- JoNova - https://joannenova.com.au -

In Australia if you try to clear a firebreak on your land you could go to gaol

Maxwell Szulc

As Greens blame coal miners and SUV drivers for contributing to firestorms that destroy houses, ponder that one man tried to reduce the risk of fires and cleared firebreaks on his property in WA in 2011 and is currently in jail for it, serving a 15 month sentence. Most of the cleared land had been cleared before in 1970 or 1983. This was mere scrubby regrowth. He was trying to separate his property from DEC (Dept of Environment and Conservation) managed land with a 20m wide fire-break. He is due out of jail sometime around Feb 10th, though his government minders have not even fixed that date (are they having trouble calculating “15 months”?) He had previously been jailed for three months in 2010 for a similar action.

This was true civil disobedience. He knew what would happen. He felt someone had to protest and I gather he felt that at 62 and without children or a wife to support, it was his duty.

Szulc cleared his land as a protest. He was in contempt of court, he is in contempt of the DEC.

Some will say that Maxwell Szulc is technically not in jail for clearing his land, but for contempt of court. He deliberately went against a court injunction that forbid him from clearing more land. Many will write him off as a nutter who should have filled in the management plan that the DEC asked him too.

But this is the key. Szulc is a conscientious objector, and cleared the land as a protest against laws he sees as completely unjust.

Szulc believes that his land is his land, and that he should be able to manage it without asking permission from anyone. Those “management plans” sound innocent, but as other farmers (like Matt and Janet Thompson and Sid Livesey) have found out, the management plan is an insidious form of  creeping fascism.

Why should a landowner need to get permission to clear firebreaks on his own property? Land clearing is expensive, and top-soil in Western Australia is a precious commodity (we have the poorest and oldest soil in the world, and fertilizer costs money). No land-owner would want to overdo the clearing or lose that thin layer of top-soil. The owner stands to lose the most if the land is badly managed. That is the point of the free market and ownership by individuals.

Turning into a fascist state?

In a western democracy we all assume that it’s One Law for Everyone. But what if a government department made every business put in a separate management plan for approval? Isn’t that just fascism by any other name? The government department is then free to approve, deny or delay approval on a case by case basis. This pits individual farmers against the state and each other, and puts them under the direction of the state. Sure they “own” their land, but they have to do what the state says — that’s fascism, where the state allows private ownership but commandeers property at will (under communism you neither control nor “own” property). Corruption can’t be far behind.

If the bureaucrat doesn’t like the farmer, they can make life tough. They can selectively enforce the rules. Farmers know that, which is probably why they have been so silent as other individual farmers have either been jailed, or driven to bankruptcy by bureaucrats who don’t have to answer to anyone. Who wants to stick their heads up over this parapet?

Who stands up for them? Their ABC — the love media — agrees in spirit with everything the environment department does (unless it’s not “green enough”). The ABC are missing-in-action when it comes to standing up for the farmers who are forced to pay tax to keep the billion dollar big-government propaganda-machine running.

It’s as if there were a mass of urban regulators, who know nothing about real production or the land, demanding to be in charge of everything, governing everyone down to a micro level from their air-conditioned offices in the comfort of the cities, safely re-elected by the urban majority who only know what the regulator’s mates in the media tell them. A modern version of Rome, with an urban mob pacified by bread and circuses that provides the power base for a class of parasites who controlled everything and in the process just happened to ensure their own lives were comfortable and well-remunerated. Not sustainable of course; there are limits, and maybe we are starting to bump into them now.

Unless the media expose the Kingmaker status of the DEC, voters won’t be demanding their elected officials stop this awful rot. If the media would just do their job…

The Thompsons and Sid Livesey did the opposite to Szulc. They obeyed every order, and jumped through every hoop. For that they stayed out of jail, but lost their properties and businesses, and face bankruptcy. What kind of “freedom” is that?


The background to his protest

This has been discussed at length on JustGrounds.

From Janet Thompson on JustGrounds August 2010

A battler, Mr. Szulc, 62, shore sheep and worked the mines, developing his (or what he THOUGHT was his) block of land near Esperance in WA as time and money permitted. He cleared regrowth on his land, most recently 40 hectares of fire breaks, after an injunction was sought by DEC to keep Mr. Szulc from using his property. It was this 40 hectares of firebreak that landed Mr. Szulc in prison.

The department said Chief Justice Martin issued the injunction in October last year after the DEC demonstrated to the court that it had exhausted all reasonable avenues of engagement and regulation to stop Mr Szulc from unlawfully clearing native vegetation on his property.

“The DEC said Mr Szulc had cleared a total of 345 hectares of native vegetation from the property without authority but that it was the 40ha Mr Szulc cleared after the court injunction that landed him in jail.”


Matt Thompson on August 3, 2010 at 9:47pm

We met Maxwell today in gaol, and just made it back. I am sure you will get a much more complete report soon. We were impressed with Max who is a very honest and courageous soul. He was very upbeat. Astonishing amount of security as he is currently in the gaol that everyone starts out in, until they sort them out.

I just couldn’t stop thinking, as we were going through the whole process through maximum security complete with retina scans and elaborate security measures to be allowed in to see this dangerous criminal, about his horrible “crime”.

His crime. Pushing over 46 hectares of scrub on his own property to make a twenty meter wide firebreak in a bush fire prone area between DEC controlled scrub. The land is not native bush and one third was legally cleared before he owned it, and he legally chained the rest in 1983 save about 250 acres which is still virgin bush. The land is owned by Max and has been since the 1970’s.Max immigrated from Germany (Szulc is Polish spelling sounds like Schultz) as a youngster and always dreamed of owning a farm. He was able to purchase his block off of his own work as an underground miner. He had to work the mines to earn more money to keep his place during bad years. The bush regrew while he was working mines. When mining went bad the last year, he got laid off and wanted to work his farm again. He is now 62, divorced, street wise and not afraid of gaol.
Unlike Matt and Janet he was smart enough to realize that management plans were a trick and he refused to submit such a plan for his own property. Like Matt and Janet, he is a vocal climate sceptic.


Matt Thompson on August 4, 2010
We provided lots and lots of management plans and paid consultants to develop them. Every time we did, DEC used information we provided against us. Providing the plan ALWAYS made our situation worse. Even though we were only doing what we said we were going to do. If they are so good at evaluating plans why don’t they just do our job… The point is that common law and justice are turned on its ear. We should not have to prove that we are not damaging OUR OWN property (proving a negative is not possible anyway). They should have to prove that we are.

Of course in reality the time frames involved in getting them to approve or allow an edit of a management plan, make normal operational management of an agricultural enterprise impossible. Conditions change way before the bureaucracy approves of plans. DEC has sat on our plans for over a year before deciding they were no good before. This management plan thing is an evil trick and I advise everyone that is required to submit such a thing to say no. It serves only to increase the power of bureaucrats to use permits and licenses as a political tool, and line the pockets of consultants. Environmental management plans approved by government results in serious harm to the environment.

Also, although there is a process for clearing permits WA, in actual practice almost none of them are granted after investing in years of time an expense in developing and presenting the plan.

Maxwell is willing to devote the rest of his life to raising awareness of the unfairness of this law. Maxwell bought the land partially cleared with the understanding he could legally clear the rest which he did. The government subsequently changed the rules and took his land without compensation which is not legal under the Australian Constitution.Maxwell does not want compensation, he wants his land and his dream he worked his whole life for back!

The Sid Livesey story (from a speech the Funeral for Property Rights)

“If you want to meet a true conservationist … a real environmentalist, come and shake this man’s hand. Sid has a property north of Albany in the Porongurups. For seven long years he fought the Ag. Department and the Soil Conservation Commission to be able to manage his land the way he deemed necessary. He finally won. Then DEC came in and took him back to square one. After spending over $300,000 in legal fees, consultancies, reports, time and effort, AND after getting a win, Sid still cannot use his land.

Do you know that the Southwest of Western Australia is a UN-declared “biodiversity hotspot?” I ask you this: If property owners are so bad, how could we possibly have such a diversity of flora and fauna in the southwest of our state when it has been held in and managed by private hands for the last 130 years? Sid lays a wreath today for the negative impact of “Biodiversity Corridors” on Private Property Rights.”

Basic Timeline

Szulc gave notice of intent to clear land in 1990 to the Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservations. Approval was given, provided he put in a management plan. He chose not too. DEC issued a Soil Conservation Notice in 1994. By 2008 they told him not to clear any more. In Sept 2009 they posted a cease and desist notice, which he disobeyed. He spent three months in jail. He was jailed again in 2010 for fifteen months which which end in February.

Szulcs appealed but lost the appeal in July 2012.

This is pure civil disobedience

I don’t recommend anyone break the law. There are better ways to protest, but note the difference between Szulc and Moylan — the Green who fraudulently issued a press release and trashed the share price of a coal miner. Szulc hurt no one, he was protesting with his own property. That is civil disobedience. Moylan did not profit, but he caused economic damage to some innocent and law abiding citizens — they paid the price for his protest. The coal industry will also now find it just a little bit harder to raise capital. That’s not civil disobedience, that’s sabotage.

As long as farmers and their associations allow them to be divided up  with individual “plans”, the culture of fear will keep each individual producer silent, afraid to speak up, and the DEC can pick the protestors off one by one. If all farmers stood together (just as all miners should) the tables would be turned. Farmers are crazy if they think being quietly obedient to such inherently undemocratic and unfair laws will make the problem go away — acquiescing just encourages the parasites to flourish.

Janet Thompson can reel off the names of other farming families who are struggling…

9 out of 10 based on 135 ratings