Ex-RAAF man fined for shack in national park
A RETIRED military man who threw up a bush shack on leased National Park land where he grazes cattle, has been hit with a $10,000 fine.
But it could have been worse for Barry McLaren, with maximum penalties stretching to more than $300,000 and $20,000 for unapproved structures.
Ipswich Magistrates Court heard it was the first time he'd ever been charged with an offence in an otherwise blameless life, including a stint working on a Prime Minister's plane.
In the Department of Environment prosecution case, Barry William McLaren, 58, from Caboolture, pleaded guilty to taking natural resources or interfere with natural resources of a protected area at a Somerset protected area between August 2015 and January 2018; and at a Somerset protected area erected and kept an unauthorised structure between January 2017 and May 2018.
Department of Environment prosecutor Sarah Slater withdrew other charges with no evidence offered following discussions between the two parties.
She said the facts include the taking of or interfering with trees, plants or soil in a national park, and building a structure described as being a hut with an outdoor shower and chemical toilet - an offence under the Nature Conservation Act regulation relating to protected areas management.
Ms Slater said McLaren held a registered lease in the Conondale National Park to be used for grazing of his cattle.
No unauthorised clearing was to take place or improvements to land.
But in August 2017 park rangers saw a hut erected with several tables and benches, seven plants - six ferns and an orchid stacked near a table.
"A rustic outdoor shower with screens nailed to trees, and a portable toilet," she said.
"Nineteen trees had been felled, cut down or taken in the area."
And a drain to keep rainwater away from the hut had been dug.
"He (McLaren) says he constructed the hut, shower. Dead trees had been cut down with a chainsaw, cut ferns, orchid with the chainsaw," she said.
"Used nails, screws into the trees to build.
"Levelled ground to divert rainwater away.
"Rangers noticed a bunk bed and medication bottle with his name."
McLaren later told rangers he did this so he could stay overnight.
Ms Slater said an appropriate penalty was a fine of between $10,000-$12,000 and up to $4000 for the building offence.
She said human activities in such protected areas are regulated so as not to interfere with the integrity of natural areas, their biodiversity and wilderness state.
Ms Slater said it was necessary for courts to factor in deterrents in the penalties delivered because there was often great difficulty in detecting offences.
Defence lawyer Michael Burrows said McLaren was a hard-working man who spent 20 years in the RAAF and saw overseas service.
"And never been in any trouble before. He is a good man who made a mistake," he said.
"In the RAAF he worked on the Prime Minister's 707 for a number of years.
"The lease was for grazing of cattle.
"There was some confusion of what he could do as a lessee. Not malicious intent.
"The structure was done more as a convenience to stay as he has to travel substantial distance to his lease.
"There is no allegation they were live trees. Were dead or on the ground.
"Indications are that he went searching to find material for the structure. You can see the locations where the various stumps are. Rather than simply chopping trees down near his site."
Mr Burrows sought a fine with no conviction recorded.
Magistrate Brian Kucks said photos show that the structure was "not a fantastic edifice".
He said penalties of more than $300,000 and jail show that offending under the Nature Conservation Act is deemed serious by parliament.
Mr Kucks said McLaren had since removed the structure and there was no need for a reparation order as the site would regenerate.
He fined McLaren $10,000 with $500 to be paid for legal costs.
No conviction was recorded.