The Turnbull government is on a collision course with One Nation over its decision to compulsorily acquire farming properties to allow Singaporean soldiers more room to train on Australian soil.
As north Queensland Liberal senator Ian Macdonald insists the resumptions are in the national interest, One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts will this week meet the affected landholders, west of Townsville.
Senator Roberts, a Queenslander, yesterday reiterated the party’s opposition to the misuse or sale of productive farmland, particularly to foreign owners.
The Australian has learned One Nation leader Pauline Hanson also wants to speak to the graziers directly and will examine the issue with Senator Roberts, who is seeking a briefing from Defence Minister Marise Payne.
“We will return to north Queensland in January 2017 and look at the area specifically, and listen to more locals,” Senator Roberts said.
The landholders’ plight is a potential flashpoint in north Queensland as the resurgent One Nation plans to increase its presence ahead of the next Queensland state election. It also looms as a challenge to Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce who is trying to fend off Pauline Hanson’s resurgence in his party’s regional heartland.
The One Nation visit comes as north Queensland MP Bob Katter threatens the federal government with “World War III” if it insists on proceeding with the compulsory acquisitions, saying productive farmland should not be sacrificed. Mr Katter warned the proposal would also landlock Townsville for future development. He suggested another site for the Singaporeans, at Pentland, north of Charters Towers.
About 23 families are at risk of being thrown off their properties near Charters Towers by the Defence Department, so it can expand an existing field training area under the terms of a $2.5 billion agreement with Singapore, signed in May. Australian troops will also use the facilities.
More rural properties are being forcibly acquired north of Rockhampton, next to the Shoalwater Bay training base, to accommodate the 14,000 Singapore troops scheduled to train in Australia for 18 weeks a year under the 25-year joint defence training contract.
Many of the affected Charters Towers graziers are in discussion with a solicitor.
Senator Payne was unavailable but Defence officials are expected to meet landholders this week. .
One Nation holds four votes in a fractious Senate and although the land resumptions would not require legislation or a vote of parliament, the government will be keen to avoid further tensions with the crossbench.
Cattleman Bob Hicks, one farmer to receive a letter confirming his family’s 20,000ha cattle-fattening property, Mirambeena, is up for acquisition. “This place is part of our hearts and souls; the home just doesn’t stop at the house — it’s out there in every part of the country,” he said.
Senator Macdonald has said Defence would seek to mitigate problems around the resumptions and affected owners would be “fully and properly compensated”.
Mr Katter said his preferred site near Pentland was “very poor country’’ compared with land near Charters Towers. “We are positive for the expansion, but not at the expense at our future meatworks, the future growth of our city, the destruction of prime agricultural land and serious issues of ordinance running on to the Great Barrier Reef.”