It had been mooted that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) targeted more than 60 properties around Shoalwater Bay in central Queensland, and further north near the Townsville training area, for compulsory acquisition.
Graziers in the region were said to be “devastated” when they were initially approached with the news of the potential land grab.
But after meeting with landholders a fortnight ago, Payne confirmed plans to force graziers off their land to expand military training areas had been abandoned.
Payne confirmed on Tuesday that Defence would only purchase land from willing sellers around the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and Townsville Field Training Area in support of the Military Training Agreement with Singapore.
Payne said she had received initial advice from ADF on its master planning and after listening to the concerns of local landowners, she was able to remove the question of forced sales from the process.
“Following my further visit to Rockhampton a fortnight ago and subsequent discussions it is clear that the community have significant concerns and it is important forced sales are ruled out to alleviate these concerns,” Payne said.
“Defence will continue to talk to landholders around the two training areas who are interested in selling. Officials will also continue to engage with the local communities while the Master Planning process and socio-economic impact study are finalised.”
The proposed land grab was set to drastically impact graziers, and Cattle Council chief executive officer Duncan Bremner said that once the government had its boots on the ground consulting with landholders, the answer was clear.
“Once the government recognised there had been flaws in the consultation and negotiation process, they listened and understood that the negative impact of the forced acquisitions of productive land outweighed the potential benefits,” Bremner said.
“Most importantly though, they acted.”
For AgForce Queensland president Grant Maudsley, the decision was a “victory for common-sense”.
“AgForce has always maintained that farmers should not be forced to sell their land to the Department of Defence, so it is good to see the Federal Government has finally listened and acted on the concerns of local landholders,” Maudsley said.
“It’s disappointing that these farming families had to go through months of unnecessary stress and heartache, but we are pleased the right result was achieved in the end.”
Maudsley said the issue highlighted the constant battle farmers faced preserving agricultural land for agricultural use.
“Agricultural land is constantly being taken away from landholders for a variety of reasons such as national park expansions and mining developments, as well as being rendered useless by ill-conceived Government regulations,” he said.
“Agriculture and farming are the lifeblood of regional communities, and we need governments to stop allowing good agricultural land to be taken away and we need governments to allow us to manage our land productively.”