It’s easy to see why Mark Latham is among those who have pledged to compensate NuCoal Resources for what amounts to an act of state-sponsored theft.
Latham hopes to win a seat in the NSW upper house on a platform that includes reinforcing property rights by forcing the state to adopt the same respect for private property that applies to the federal government.
The commonwealth, but not the states, can only take private property if it provides compensation that, in the words of the constitution, amounts to “just terms”.
Anyone who might think state-sponsored theft could never happen to them should consider what happened to NuCoal’s shareholders when NSW stripped this company of its main asset, an exploration licence. Its share price collapsed.
One of those hit hard was Newcastle shareholder Peter Harvey who told The Australian last year the cancellation had cost him $110,000.
He had bought NuCoal shares as an investment to help care for his daughter Eliza, who has Angelman’s syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leaves people with developmental delays, intellectual disabilities and limited mobility.
“I am not a criminal. I am certainly not a big fish but I am an honest family man trying to future-proof my daughter’s quality of life,” Harvey told this newspaper.
NuCoal did nothing wrong. Yet the NSW parliament, based on untested accusations about others, simply took away its property. Latham certainly wants to compensate NuCoal, but he also wants to change the law to ensure this can never happen again.
“These mum and dad investors have been ripped off. This could not happen at a federal level so in NSW it is a matter, not just of compensating the NuCoal investors, but of putting in place legal provisions that protect property rights across the board,” he says.
“Where government does decide to infringe on property rights there should be just compensation provisions that are automatically triggered as in the federal constitution.”
Latham believes NuCoal is not the only case where rights to private property have been infringed by state governments.
“You cannot run a society and an economy based on cowboy behaviour that allows investors to be ripped off, property owners can be badly treated and people cannot build a sea wall to defend their homes against ocean storms. But the clearest case is NuCoal,” Latham says.
Chris Merritt, Legal Affairs Editor
WTF (used with permission)