Gasfield demonstrator's conviction quashed
A QUEENSLAND judge has overturned the conviction of Drew Hutton, co-founder of the Greens and president of anti-coal seam gas group Lock the Gate.
Mr Hutton was arrested on March 29 last year while protesting outside Peranga Station, on QGC's gasfields near Tara on the western Darling Downs.
Last December Mr Hutton was convicted in the Dalby Magistrates Court under section 805 of Queensland's Petroleum and Gas Act, which provides for fines of up to $50,000 against anyone who obstructs an oil and gas company from entering, crossing or carrying out any other authorised activity on land covered by an exploration or production licence - on condition that they have been properly warned by the company.
But District Court Judge Fleur Kingham acquitted Mr Hutton - the only person to have been convicted under the law - on the basis that he was not properly warned by QGC. Her judgment criticised the "awkward and ambiguous drafting of section 805".
Mr Hutton said it would be a "brave or foolish policeman" who arrested anyone under the Queensland law.
"It's been the main bluff the government and companies have been using against landowners from day one. The other one is that landowners would be taken to court. We've called (their bluff)," he said. "This makes it a lot easier for people to lock the gate."
Mr Hutton's appeal was funded by Kjerulf Ainsworth, son of billionaire pokies king Len Ainsworth, who has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Lock the Gate.
The Queensland government is overhauling the land access and compensation laws that govern the interaction of farmers and mining companies, amid a national debate about balancing the rights of oil and gas companies with those of landowners.
Neither QGC nor oil and gas lobby group the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association was available to comment on Sunday.