AN Eidsvold grazier fined and ordered to pay costs totaling almost $1 million for illegal vegetation clearing will appeal the decision.
Mr Baker was found guilty of 39 charges under the Vegetation Management Act and seven charges under the Forestry Act relating to the width of clearing associated with firebreaks, fence lines and access tracks on his property and also failing to comply with the self-assessable code for native forest practice.
The original decision was delivered in the Magistrates Court in Brisbane on November 18 with a written decision on November 24. Magistrate Elizabeth Hall of the Magistrates Court handed down her decision in relation to costs and sentencing on March 20.
She also ordered restitution for loss of forestry products of $17,471. In addition, she also ordered that Mr Baker pay $541,309.15 for the complainant’s costs of the prosecution as well as $165,000 in the department’s investigation costs.
Mr Baker had previously filed an appeal to the District Court based on Magistrate Hall’s earlier decision and will now appeal the costs and sentence imposed as part of those appeal proceedings.
The fine and costs order is the largest handed down since the Vegetation Management Act was enacted in 1999. The case and fine is significant when compared to similar prosecution for the clearing of native vegetation. A recent District Court of Appeal decision handed down on April 21, in relation to a St George grazier who cleared 1819ha of remnant vegetation, was originally fined $118,000 and ordered to pay $14,549 investigation costs and $9274.03 in legal costs.
This was reduced on appeal to $40,000. In an earlier 2011 District Court decision, in relation to a Wyandra grazier who cleared 1300ha, was originally fined $100,000, which was reduced to $30,000 on appeal.
Tom Marland of Marland Law who acts on behalf of Mr Baker said the decision has been devastating for Mr Baker.
“The matter is currently before appeal so I can’t make too much comment about the decision other than to say we are very disappointed,” Mr Marland said.
“In relation to inaccurate media reports that Mr Baker was fined “$1 million”- the fine was $276,000 and the prosecutions legal and investigation costs were $706,309, which is three times the fine.”
CLICK HERE to read how Michael Baker landed in court.
The overall costs of the prosecution as disclosed to the court were $2.2m.
“This matter is of significant importance, obviously for Mr Baker, but also all landholders throughout Queensland in relation to what they can and can’t do on their properties,” Mr Marland said.
“Anyone wanting to undertake clearing works in areas containing native vegetation, even if for a firebreak, fenceline or road, should seek legal advice prior to undertaking those works.”