Resumption claims: ‘Everyone has been screwed over’
A MACKAY lawyer has called for a review into what he says are questionable land resumption practices within the Transport and Main Roads Department.
Kelly Legal property law expert Sean Kelly says there is a "real cultural problem" in the land resumption process and the methods warrant a Royal Commission.
Mr Kelly has detailed cases where the government forcibly took land and landowners were pushed back a decade in their asset position after costly and drawn out court cases.
The Main Roads Department says it is committed to fairly compensating property owners.
Tracts of land has been resumed across Mackay over the past decade for major projects including the Walkerston Bypass, stage one of the Ring Road and the Sarina Northern Access.
"The whole culture of the department, together with their lawyers as a group, is to actually do the opposite of compensating people," Mr Kelly said.
"They see it as a competition.
"What I see in these resumption processes is they are actually quite desperate not to properly compensate - they see it as a competition.
Mr Kelly said, from his experience, the department was more willing to spend money on its "big end of town" law firm Clayton Utz and other experts to fight against fairly compensating landholders.
He said the government repeatedly opened resumption negotiations with low-ball offers on land values that were "not cognisant of real market conditions".
As well as concerns about the fair valuation of land, Mr Kelly said a number of clients had complained about deceptive tactics he alleged the department used during proceedings.
Alligator Creek pineapple farmer John Zelenka told the Daily Mercury the department advised him not to get a lawyer when it resumed parts of his property for the Sarina Northern Access.
Mr Kelly said this had happened to a few of his other clients too.
"What they said to (Mr Zelenka) was along the lines of 'don't go to a lawyer because you will get a better deal if you don't'," Mr Kelly said.
Mr Zelenka lost about three hectares of land in 2013 from his farm, front yard and his iconic pineapple store that sat next to the Bruce Highway.
After six years fighting for fair compensation, he said he was eventually paid a decent value for most of his land but said he was not compensated for the loss of his shop.
Mr Zelenka said a department employee in Brisbane chastised him on the phone after he sought legal advice from Mr Kelly.
"The biggest objection I have to it is the process," Mr Zelenka said.
"There is always two of them. So one can say the other one 'didn't say that'.
"They are impossible to deal with. There is no independent umpire."
Mr Zelenka said if he knew at the start of the process what he knew now, he would have recorded every interaction with the department.
"I'm not the only farmer, everyone has been screwed over by them."
A Transport Department spokesman said independent and experienced valuers were used to ensure property owners were fairly compensated.
"All resumptions, including those for projects in the Mackay region, follow an established legal process," they said.
"Compensation is based on the market value of the property at the date of acquisition and includes legal, valuation and relocation costs, in accordance with the Acquisition of Land Act 1967.
"We understand property resumptions are a sensitive matter and we approach each case with the utmost compassion."
The spokesman said the department was committed to negotiating "fair and reasonable" compensation in an "open and conciliatory manner".
If an agreement cannot be reached, land owners are able to refer the matter to the Land Court of Queensland.
Mr Kelly said he wanted to see the resumption process reviewed.
"I think there needs to be a full blown Royal Commission into it," he said.
"It is not a political thing," he said.
"This attitude has been prevalent under both political regimes. But obviously it needs to end."