UPDATE APRIL 2013 – WE’VE BEEN BUSY TAKING LOGAN CITY COUNCIL TO THE QUEENSLAND OMBUDSMAN

Apologies to our readers for being MIA as far as blogging is concerned.  We at The Greenbank Mozzie spent the period November 2012-Feb 2013 blitzing the Courier-Mail, the State Government and the Queensland Ombudsman with information about this long-running issue.  Here is an article we had published in the Courier-Mail in December 2012:

Courier Mail 8 dec 2012

It became clear to us that certain Councillors at Logan City Council were trying their damnedest to maintain the status quo, regardless of the number of complaints received about these farms’ activities impacting on residents.  Despite ample proof (the deaths of wild birds and domestic fowl following spraying activities on numerous occasions, vats of dangerous agricultural chemicals washing down creeks, and a spike in cases of asthma amongst residents living near these farms) , some Councillors sought to muddy the waters and demonise the residents instead of squarely and fairly facing these concerns.  We can only speculate on what these individuals have to gain in selling out and slandering concerned ratepayers to support non-resident farmers who treat their neighbours with contempt.  We’ll leave readers to form their own conclusions.

For this reason we wrote to several State Government ministers, including the Premier, asking them to put pressure on Logan City Council to adopt STATE PLANNING GUIDELINE SP1/92 in the new, soon-to-be-released Planning Scheme.   This guideline, formulated IN CONSULTATION WITH FARMERS’ GROUPS, specifies the minimum buffer zones recommended between farms and homes.  The Guidelines are quite clear on this matter – a minimum buffer zone of 300 metres is required across open land, or 40 metres if a fence and/or vegetated buffer is planted.   Clearly, many of the farms in Greenbank do not comply with this guideline, being situated as close as ten metres to some residents’ homes and water tanks.   Because these are Guidelines only, and not enshrined in law,  the farmers and some members of Council have sought to ignore them completely.  This is unacceptable.  Why formulate Guidelines if noone intends to follow them?

Responses received from several State Government Ministers indicated that LCC WILL now include SPP1/92 in the new Planning Scheme.  We see this as a win, as we believe this outcome may not have occurred had we not continued to apply pressure on LCC from above.   If this Guideline is included in the new planning scheme, the situation so many of us have been living with will be unable to be repeated.    However, this does not help the residents being continually impacted by the activities of existing farms placed too close to homes in contravention of the Guidelines.    For this reason we took our case to the QUEENSLAND OMBUDSMAN for investigation.

Below is a PDF file containg the Ombudsman’s full response of February 2013.

qld ombudsman decision

Some relevant bits, and our responses, follow:

*Controls and restrictions can only be imposed on the farms in accordance with
relevant legislation.
TO THIS, WE REPLY, ‘HOW ABOUT ENSHRINING SPP1/92 IN LEGISLATION TO AVOID THIS SITUATION RECURRING?’  WHAT IS THE POINT OF GUIDELINES IF NOONE WILL FOLLOW THEM UNLESS THEY’VE BEEN MADE LAW?  THE GUIDELINES EXIST BECAUSE IT IS ASSUMED FARMERS WILL COMPLY, BUT IN THIS CASE THERE HAS BEEN NO COMPLIANCE.

* Compliance action can only be taken where there is evidence demonstrating that a breach of legislation has occurred.

THIS BLOG DOCUMENTS AMPLE EVIDENCE IN THE FORM OF BIRD KILLS FOLLOWING SPRAYING BY FARMS.  SCROLLING THROUGH THE VARIOUS ARTICLES FROM THE JIMBOOMBA TIMES FOLLOWING THE LAST MASS BIRD DIEOFF IN MID-2012 REVEALS A CAMPAIGN OF MISINFORMATION, OBFUSCATION, MESSENGER-SHOOTING, RESIDENT SLANDERING, AND AIDING AND ABETTING OF THE OFFENDING FARMERS IN REMOVING SOIL PRIOR TO TESTING BY STATE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.  THE ‘TESTS’ THAT WERE THEN CARRIED OUT SOME 6 WEEKS FOLLOWING THE INCIDENT WERE, OF COURSE, MEANINGLESS, AS THE EVIDENCE HAD BEEN REMOVED.  THESE BODGY PROCESSES WERE THEN USED BY SUPPORTERS OF THESE ‘FARMERS’ TO SLANDER THE RESIDENTS IN THE LOCAL PRESS. CR PHIL PIDGEON, IN PARTICULAR, WAS VERY VOCAL IN THIS INSTANCE, DESPITE THIS AREA BEING OUT OF HIS DIVISION.

BIOSECURITY QLD IDENTIFIED THE CHEMICAL THAT KILLED THIS PARTICULAR GROUP OF BIRDS AS CHLORPYRIFOS.  AS THIS CHEMICAL EXISTS IN SOME GARDEN PRODUCTS, THIS FACT WAS USED TO ACCUSE THE RESIDENTS OF BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BIRD DEATHS (IE. BY USING A LAWN GRUB PREPARATION.)  IT’S WORTH NOTING THAT THE CONCENTRATIONS OF CHLORPYRIFOS IN THESE PRODUCTS IS WAY BELOW THE CONCENTRATIONS FARMERS HAVE ACCESS TO, AND IT’S EXTREMELY UNLIKELY THAT THOSE COMPLAINING ABOUT WILDLIFE DEATHS WOULD BE THE ONES RESPONSIBLE!   (INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, THE PREVIOUS INCIDENT LIKE THIS – ON THOMPSON ROAD – WAS CAUSED BY A CHEMICAL THAT CAN ONLY BE ACCESSED BY FARMERS, FENTHION ETHYL. THE APVMA HAS SINCE RECOMMENDED REMOVING FENTHION FROM USE SINCE EVIDENCE OF ITS TENDENCY TO REMAIN IN BODILY TISSUES HAS BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED. )

* The farms you refer to are rural, not commercial or industrial.

THIS IS JUST SEMANTICS.  LIVING NEXT DOOR TO THESE INTENSIVE HYDROPONIC FARMS IS NOT DISSIMILAR TO LIVING NEXT DOOR TO A PANEL BEATING SHOP.  THEY CAUSE NOISE, DUST, ODOUR, AND RUNOFF ONTO NEIGHBOURING PROPERTIES AT AN INDUSTRIAL SCALE TO SAY THESE FARMS ARE NOT ‘COMMERCIAL’ IS JUST PLAIN RIDICULOUS – PRODUCE IS GROWN, HARVESTED, BOXED AND TAKEN TO MARKET ON A REGULAR BASIS TO PROVIDE INCOME TO THE FARMERS.  GROWING AND SELLING PRODUCE IS A COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY.

* The zoning of rural residential allows both rural and residential activities on these acreage lots.

YES, BUT THE GUIDELINES EXIST TO PROTECT RESIDENTS FROM BEING IMPACTED BY FARMING ACTIVITIES.  UNFORTUNATELY NOONE SEEMS INTERESTED IN FOLLOWING THE GUIDELINES.

* Under the Beaudesert Planning Scheme 1985 the term ‘agriculture’ permitted
market gardening and also produce gardening under greenhouses or igloos.

* Many of these operations commenced prior to the current 2007 Planning
Scheme coming into place. As a result, they may continue to operate lawfully
indefinitely.

WE WOULD ARGUE THAT GUIDELINES SP1/92 SHOULD BE ENSHRINED IN LAW, GIVEN THAT NOONE SEEMS PREPARED TO FOLLOW IT OTHERWISE.  IF THIS WAS THE CASE, THESE OPERATIONS WOULD THEN BE DEEMED UNLAWFUL.  AS THINGS STAND, THOSE OF US LIVING WITH A FARM RIGHT NEXT TO OUR LIVING ROOMS HAVE NO RECOURSE, DESPITE THE FLAGRANT VIOLATION OF THE GUIDELINES BY FARMERS WHO REFUSE TO PLANT VEGETATED BUFFERS, AND WHO HAVE TAKEN TO THREATENING RESIDENTS WHO COMPLAIN.  YES, YOU READ CORRECTLY -‘THREATENING’ – WITH KNIVES.   WHEN IS OUR COUNCIL GOING TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND STOP THIS BULLYING?

* Under the current Planning Scheme ‘agriculture’ specifically permits market
gardening. However, it identifies greenhouse gardening to be ‘intensive
agriculture’ requiring a permit.

A FARM THAT IS ‘INTENSIVE’ IS INTENSIVE REGARDLESS OF WHEN IT WAS SET UP.  THOSE SET UP UNDER PREVIOUS PLANNING SCHEMES STILL NEGATIVELY IMPACT NEIGHBOURS, STILL DO NOT COMPLY WITH THE GUIDELINES, AND STILL EXPOSE RESIDENTS TO FARMING PRACTICES THAT ARE NOT COMPATIBLE WITH RURAL RESIDENTIAL LIVING, SUCH AS CHEMICAL SPRAYING AND LATE-NIGHT AND EARLY-MORNING OPERATION OF FARM MACHINERY. 

* Residents on all these blocks have a right to develop their properties for both
residential and rural uses, which includes agriculture, keeping livestock,
equestrian hobbies and other open space activities.

YES, BUT THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE THE RIGHT TO DAMAGE NEIGHBOURS’ AMENITY, THEIR PROPERTY VALUES, AND THEIR RIGHT TO QUIET AND PEACEFUL ENJOYMENT ON THEIR BLOCKS. IT DOES ALSO NOT INCLUDE THRETENING ANYONE WHO DARES TO COMPLAIN.

The Decision:

I have … discontinued our involvement …In my view it is unjustifiable to proceed in circumstances where the Council’s explanation of the limits of its powers in relation to the existing farms appear to be generally sound and steps are being taken to introduce a planning scheme to improve the Council’s ability to deal with land use conflicts such as have been pointed out by your complaint.’

WE BELIEVE THESE ‘STEPS’ ARE ONLY BEING TAKEN BECAUSE OF RESIDENTS’ LOBBYING OVER THE PAST 8 YEARS, SO, TO OUR MINDS, THIS IS A WIN FOR THE RESIDENTS. BUT IT DOES NOT HELP THOSE WHO ARE THE WORST AFFECTED.  ONLY LEGISLATION ENSHRINING SPP1/92 WILL ASSIST THOSE RESIDENTS WHO ARE FORCED TO LIVE CHEEK-BY-JOWL WITH INTENSIVE FARMS WITH NO ADEQUATE BUFFER ZONES.  HOW HARD WOULD IT BE FOR COUNCIL TO REQUIRE THESE FARMERS TO PLANT SOME TREES TO PROTECT NEIGHBOURS FROM THEIR ACTIVITIES?  BUT WHY DO THINGS THE EASY WAY?

THE LAST PART OF THIS LETTER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT;  THE OMBUDSMAN HAS PROVIDED A LIST OF RELEVANT AUTHORITIES TO REPORT INCIDENTS TO AND WE REPRINT IT IN LARGE TYPE HERE FOR RESIDENTS’ EASY REFERENCE:

*Complaints about spraydrift: Workplace Health and Safety Queensland on 1300 359 915.

. lf you believe wildlife has been killed as a result of agricultural spraying, or a watercourse has been contaminated – Department of Environment and Heritage
Protection on 1300 130 372.

. lf you believe spray drift has caused agricultural damage – Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on 13 25 23.

. lf you believe there is a risk to neighbours or other members of the public being exposed to spray drift you can contact the Poisons lnformation Centre for
immediate advice on 13 11 26.

A NOTE HERE FROM US AT THE MOZZIE:  WE ALREADY KNOW THERE IS A RISK FROM THE USE OF AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS CLOSE TO OUR HOMES.  ONE ONLY HAS TO READ RESIDENTS’ SUBMISSIONS TO DISCOVER AMPLE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.  SO WE WOULD ADD THE FOLLOWING CONTACT FOR THOSE WHO want to complain to the proper authorities about Chemical Spray Drift, human health issues and animal illnesses and deaths, and other adverse events, not just get advice from a Poisons Information Centre: 

Go to APVMA website and look for the ADVERSE EXPERIENCE REPORT form (www.apvma.gov.au) and tell them about your issues and symptoms – or email:  danielle.cregan@apvma.gov.au   The more residents that do this, the stronger our case.  So many people have reported adverse events, but in the past the APVMA has not been notified, so if you have dates and details of any adverse events from pesticide exposure, please take the time to fill out the form.

More from the Ombudsman’s report:

‘lf, in the future, there are specific incidents arising from the operations of the existing farms that impact you directly then those concerns should be brought quickly to the attention of the Council, or relevant State agency, through their complaint management systems. I understand you are reluctant to ‘jump on the hamster wheel’ but nevertheless encourage you to take future complaints through to their conclusion with the relevant agency and, if dissatisfied, contact this office about specific concerns which are timely and which we may more usefully consider and, if appropriate, look into. ‘

In other words, STAY VIGILANT AND KEEP THE COMPLAINTS COMING WHENEVER FURTHER INCIDENTS OCCUR.  IT IS ONLY BY THIS COMMUNITY PULLING TOGETHER THAT WE CAN ADDRESS THESE ISSUES, BUT WE FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT OUR RECENT ACTIONS HAVE ALERTED THE APPROPRIATE AUTHORITIES.  THE NEXT TIME THERE IS A MASS BIRD KILL OR SIMILAR INCIDENT, WE WILL BE ON IT .  IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THESE INCONSIDERATE, SELF-ENTITLED FARMERS STUFF UP AGAIN AND WE WILL BE READY.

INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT ON THE VERY DAY THIS PAGE WAS POSTED (APRIL 10, 2013), A NEIGHBOUR CALLED TO TELL US THAT YET ANOTHER GROUP OF MAGPIES HAS BEEN FOUND DEAD AND/OR DYING ON A HARVEST ROAD PROPERTY ADJOINING ONE OF THESE ‘NON-COMMERCIAL’ (PULL THE OTHER ONE!) FARMS.   BIOSECURITY QLD HAS BEEN ALERTED, RSPCA IS COMING TO COLLECT THE DEAD, AND OUR COUNCILLOR, LAURIE SMITH, HAS AGAIN BEEN INFORMED.

HOW MANY TIMES DOES THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN BEFORE SOMETHING IS DONE?

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2 responses to “UPDATE APRIL 2013 – WE’VE BEEN BUSY TAKING LOGAN CITY COUNCIL TO THE QUEENSLAND OMBUDSMAN

  1. Hi,

    That is a standard response from the Ombudsman. Craig Allen has acted negligently on a complaint I have made to. I have uploaded all my info on herbicides and the Qld and Federal Governments. Have you heard of GLORICIDE, its being used on the Sunshine Coast, what sprays are they using in BCC and Logan

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