Peter Spencer: legal commentary

Legal analysis

Putting my other hat on (my lawyer’s hat), I decided to take a look at the various legal proceedings that Peter Spencer has been through in the last three years. Firstly however, a bit of factual background.

The Native Vegetation Act 2003 (NSW) requires that before any clearing of native vegetation takes place, the landowner must obtain a development consent under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) (“EPA”), much like you need a development consent to build an extension to your house. Mr Spencer applied for consent to clear 1402 hectares at his property, but was refused. The letter refusing consent said that Mr Spencer may qualify for the Farmer Exit Assistance, which is a scheme to allow farmers to sell their properties to the Nature Conservation Trust, if there was hardship as a result of the decision. Under such scheme, an an independent valuation of the property would be obtained, and the property purchased at that price.

The first foray to the courts was in early 2007, in Spencer v Australian Capital Territory, NSW and the Commonwealth. Mr Spencer claimed damages (for diminution in value of his property and loss of profits) of $1.2 million, and restitution (for the appropriation of carbon credits between 1990 and 2020) of $37.5 million.

In this particular action, Mr Spencer claimed an “interim payment” of $5m “towards the eventual liability of the Commonwealth”. The defendants in that action, the ACT, the state of NSW and the Commonwealth, responded by seeking to have that claim struck out and the proceedings dismissed. Unfortunately, Mr Spencer had no legal representation and represented himself, and there isn’t much a judge likes less than seeing a “litigant in person.” Furthermore, reading the judgment, it is clear that the statement of claim was very poorly drafted, and that is not a criticism of Mr Spencer, merely a comment that in such complex matters, it is essential to have legal representation. The claims against the ACT and NSW were dismissed, but the claim against the ACT, which was in essence for nuisance arising from the incursion of wild animals, was not unarguable. Mr Spencer would have to re-submit his claim, properly formulated. Mr Spencer’s claim for an interim payment was also dismissed. There does not, however, appear to be any further reported judgments in this case, and it is therefore unclear whether Mr Spencer bothered to pursue the claim against the ACT, as it was tangential to the main claim. I would assume, therefore, that he did not.

However, now we move to the Federal Court of Australia, which deals with Commonwealth matters. On 17 July 2007, Mr Spencer filed a Statement of Claim in the Federal Court. By now, Mr Spencer has legal representation in the form of Dr J Walsh. As reported in Spencer v Commonwealth of Australia [2007] FCA 1415, the Commonwealth again sought to have his claim dismissed, as it had no reasonable prospects of success. Mr Spencer claimed that although the Native Vegetation Act was a State act of NSW, it was somehow linked to a Commonwealth act. This was the important point.

It is established that a State act which interferes with property rights does not have to provide just compensation for such interference. Therefore, the Native Vegetation Act by itself is perfectly entitled to restrict the use of a farmer’s land, and there is no obligation for it to make any compensation payment. This is unlike the situation with Commonwealth acts, where any acquisition of property must be made on just terms, under section 51 (xxxi) of the Constitution. Mr Spencer therefore argued that this was all part of a bigger picture. He claimed that the Native Vegetation Act was linked to a number of Inter-Governmental Agreements between the Commonwealth and NSW. Further he claimed that the funding for the States to implement those agreements came from a Commonwealth source, and therefore obliged the Commonwealth to provide compensation under section 51 (xxxi).

However, there were an enormous number of hurdles to overcome in order to demonstrate this, including successfully arguing:

  • that the restriction of clearing vegetation constitutes an “acquisition of property”
  • that the act authorising the funding to the States was made under section 51 (xxxi) of the Constitution and not under the normal “financial assistance to the States” provision (section 96 of the Constitution)
  • that the agreements and the Commonwealth act together provided the mechanism for the State act to restrict the clearing of vegetation.

At this initial hearing, Justice Emmett allowed Mr Spencer to file an amended claim.

Mr Spencer filed an amended claim on 18 October 2007. Again, despite having legal counsel, Mr Spencer drafted it himself, and as Justice Emmett points out in the second judgment (Spencer v Commonwealth of Australia [2007] FCA 1787), the claim “has more deficiencies than the original statement of claim”, and at one point refers to a paragraph as “gobbledygook.” This does Mr Spencer’s cause no good at all. The two questions raised at the earlier hearing, namely (a) how restrictions on the use of Saarahnlee (Mr Spencer’s property) constitutes acquisition of the freehold; and (b) how a NSW State act, the Native Vegetation Act 2003, gave effect to an acquisition of property by the Commonwealth, were not adequately addressed. As the judge pointed out, “The hearing today has achieved nothing.” Mr Spencer was ordered to pay the Commonwealth’s costs and to file an amended claim by 3 December 2007.

Then we come to the meat of the proceedings. The case again reached the Federal Court before Justice Emmett, reported as Spencer v Commonwealth of Australia [2008] FCA 1256. The judgment runs to 51 pages, and thoroughly reviews the legal issues. It is, however, still an interlocutory (interim) hearing, as Mr Spencer is still seeking interim relief, and the Commonwealth is seeking to have the proceedings dismissed. Furthermore, no witnesses were called to address factual issues. Mr Spencer was represented by Mr P King and Mr T Anderson of counsel.

In the final statement of claim, Mr Spencer alleges as follows (and I have reproduced the extract in full, as it sums up Spencer’s position reasonably well):

(2.2) Prior to the enactment of the State Statutes, Saarahnlee was valuable, marketable and productive farming and grazing land on which Mr Spender conducted a farming enterprise and Mr Spencer’s rights and interests in Saarahnlee included the following (the Rights and Interests):

(a) Improvements, including timber treatment, pasture improvement, wood on the terrain, timber in trees and millable timber;

(b) A farming enterprise that included various eco-services projects, including the farming of a special breed of high country fine wool sheep, a trout farm project, a wind farm project, a eucalyptus oil project, a spring water bottling project and an Australian oak furniture project;

(c) Causes of action for compensation in respect of the loss or resumption of rights arising under the Crown leases relating to Saarahnlee;

(d) Carbon sequestration rights, including the legal, commercial or other benefits or advantages of carbon sequestration by existing trees or future trees or forests on Saarahnlee after 1990 (the Carbon Sequestration Rights); and

(e) Carbon abatement rights arising from land use change and forestry conservation, including the legal, commercial or other benefits or advantages retained by carbon sinks by sequestration by any existing or future trees or forests or other herbaceous vegetation on Saarahnlee (the Carbon Abatement Rights).

(2.3) Saarahnlee is well wooded, with excellent herbaceous vegetation cover, ample trees and forests including native vegetation.

(2.4) Saarahnlee is a terrestrial ecosystem or carbon sink with significant amounts of vegetation and soils that are available for immediate carbon sequestration.

(2.5) The rights to the legal, commercial or other benefits of carbon sequestration by such vegetation and soils and of carbon abatement arising from retention of sinks in or arising from such vegetation and soils constitute property within the meaning of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution.

(2.6) The said vegetation and soils, including carbon rights, are a natural resource within the meaning of s 4 of the Financial Assistance Act and s 17 of the Natural Heritage Act and are native vegetation within the meaning of s 8 of the Natural Heritage Act.

(2.7) By the State Statutes, a prohibition or general restriction was placed on the reasonable use of Saarahnlee, including the vegetation and soils and the carbon offset rights arising from the Carbon Sequestration Rights and Carbon Abatement Rights (together the Carbon Rights).

(2.8) Upon that prohibition or general restriction taking effect, some or all of the Carbon Rights were expropriated or acquired by the Commonwealth and an identifiable and measurable benefit or advantage was obtained by the Commonwealth for its purposes.

(2.9) New South Wales assigned the Carbon Rights to the Commonwealth for the purposes of the Commonwealth.

(2.10) No compensation has been paid or offered to Mr Spencer by the Commonwealth for the said expropriation or acquisition and just terms have not been provided to Mr Spencer in respect of such expropriation or acquisition and Mr Spencer has received no compensation from the Commonwealth for the taking of the Carbon Rights.

(4) The Commonwealth passed the Financial Assistance Act for the purposes of giving effect to a proposed resource agreement contemplated between the Commonwealth and New South Wales called National Greenhouse Response Strategy and other agreements for the establishment of a cooperative statutory and administrative framework, arrangement or partnership between the Commonwealth and New South Wales.

(5) The Commonwealth passed the Natural Heritage Act for the purpose of giving effect to the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s Native Vegetation, the National Vegetation Initiative, and other agreements for the establishment of a cooperative statutory and administrative framework, arrangement or partnership between the Commonwealth and New South Wales so as to meet Australia’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 11 December 1997 (the Kyoto Protocol).

(6.1) As a party to the Kyoto Protocol, Australia:

(a) assumed responsibility for ensuring or attempting to ensure that its emissions of greenhouse gases will not exceed annually, during the period 2008 to 2012 inclusive, 108% of the emissions of greenhouse gases during 1990, and

(b) may transfer emissions to, or acquire emissions from, other parties to the Kyoto Protocol by a process of debiting and crediting in national greenhouse accounts, for the purpose of increasing or reducing emissions for the purposes of determining progress against targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

(7.1) The Commonwealth is in a position to benefit from trading the Carbon Rights only by virtue of the ‘regulatory’ reduction of native vegetation clearing in Australia pursuant to the Commonwealth Statutes.

(9.1) Authorised by the Commonwealth Statutes, the Commonwealth established a national framework of laws, being the State Statutes and the Inter-Governmental Agreements, relating to the management and use of land within Australia, which included provisions effecting the compulsory acquisition of land and rights to the reasonable use of land.

(9.2) If the said acquisition or expropriation of Saarahnlee and the Carbon Rights were carried out by the Commonwealth directly, it would be required to provide just compensation to Mr Spencer.

(9.2) The Commonwealth Statutes formed part of a scheme or device designed to avoid or over-reach the restrictions on the exercise of law making powers of the Commonwealth under s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution.

(9.3) Accordingly, the Commonwealth Statutes and the Inter-Governmental Agreements were made for the purpose of taking property other than on just terms and are not authorised by s 51(xxxi) or any other provision of the Constitution.

(10) New South Wales passed the State Statutes in furtherance of the Inter-Governmental Agreements and the provisions of the Commonwealth Statutes.

(11) Since the passage of the State Statutes, Mr Spencer has been prevented and restricted from clearing native vegetation on Saarahnlee by reason of the State Statutes and the refusal of New South Wales to grant permission for any such clearing.

(12.1-12.3) The provisions of the State Statutes, the Commonwealth Statutes and the Inter-Governmental Agreements have effected an acquisition of the Rights and Interests and have imposed a prohibition or restriction that has prevented the reasonable use of Saarahnlee by Mr Spencer, with the consequence that Saarahnlee is no longer commercially viable.

(12.4-12.5) The Commonwealth has acquired the Carbon Rights and is using or threatening to use the Carbon Rights to its advantage, in that, if the Commonwealth did not have the ability to account for emission reductions from reducing land clearing in the period 2008 to 2012, it would need to take other measures to reduce emissions in order to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, which measures are likely to involve expense to the Commonwealth.

(13) The acquisition of the Rights and Interests occurred pursuant to or as a result of the operation or effect of the Commonwealth Statutes otherwise than on just terms pursuant to the legislative and associated intergovernmental relationships described above.

(14) The Commonwealth has taken no steps to ensure that the taking of the Rights and Interests and the Carbon Rights without Mr Spencer’s consent or permission has been on just terms.

(15) Accordingly, each of the Commonwealth Statutes is invalid in so far as it fails to provide for just terms for the acquisition of the Rights and Interests.

(16) By virtue of the expropriation, trespass on, detinue in relation to, or conversion of the Rights and Interests by the Commonwealth under invalid legislation, Mr Spencer has suffered loss and damage in that he has been prevented from trading carbon property rights on any market and the Commonwealth has acquired the Carbon Rights.

Mr Spencer sought orders that the Commonwealth be prevented from “taking steps to establish a carbon sequestration or carbon trading market that precludes access to Mr Spencer in respect of the Rights and Interests or that values the Rights and Interests in respect of the entry price at less than what are just terms, or using the Rights and Interests in any way without compensation on just terms.”

All of these matters were considered. Was there an “acquisition of property”? On this point, the judge was prepared to accept that there was a serious question to be tried, namely whether the detriment to his property under the Native Vegetation Act constitued a “taking or acquisition” in respect of Saarahnlee.

The judge then looked at the Constitution, and in particular section 51 (xxxi) and 96. The judge explained that Commonwealth legislation with respect to acquiring property must provide just terms for such acquisition, whether the acquisition be by the Commonwealth itself, a State of by any other person. However, there is a distinction between:

  • a grant from the Commonwealth made on the understanding that a State may use the grant to assist the financing of acquisitions of property otherwise than on just terms (which would be valid), and;
  • a grant from the Commonwealth made on the condition that a State acquire property on terms that are unjust (which would be invalid).

Was the acquisition therefore “effected or authorised” by the Commonwealth?  Again, the judge held that Mr Spencer was unable to establish that the alleged acquisition of his property by reason of the enactment of the State Native Vegetation Act, coupled with the exercise of discretions by officers of New South Wales, was authorised or effected by the Commonwealth Statutes or any of the Inter-Governmental Agreements.

The Commonwealth argued that the Commonwealth acts granting financial assistance were acts under section 96 of the Constitution (financial assistance to the States). Those acts required certain terms to be included in the agreements with the States, but none of those terms related to the acquisition of any property and none of them required the imposition of restrictions on the clearing of native vegetation. The judge therefore held that the Commonwealth statutes were not laws with respect to the acquisition of property. As the judge sums up (my emphasis):

The Commonwealth says that, by his statement of claim, Mr Spencer seeks to impugn the Commonwealth Statutes, each of which relates solely to funding and administrative arrangements between the Commonwealth and the State of New South Wales. It says that Mr Spencer’s private rights or interests are not affected, or are not affected in a relevant sense, by the subject matter of the Commonwealth Statutes. As I have said, this contention may simply be another way of saying that, even if there is some element of invalidity in either of the Commonwealth Statutes, neither of them effects or authorises any acquisition of property of Mr Spencer’s.

Thus, the Commonwealth says, even if it be the case that some provisions of the Commonwealth Statutes are invalid, in not satisfying s 51(xxxi), and even if financial assistance provided to New South Wales by the Commonwealth under those provisions and the Inter-Governmental Agreements pursuant to which the financial assistance was provided, were all unauthorised, none of that will affect the position of Mr Spencer in relation to the State Statutes. Mr Spencer does not, in this proceeding challenge the validity of either of the State Statutes. Even if the provision of financial assistance to New South Wales and the Inter-Governmental Agreements are unauthorised, Mr Spencer will continue to be bound by the 2003 Vegetation Act. It is the effect of the prohibitions and restrictions contained in the 1997 Vegetation Act, followed by the 2003 Vegetation Act, that are the font of the deleterious affectation of the Rights and Interests, including the Carbon Rights. That effect will continue to be operative even if some invalidity of the Commonwealth Statutes were established.

The lack of authorisation of the financial assistance or the lack of authorisation of the Inter-Governmental Agreements could not affect the validity of either of the State Statutes. Each of them was plainly intended to have effect unconditional upon the validity of and unconditioned by either of the Commonwealth Statutes and irrespective of any of the Inter-Governmental Agreements (see Pye v The Commonwealth at page 81-2). That is really no more than saying that, even if there has been an acquisition of Mr Spencer’s property, that acquisition was not effected or authorised by either of the Commonwealth Statutes. If that is so, Mr Spencer arguably lacks a requisite interest in the validity of either of the Commonwealth Statutes.

So in summary, the State Native Vegetation Acts would have prevented the clearing of land in any event, whether the Commonwealth laws were valid or not. And as we have already learned, State acts are not required to compensate land owners on just terms.

The judge made the relevant orders two days later (Spencer v Commonwealth of Australia (No 2) [2008] FCA 1378), in which he dismissed the proceedings and Mr Spencer’s claim for interlocutory relief. He was ordered to pay only 80% of the Commonwealth’s costs, due to the limited success he had achieved on the issue of whether the restriction of land clearing was an “acquisition of property”.

The writing was well and truly on the wall. But it didn’t end there…

Mr Spencer appealed the decision of the Federal Court (a single judge) to the Full Court of the Federal Court (three judges), reported as Spencer v Commonwealth of Australia [2009] FCAFC 38. The matter was heard before Chief Justice Black, Justice Jacobsen, and Justice Jagot, who gave the leading judgment. The matters before Justice Emmett were reexamined yet again.

The judgment focussed on three main areas, (i) the operation of sections 51 (xxxi) and 96 of the Constitution, as set out in the High Court decision of Pye v Renshaw [1951] HCA 8, (ii) the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal in Arnold v Minister administering the Water Management Act 2000 [2008] NSWCA 338, and (iii) the consequences of Mr Spencer accepting the validity of the State Native Vegetation Acts.

Pye v Renshaw concerned the acquisition of land for the resettlement of soldiers after World War II. The High Court held that if a State act provides for the acquisition of land on terms which are not just, that is of no legal consequence (i.e. the State is not obliged to compensate), and the arrangement with the Commonwealth was immaterial:

“The Commonwealth cannot itself acquire land except upon just terms. A State can resume land on any terms, just or unjust, authorised by its Parliament” and that “The Commonwealth may properly induce a State to exercise its powers… by offering a money grant.”

The actual reasons are complex, but the decision in Pye v Renshaw was, according to Justice Jagot, fatal to Mr Spencer’s case.

The Arnold case was then considered:

The applicants in Arnold (again as in this case) claimed that the Commonwealth and the State had entered into a joint venture or arrangement culminating in the acquisition of the applicant’s property (water entitlements) other than on just terms in breach of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution, or as a device to avoid the operation of that provision. A key part of the alleged joint venture was a funding agreement by which the State was required to take steps having the effect of reducing the water entitlements of licence holders in accordance with their history of extraction. Lloyd J held that there was no reasonable cause of action because:

[99]…the applicant’s case involves the attempted resurrection of the very claim which was rejected by the High Court in Pye v Renshaw – it is a claim that Commonwealth cannot by a grant or any other provision of the Constitution provide money to the State for the “purpose” of inducing it to resume land on otherwise than just terms. Section 51(xxxi) does not attach to “purposes”. It is a limitation that applies to laws characterised as laws with respect to the acquisition of property. The Commonwealth correctly submits that there is no Commonwealth legislation in issue here which could be characterised as such a law and that is an insurmountable obstacle to any claim founded on s 51(xxxi).

Similarly, the application of Arnold was fatal to Mr Spencer’s case. He tried to distinguish the circumstances, but failed every time. Justice Jagot concluded:

In common with the primary judge it is easy to sympathise with Mr Spencer if the effect of the State statutes has been to sterilise his land from any productive activity. Nevertheless that does not alter the fact that the proceeding has no reasonable prospect of success and the primary judge was correct to so conclude. The appeal must be dismissed.

Mr Spencer was ordered to pay the Commonwealth’s costs.

However, it still didn’t end there…

Mr Spencer sought leave to appeal the decision of the full court of the Federal Court to the highest authority, the High Court. The transcript of the application is reported as Spencer v Commonwealth of Australia [2009] HCATrans 126. The decision in Arnold from the NSW Court of Appeal is also currently before the High Court (see here), and the High Court concluded:

On the basis of the case as pleaded and the submissions put to us today, the Court is not disposed to grant special leave. However, it may be that in light of the outcome of the appeal in Arnold the position can be revisited. We propose, therefore, to adjourn the application for special leave until after Arnold is heard and determined.

As it stands today, Arnold has been heard, but no judgment has been handed down, so there is in theory still an avenue for appeal to the High Court, if the court grants special leave on the basis of the forthcoming decision in Arnold.

And there is still more. In a seperate action in the New South Wales Supreme Court, Mr Spencer brought a case against the NSW Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water (reported as Spencer v NSW Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water [2008] NSWSC 1059). This case related to the Farmer Exit Assistance scheme mentioned above. The Nature Conservation Trust offered to purchase Mr Spencer’s property for $2,170,000. Mr Spencer objected to the valuation and began proceedings. The details here are not relevant, but Justice Rothman’s conclusion is worth repeating:

For the foregoing reasons, the remedies for judicial review of administrative action and for misleading and deceptive conduct or unconscionable conduct have not been made out. However, it is an extremely disheartening and sad occasion that a person, whose life and resources have been placed into rural property for the purposes of conducting a grazing and farming business, has been required to resort to this action.

Governments, not courts, make judgments about political policy relating to what, within reason, is for the benefit of the community. Mr Spencer does not dispute that the objects of the conservation policies adopted in the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales are, at one level, for the benefit of the community. The Federal and State Governments have entered into a scheme to improve the environment and, in so doing, improve the lot of other rural and other proprietors. Nevertheless, they have done so at the expense of Mr Spencer.

While all members of society must accept that there will be restrictions on their activities for the “greater good of society”, when those restrictions prevent or prohibit a business activity that was hitherto legitimate, because of the area in which it is operating, and assistance is offered which does not fully compensate for the restrictions imposed, society is asking Mr Spencer, and people in his position, to pay for its benefit.

Nothing in the foregoing is intended as a criticism of either the current State or current Federal Government. These schemes were implemented by previous Governments both Federal and State, with bipartisan support. Nevertheless, it is a most unfortunate aspect of the operation of the scheme that a person in Mr Spencer’s position is effectively denied proper compensation for the restrictions imposed upon him by a scheme implemented for the public good. As earlier stated, ultimately that is a matter for government.

It can be seen from the breadth and depth of these proceedings that they must have been enormously expensive. Having read the judgments, it seems to this (non-constitutional) lawyer that Mr Spencer will have trouble overcoming the authority in Pye v Renshaw. But stranger things have happened. The question this raises, then, is why Mr Spencer chose to begin his protest before all legal avenues had been exhausted. But that is a question for another day.

Comments

  1. Thumbnail says:

    I have just discovered your blog. I, too have an MASc in Mechanical Engineering and have read some of Steven McIntyre’s work. I agree wholeheartedly that the climate is changing, has changed and will continue to change.

  2. Hi, my name is Keith and I am not a lawyer, but there seems to be one extraordinary fly in the legal ointment : the Carbon Sequestration Right. As I understand it a CSR is a covenant between two parties, whereupon a piece of land is set aside for the purpose of carbon sequestration and is independent of the activity involved, although by default it usually means growing trees. I am assuming in this case that the CSR(s) exist, otherwise they would not be mentioned. I may be totally wrong here (nb I am not a lawyer), but I assume that a CSR has to be agreed between parties and then granted by government ? If so, there should be lots of legal documents and letters,etc identifying the parties involved and the terms of the agreement. I am wondering whose names appear on the CSR in this case ? Could it be the Commonwealth and the State governments ? ( I am assuming that Mr Spencer would not have been involved). Also who in this case would be the Sequestration Pool Manager ?
    It would seem pertinent to me to know these details because :
    1. if the CSR(s) exist they can only operate on those areas where reafforestation has occurred on Kyoto consistent land (predominantly non-forest prior to 1990). Mr Spencer’s land fails this test, and the CSR(s) would be fraudulent.
    2. if the CSR(s) are sound, then payment will have occurred – who paid who ? If the Commonwealth paid the State government, this may be seen as consistent with Pye v Renshaw. However, Pye vs Renshaw relates to a grant of money, whereas a CSR is payment for a good.

    Anyways, just wondering.

  3. @ Keith: The Conveyancing Act 1919 states that a forestry right (of which a CSR is one type) is a “profit a prendre” – a right to a benefit from land, in this case the sequestration rights by someone not the owner. It would be an agreement between the land owner and a third party whereby the third party gave some consideration (payment) for the right to take the benefit of the sequestration rights on the land. Mr Spencer does not state that he has granted any such rights to third parties, but in his statement of claim argues that the fact that he is restrained from clearing the land means that carbon sequestration is “effectively compulsory” on Saarahnlee, and that he cannot therefore confer a CSR on a third party and take that benefit (para 139 of the judgment).

    This was the one area where the judge thought that Mr Spencer had a seriously arguable case (para 149). However, the rest of the arguments failed, and it was therefore not considered in the later decisions.

  4. What legal right under any constitution can give a State a right to take land without just
    compensation let ask the question who drew up these fraudulent constitutions as it must fly
    in the face of property rights under common law. Also taking into account Australians must sit
    under the Bill of rights 1688 (adopted in our constitution) where taking of land unjustly would
    not be lawful. For example the West Australian constitution no one can make any sense of it.

  5. I have just discovered this website and have found the contents and comments very disturbing. Clearly we are not all equal under the law. What has happened here resembles the situation in China with respect to Rural Land. If the state wants the land the current occupiers(farmers) have no rights at all. Their only compensation is small amount for them and their families to move off the land that used to provide an income. All rights to the rural land is with the State.

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