Graziers' futures uncertain as Defence Department looks to expand Queensland training groundsd
A Queensland grazier says she is "in the firing line" of the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) planned expansion of training grounds at Shoalwater Bay.
Property owners surrounding the area have received written correspondence from the Singapore Joint Development Training Initiative, informing them their land is in the expansion zone.
Graziers near Townsville's training area in north Queensland will also be affected as the ADF looks to expand that ground as well.
Linda Geddes, of Couti-Outi in central Queensland, said her property had been in the family for 140 years, and the notice from the ADF had come as a shock.
"My husband just feels as though the mat has been whipped out from under his feet," she said.
"You know at his age in life — he'll be 70 in a couple of years — just where do you go? What do you do?"
She said it had created uncertainty for her son's future as well.
"We've got sons and a daughter on other properties and the youngest son here with us, so he's got to find something else," she said.
"It puts land valuations up when you go to find other land, plus you're competing with other people who have lost country as well."
Letter the first time grazier heard about plans
Ms Geddes said the letter, which was received on November 25, was the first they had heard of the ADF's plans.
Landholders in central and north Queensland bordering the training areas were sent the notice.
"To accommodate this increased level of training, the Department of Defence is considering the expansion and further development of two defence training areas in Queensland (Shoalwater Bay Training Area and Townsville Field Training Area)," wrote Tim Bayliss, Singapore Joint Development Training Initiative program manager.
"The extent of the expansion needed to support the agreed training activities is currently being worked through by defence.
"Our preliminary investigation indicates that your property may be within the expansion zone."
Ms Geddes said the family's property shared quite a large boundary with the training area.
"We were hoping they've got enough land with what they've got, but apparently they want to expand it," she said.
"We just didn't think we'd be in the firing line here."
She said she hoped one-on-one meetings scheduled next week with the ADF would provide some clarity.
"We're not sure what is going on, but we're just hoping perhaps they might just leave us here," she said.
"That's probably in our dreams."
Lawyer calls for decisive action
Resumption and land work lawyer Barry Taylor said the Federal Government should be more forthright with its intentions, to minimise the emotional impact and uncertainty for those in the affected area.
"The uncertainty out there at the moment that all these people are getting a raft of information that there's preliminary investigations going on, is creating the angst and impact on their lifestyle," he said.
"For the land owners sitting there not knowing whether the expansion will include their property or not is really where the uncertainty and the pressure [is]."
Mr Taylor said the indecision was stressful for landholders.
"It's a major personal issue when a person receives these letters to say 'You may be part of'," he said.
"It would be better for defence to say 'We are going to take this land because it's required for the national sovereign interests, rather than 'We may investigate your land and it may be part of the expansion process'."
Mr Taylor said the correspondence's ambivalence meant landholders were unable to plan their futures with confidence.
"They can look to the acquisition process by sale or resumption, they can look for other properties to buy — that's going to be very hard, particularly in this market where cattle prices are up, land values are up," he said.
"I think what the reality is, you should try and get the best possible outcome in the resumption process, and too many times people focus on the objection base rather than the reality.
"At the end of the day, the Federal Government have a duty, not just to the landholder but to … ensure sovereign protection for the whole of Australia, and if that's required to expand in the training area, so be it."
Federal Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry said she was unaware property owners had received letters but she had been speaking with the Department earlier in the year.
"My understanding is that early next year they will have a plan done up on what they're actually doing up there and what land they will require," she said.
"I did have discussions earlier in the year when they were up in Rockhampton and, at this stage, I don't think they really know what areas they actually want. Well, they have an idea but not how far and what properties they would require."
The ABC contacted the Department of Defence for comment but was yet to receive their response at time of publication.