1988 December – 1989 January: Mungindi Cotton grower fined massive fish kill.

Nsw Law Crosses The Border

Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday August 28, 1990

A cotton grower has been convicted by a NSW court on charges relating to pollution caused by chemicals he spread on his property in Queensland.

The grower, charged with polluting the Barwon River on the NSW border with insecticide which killed thousands of fish, would not be charged under Queensland law, the Land and Environment Court heard yesterday.

The chief judge, Justice Cripps, convicted Geoffrey Brownlie, 41, of Ridgeview, Mungindi, Queensland, on two charges by the NSW State Pollution Control Commission, under the NSW Clean Waters Act. The offences occurred between December 30, 1988 and January 1, 1989.

Mungindi is built on both sides of the Barwon, the middle line of which is the border between the two States. The pollution occurred when unexpected heavy rain washed the insecticide off Mr Brownlie’s cotton crop in Queensland into the river.

In August this year, after Mr Brownlie pleaded not guilty, Justice Cripps found the offences proved. Mr Brownlie then lodged an appeal with the Court of Appeal, alleging that the Land and Environment Court had no jurisdiction to hear the charges as its authority ended at the border.

Yesterday, in a submission on penalty, Mr Brownlie’s barrister, Mr Angus Talbot, asked the judge to deal with him under Section 556A of the Crimes Act, the first offender’s provision, without recording a conviction.

Mr Talbot said the Queensland Clean Waters Act allowed the discharge of stormwater from agricultural land into Queensland rivers, so the polluted run-off into the Barwon did not contravene Queensland law and Queensland authorities did nothing about it.

It entered their river, too; arguably it killed their fish – indeed, all the fish may have been Queensland fish, he said.

Ms Helen Murrell, for the commission, said Mr Brownlie’s actions resulted in the deaths of many thousands of fish for several kilometres of the river, extending through the town water supply.

Justice Cripps convicted Mr Brownlie and fined him $12,000 on one charge and $1 on the other, and ordered him to pay, subject to assessment, the commission’s costs of about $30,000. Mr Brownlie intends to appeal against his conviction.