Coast couple’s epic battle with Queensland Government
NINE years ago, Chris and Debra Mills bought a home on the Coast.
The Palmwoods couple, originally from New Zealand, had been there just four months when they got a letter from the Government requesting access to their property.
It wasn't long before they got a follow-up letter, saying their property had been earmarked as being directly in the path of a massive water pipeline, linking the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane as part of plans to droughtproof the city.
"We have half an acre, what are the odds really? Half an acre of a whole continent, and the water pipe goes straight through," Mr Mills, 57, told news.com.au.
The Government explained they needed to put an easement over almost half of their property, but assured the couple they would be well-compensated.
"We were given some assurances, the first one was that we would end up in a better position when they finished than when they started - there was no way we'd be disadvantaged at all," said Mr Mills.
In reality, they were led straight up the garden path.
It took about two months for the pipeline to be installed.
A number of stately old trees were bulldozed, a five-metre canyon was cut within metres of the house, and they went one week with a diesel generator the size of a shipping containing chugging away 24/7 when mains power was cut.
According to Mr Mills, their wooden house was violently shaken, such that cracks and superficial damage appeared throughout, and a shed was removed.
At the time, he was working a stressful job in sales, and he told news.com.au his work combined with the stress of his home life forced him into medical retirement.
The couple now wants to claim about $200,000 in compensation, but Mr Mills says the Queensland Government has spent the better part of the last six years mucking them around, tying them up with legal fees and refusing to pay a decent amount.
"Now they want to go to the Land Court, we haven't filed our case yet but that's going to cost tens of thousands. They're going to spend more in court fighting us than they would if they'd just paid up," he said.
"We have to absolutely to the nth degree give them receipts and prove all our claims, and then they make a counter offer. Our claim is for $200,000, they offered us $70,000 and we said no. Then they offered $80 and said to take it or leave it."
When the dispute went to mediation, the Government made a final offer of $110,000, and the couple left furious.
Their lawyer, Peter Boyce from Butler McDermott in Nambour, estimated he's dealt with about 90 local land acquisition cases over the years, and said the way people are being treated is "extremely poor".
"The major problem is the government set-up. The Government take the land, but the work is done by a government corporation, and they have a lot of subcontractors," he explained.
"The Government is nowhere to be seen for the garbage they've left behind, and the inappropriate rehabilitation of the properties, and when it comes to compensation they fight you all along the way for every cent."
He said the way people are being treated on the Sunshine Coast is especially unfair when compared to the way landowners were affected by the failed Traveston Dam project in the Mary Valley, an hour's drive away.
"People there were treated with some respect, and they got what I would call good compensation," he told news.com.au.
"How can you have one rule here and a different rule for other people? The government should be prepared to acknowledge (these people) were treated poorly, they made a lot of false promises, and try to make good on what they've done."
He said in the end, most people settle simply because they're sick of fighting.
"When the poor old landowner says 'you've damaged my property', you should say 'that should never have happened'. There's no acknowledgment of the fact we're dealing with people, not a number in a computer.
"There's no responsibility, they all say 'that's not our job'. The buck must stop somewhere."
A spokesperson for the Queensland Government's Coordinator-General said they are "attempting to reach agreement in a fair and timely manner".
However, they were unable to comment further.