Army vet says he can only afford one meal a day after fine
AN ARMY veteran says being fined $40,000 for illegal land clearing at Tuan while trying to build his dream home has ruined his life.
This is after a Hervey Bay magistrate ordered Tuan land owner Raymond John Peters to pay a $30,000 fine and $10,000 in investigation and court costs for carrying out an assessable development without a permit and undertaking a prescribed activity without approval.
Mr Peters told the Chronicle he would be forced to survive on one meal a day because of the hefty fine.
"I purchased the land to build a house to live out the rest of my days in peace," he said.
Mr Peters served 20 years in the Australian Army before becoming a consultant and contractor for the Department of Defence.
He said he became confused early on about what was required by the council before building a home.
"I referred to the Fraser Coast council website for their requirements for clearing the land prior to building," he said.
"To say it is vague is an understatement.
"So I emailed them on November 19 and asked about restrictions.
"I received a response saying that I needed to get a private building certifier. I contacted three private building certifiers and all told me that they do the building certifying, not land clearing, which makes sense.
"So I was lost. I decided to submit a development application to try and gain some attention from council.
"I received a telephone call from the council and they said they need an Operational Works order for land clearing, so I went back to their website, there is no such form
"I finally found out that an Operational Works is a combination of a DA1 and DA2, which is essentially the same information duplicated."
Mr Peters also claimed he couldn't afford legal representation in court.
"I had a lawyer for the first nine months, but he wanted another $10k to continue and I couldn't afford it. I have told myself many times over the last few months that 'a person that represents themselves in court, has a fool as a client'.
"I knew this all too well. I am fully aware that I have become a terrible speaker and definitely my own worst enemy in that environment."
Mr Peters said he would not continue to build in Tuan.
Fraser Coast Councillor Daniel Sanderson said a strong message has been sent to landowners.
He said the council conducted an extensive investigation earlier this year after receiving a complaint from a local resident about vegetation clearing in the coastal community southwest of Maryborough.
"The area affected covered more than 7800 square metres extending from private property across the council reserve and into the foreshore area near the Esplanade at Tuan," he said.
"After receiving the complaint, council compliance officers conducted an onsite inspection, issued a stop-work order, collected evidence and took witness statements.
"We also liaised with state and national agencies, as well as the local Butchulla people, as the area cleared was both environmentally and culturally sensitive.
"The Fraser Coast has a beautiful natural environment with a range of unique ecosystems, particularly in coastal areas, and landowners can't just clear whatever vegetation they like.
"This case highlights how important it is that anyone planning to do any vegetation clearing checks with council to ensure they are meeting all their legislative requirements and avoiding unnecessary environmental damage.
"If members of the public have any information about vegetation damage that is potentially illegal, they can report it confidentially to the council on 1300 79 49 29."
Mr Peters denied in court that the clearing had progressed beyond his own boundary, onto council land and some Native Title land.
But Magistrate Stephen Guttridge found he had during a contested facts hearing.
No convictions were recorded.