Dodgy fruit picker ‘hostel’ busted by council officers

CLOSE QUARTERS: More than 70 seasonal fruit pickers had been sleeping cheek by jowl in the marquee.
CLOSE QUARTERS: More than 70 seasonal fruit pickers had been sleeping cheek by jowl in the marquee. Supplied

A LANDOWNER who crammed no fewer than 74 overseas workers into a marquee in his backyard has been successfully prosecuted by the Southern Downs Regional Council.

Jan Idec of Thulimbah, north of Stanthorpe, appeared in the Planning and Environment Court in Brisbane yesterday where he was found guilty of running illegal accommodation.

Mr Idec's appearance ironically comes just a day after the Daily News reported the council is facing a string of court cases over planning matters, mostly resulting from its refusal of development plans.

The council originally sought an enforcement order on March 27 to force Mr Idec to remove the marquee from the 14ha property on Granite Belt Drive.

He does have an approval from the council for a resort including guest accommodation, wine tasting and sales, function rooms and stables and currently operates a guest house and cottages.

Mr Idec has been ordered to dismantle the marquee by 4pm today, but his penalty is yet to be handed down.

Seventy-four fruit pickers were found living in this tent on the Granite Belt.
Seventy-four fruit pickers were found living in this tent on the Granite Belt.



"Council staff and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services personnel inspected the property and were greatly concerned about the potential for loss of life in the event of a fire," Cr Blundell said.

"The council took action immediately issuing an interim application to the court for a hearing.

"The Planning and Environment Court instructed the landowner to remove seasonal workers from the marquee immediately and to remove the structure.

"The council is vigilant about the illegal housing of backpackers and seasonal workers in the council area and this case has proved that our efforts are worthwhile.

"Our farmers value the backpackers and seasonal workers who pick fruit and vegetables. Their input helps drive our local economy and these workers deserve to have safe and comfortable accommodation during their stay on the Southern Downs."

Cr Blundell said in past years council staff had found a number of backpacker-style accommodation units that were not compliant.

"In some cases the accommodation was way below standard, to the point of being a health risk with overloaded septic tanks and crowded bedrooms," he said.

"Both the council and QFES are extremely concerned about safety and we do not want a repeat of the Childers backpacker hostel fire in 2000, where lives were lost.

"Anyone wanting to rent short-term accommodation units to backpackers or fruit pickers must have planning approval and for some properties this might require a change in building classification for the structure.

"As many people would know, landlord insurance is deemed invalid if a property is illegally tenanted.

"Council inspections of properties are conducted on an ongoing basis."

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