Linville.

After the weed control had been done the Trail Ranger turned up & reported it to the DIP. As a result a policeman paid a visit to Peter Leo, the policeman inspected the situation & left presumably satisfied that no charge was warranted. However the next day the policeman came back with the news that he had been instructed to charge Peter Leo.

Peter found himself taken in, finger printed, a swab taken for DNA and charged. Peter had been told to plead guilty and take a $100 fine. In a state of disbelieve and indignant at his treatment Peter told me that he decided, as he put it, “I’m not a criminal; I am not pleading guilty.”

He is convinced that the orders to charge him came from at a higher level in the DIP. The minister Paul Lucas was well aware of the situation, in fact Peter was told that “Paul Lucas had hit the roof”. Peter believes that this is a “political charge and that he has been subjected to intimation” and also that, “Independent discretion has been taken away from the police.”

If this is what occurred it is a very serious situation and of great concern for the administration of justice in Queensland.

Charging a person for controlling a declared noxious, exotic weed such as parthenium is bad enough but what is even more incredible is the charge brought against him, that he has to appear before a court for mention on January 6th – wilful damage.

Peter Leo was told that he had damaged the integrity of the rail trail.

Peter Leo told me that he “just wants to be left alone”, but I can tell you from listening to him that he will not roll over on this one just to be rid of the situation as soon as he can; this is one determined man.

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