For the second time in 20 years a farming family is living a nightmare after being “robbed” of time and money due to a compulsory land acquisition.
For the second time in 20 years a farming family is living a nightmare after being “robbed” of time and money due to a compulsory land acquisition.

‘Highway robbery nightmare’: Family fights for tape reform

FOR the second time in 20 years an Edmonton farming family is living a "nightmare" after being "robbed" of time and money by a government department driving forward with a land grab to make way for Bruce Highway upgrades.

For three generations, the Hardwick family has farmed the land adjacent to the Bruce Highway at Edmonton.

In the late 1990s the Department of Transport and Main Roads claimed 6ha of land to allow for a four-lane upgrade.

Earthworks and construction has begun on Stage 3 of the Cairns Southern Access Corridor near Gordonvale, impacting several farming properties and houses positioned east of the Bruce Highway. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Earthworks and construction has begun on Stage 3 of the Cairns Southern Access Corridor near Gordonvale, impacting several farming properties and houses positioned east of the Bruce Highway. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

A series of workshops and machinery sheds was relocated from the resumed land to just off the highway - a move that left the Hardwicks $100,000 out of pocket.

Now, 20 years later, TMR is taking another 11ha of land to construct the Southern Access Corridor Stage 3 project.

Robyn Mitchell, daughter of landowner Ken Hardwick, said the complicated process of building a platform for the new sheds above the Q100 flood level had been a "nightmare".

"You go to sleep at night with a whole lot of unknowns and it's hard to sleep when you have a whole lot of unknowns," she said.

"Or you have got to get up at 4am the next morning because you have farm work to do before business starts and once business starts you have to go back to your relocation plan and for my brother that's been his life for a couple of years now."

Ken Hardwick at his Edmonton property which part of has been resumed by the Department of Transport and Main Roads. Picture: Stewart McLean
Ken Hardwick at his Edmonton property which part of has been resumed by the Department of Transport and Main Roads. Picture: Stewart McLean

Ms Mitchell said a request to TMR was made to source fill from the new road excavation in order to build a building base above the flood level.

The request was denied.

"Therefore we then needed to look at bringing in 9000m3 of soil from the Mount Peter Quarry and (the Department of State Development, Infrastructure) needed to be involved," she said.

"To navigate the red tape, SARA (the State Assessment and Referral Agency) suggested we employ a town planner. The process of getting permission was a long drawn-out one whereby haulage routes had to be established to safely transport fill along the highway and across the railway line and into and out of our property."

Eight months and $20,000 after the initial request, TMR granted permission to use soil from the resumed land.

"The process is crippling for resumed landowners. It's all stacked in the government's favour and they don't really see the need for anything to change," Ms Mitchell said.

"Given that we have been through this twice, things have to change. The government is not taking care of us."

Ms Mitchell is calling for reform of the outdated Acquisition of Land Act to allow emotional hardship to be recognised, similar to current legislation in New South Wales and Victoria.

"We put it out to (MP Curtis Pitt) about the ill health that is generated by the process and we asked him if he could get someone to look into this and he said he would," she said.

"We have also spoken to the director general (of TMR), who said he would. But we have heard nothing."

Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said he understood land resumption was stressful but insisted it was a "fair process."

"We make sure people are looked after. Does everyone agree with every element of it? That's very hard to achieve but we do have a clear independent process of evaluation that I believe is a fair process," he said.

Roadworks underway at Warner Road. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Roadworks underway at Warner Road. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

Mr Bailey said he had discussed certain cases with the director general to ensure an equitable process but wouldn't be drawn on the law lagging behind other eastern states or calls for reform of the 1967 Act.

"You are never going to get 100 per cent of people saying it's a great process to have their property resumed but it's just an unfortunate part of that process," he said.

A TMR spokesman confirmed to the Cairns Post the department had been negotiating with the Hardwick family "in good faith" for more than a decade.

"We have followed the legislation in Queensland under the Acquisition of Land Act 1967. We do not administer this legislation, but are required to abide by it," he said.

"We acknowledge compulsory acquisition can be a … difficult time for some land owners, and we approach each acquisition with professionalism and compassion."

Ms Mitchell said: "For our family (the resumption process) has been a highway robbery. We have been robbed of our time, our business, our health, lifestyle and our finances. This highway upgrade was never our idea."

Lawyer Peter Boyce said the law needed to change.

"This act has been around since 1962 … so it's long overdue to have an overhaul," he said. "It's a bit like David and Goliath and it costs people a lot of money and a lot of risk and the government who is supposed to be a model litigator gets away with it.

"(The state) fights tooth and nail about compensation using that old chestnut that 'it's government money and we have to be careful'.

"But there is such wastage in administration and contracts and all that money has been spent and the poor old landowner is left battling.

"A lot realise they can't afford the fight."

TMR said a counselling service for those whose mental health had been impacted was available to landowners.

Originally published as 'Highway robbery nightmare': Family calls for reform after 20-year battle


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