Bizarre twists to Peter Spencer story

Peter Spencer

Yesterday, The Australian reported on “serious doubts” about Peter Spencer’s hunger strike (see here for previous posts on this), with his family saying his hunger strike is about more than just land-clearing, and that he owes $1m to his family:

Graham Spencer, Peter Spencer’s brother, criticised the politicians, reporters and activists who have turned his brother into a cause, saying they did not know the full story.

Mr Spencer’s remarks are a swipe at, among others, Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce, who publicly took up Mr Spencer’s cause.

The issue provoked a public split between the Coalition partners, with Liberal senator Bill Heffernan describing Mr Spencer’s protest as “barbaric” and urging that he be pulled down.

He said while Australia’s Kyoto obligations and legislation such as the Native Vegetation Act had restricted his brother’s use of the land, they were not his only problems. “It’s something that’s come up after the trouble started,” Graham Spencer told The Australian.

Mr Spencer is protesting at restrictions on land clearing, imposed as greenhouse gas abatement measures.

He has vowed to maintain his protest until the government agrees to hold a royal commission.

Graham Spencer said his brother owed “more than a million dollars” to a family member after being given a loan to prevent the bank seizing his farm. “Peter doesn’t owe money to the bank, but to the family,” Graham Spencer said.

“One of the family members lent him the money, and I think the arrangement was he would make the interest payments.”

Graham Spencer said the family had made numerous attempts to accommodate Peter Spencer’s failure to pay the debt, which had been outstanding for some years.

But in October the family had been forced to seek a writ of possession that could force the sale of the property. (source)

Today, The Australian publishes a statement from Peter Spencer’s family, which, like yesterday’s article, downplays the issues that we thought he was protesting against:

We are concerned by some television, print media and niche internet publications coverage of the issue and its politicisation by various interest groups and parliamentarians to further their own agendas, at the expense of Peter’s health and welfare.

Native vegetation laws enacted over 10 years ago by State Governments (and certainly not the ETS proposals and “Carbon Sinks” which are a far more recent development) are not the sole reason for the collapse of Peter’s farm, and really have had a very small part to play. For MANY reasons the farm has not been profitable for a long time. Peter spent several years in Papua New Guinea on various business ventures, including an advisory role to the PNG government of the time. During this time he was unable to look after the farm adequately, an issue that was clearly a product of his then circumstance.

We are devastated with the conspiracy theories, innuendoes and utter rubbish sprouted by some members of news forums and websites declaring to support Peter who clearly know nothing about this situation but have taken whatever they have read at face value, and accepted it as gospel. Peter is an amazing, courageous man. But the loss of his farm is not due to governments, big business or climate change. There is no conspiracy by wind companies or any other organisation to rob Peter of his land. What we are concerned about is that certain people may be taking advantage of a vulnerable man faced with losing his property and using him to their advantage. The issues being touted are not wholly true and Peter’s situation is a very poor example for any Native Vegetation/ Kyoto/ ETS/ Rudd/ Howard/ State/ Federal concerns and anything else which is being included in the argument. It will do no benefit to any disgruntled farmer’s cause by continuing to use Peter as their martyr. If people are genuinely concerned for Peter please convince him to come down. Then find a more suitable way of expressing their concerns. Please remember this is an election year. [What an odd comment – Ed]

In conclusion, while there are some fantastic supporters of Peter’s who deserve much praise, there are too many others taking advantage of him for their own political causes. We don’t know why people want Peter to continue starving himself, and putting his health at such risk. Here is a man with TOO MUCH TO LIVE FOR and we urge the media to properly undertake research and check claims before merely producing them as “news” and encouraging Peter’s plight through politicising it. (source)

All most bizarre. So, according to his family, the problems are mainly of his own making and really nothing to do with the cause that he himself has explained to the media again just three days ago, and which the farming community seems to understand perfectly. And the impression one gets is that his family are portraying him as an attention seeker who needs help rather than support in his cause for standing up for the property rights of farmers, despite the fact that he and his barrister have spent considerable time, and money, fighting this issue through the courts.

“They’re welcome to take my land but the constitution says they have to pay,” Peter [Spencer] said.

Peter King is Peter Spencer’s barrister. Before any hunger strike, the two Peters spent years fighting for compensation in the courts – to no avail.

“It’s my opinion, and I’ve offered that in support of Peter Spencer’s case, that it is unconstitutional for this reason. That there has been an acquisition of his land and that’s now been acknowledged by the lower courts, that there’s been a benefit to the Commonwealth, both in terms of an interest in his land and in terms of financial outcomes. And it hasn’t been paid for. Now in our country, under our constitution, the notion that we have, that is fundamental to our democracy, is that nobody loses his or her or its land unless it’s been paid for,” Peter King said. (source, video here)

My feelings are summed up by a letter writer in The Australian this morning:

SO, after the expose on Peter Spencer (“Family financial dispute helped send hunger striker up the pole”, 8/1), do we take it that there is no issue with farmers having their land locked up as “carbon sinks” with no compensation? I’m now confused and would appreciate The Australian coming out and saying that the issue only exists in Spencer’s mind and that farmers must continue to pay rates and Land Protection Board levies on land they can no longer use.

David Ready, Padstow, NSW (source)

UPDATE: Jo Nova:

We would hope that The Australian would stand up for … Australians. Instead our National masthead is not investigating the claims of an Australian farmer against our government, they’re not interviewing constitutional law experts, they’re interviewing his brother.

If Peter Spencers claims are true they pose real questions indeed, but not about Peter Spencer so much as about the health of our Australian constitution. That’s the elephant in the kitchen. It could be that the only thing afflicting Spencer is an unfailing sense of justice and dodged determination. After being shredded by successive governments and failed by our legal system and our media, Peter Spencer’s actions are justifiably desperate and very sane. It may seem like an extraordinarily risky gamble to the rest of us in safe-house-suburbia, but remember this man has been left with nothing to show for 30 years of work, robbed by the people who are supposed to protect him, and left without dignity or a home. His choice of a rock and a hard place means there was enough of an optimist in him to hope that this last desperate move might pay off somehow. If he had no hope at all, presumably he would have grabbed a gun like others have and disappeared into an ABS statistic. (source)

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