In brief

The case of Western Downs Regional Council v Geldard [2020] QLAC 1 concerned an appeal by the Western Downs Regional Council (Council) to the Land Appeal Court of Queensland (Appeal Court) in relation to the categorisation of land located at Fairymeadow Road, Miles (Land). 

The issue before the Appeal Court was whether the Land Court had erred in concluding that the Land ought to be categorised for rating purposes as category 3/16 Rural rather than category 4/31 Petroleum Other.

In allowing the appeal, the Appeal Court relevantly held as follows:

  • It is the use of the land, not solely the principal activity of the landowner, that determines categorisation.

  • The Council's 2017-18 Revenue Statement (Revenue Statement) demonstrated a deliberate departure from the wording of previous rate resolutions which had regard to the primary use of land. The rating categories evidenced an intention to give consideration to all land uses, not merely the predominant use. 

Brief background

The Land was freehold land comprising a 839 ha property in Miles, Queensland. The Land was previously used for the extraction of gas and categorised for rating purposes as category 4/31 Petroleum Other (>400 HA). 

The Land was subsequently purchased by the respondent who used the Land for grazing and cropping. The previous landowner continued to use the gas wells and associated infrastructure on the Land for gas extraction pursuant to a petroleum lease. The rating category did not change after the respondent became the landowner. 

The respondent objected to the categorisation, and successfully appealed to the Land Court which concluded that the Land ought to be categorised for rating purposes as category 3/16 Rural on the basis that the category reflected the principal activity being carried out on the Land by the registered owner. 

The Council appealed the Land Court's decision, and submitted that the Land Court erroneously focussed only on what the current landowner was using the Land for, rather than what the Land as a whole was being used for.

Conflicting rating categories

The Revenue Statement described category 3/16 Rural as follows (emphasis added):

Land used principally for rural purposes, which is not otherwise categorised, and has an area not less than 100 ha.

The Revenue Statement described category 4/31 Petroleum Other (>400 HA) as follows (emphasis added):

Land, other than a Petroleum Lease, with an area 400 ha or greater, which is used or intended to be used, in whole or in part, and whether predominantly or not, for:

(a) Gas and/or oil extraction; and/or

(b) Processing of gas and/or oil; and/or

(c) Transportation of gas and/or oil by pipeline; or

(d) For any purpose ancillary to or associated with (a) to (c), including water storage, compressor stations or block valves. 

This category does not include land in Category 4/38.

Land ought to be categorised as rating category 4/31 Petroleum Other (>400 HA)

The Appeal Court noted that the Land Court had to “give a practical, sensible, broad and fair reading to the [Revenue Statement] and ratings categories in the context of the application of orthodox principles of statutory interpretation” (at [27]). 

The Appeal Court held that the Land Court erred in concluding that the Land ought to be categorised as category 3/16 Rural. In particular, the Appeal Court held that the Land Court erred in finding that categorisation of the Land required the Court "to contemplate, given the rates are to be paid by the landowner, which is the "principal" activity carried on by that registered owner" (at [30]).

In reaching that conclusion the Appeal Court relevantly held as follows:

  • Rates are a tax on land, not on the landowner (at [29]).

  • It is the use of the land, not solely the principal activity of the landowner, that determines categorisation (at [32]).

  • A determination of the rating category required consideration of the words adopted by the Council (at [28]).

  • The wording of category 4/31 Petroleum Other did not require land to be used exclusively, wholly or predominantly for gas extraction, which demonstrated a deliberate departure from the wording of previous rate resolutions which had regard to the primary use of land, and therefore evidenced an intention to give consideration to all uses of the land not merely its predominant use (at [33]-[34]).

  • The wording of category 3/16 Rural expressly provided that the Land could not fall within that category if it is "otherwise categorised" (at [38]).

Conclusion

The Appeal Court allowed the appeal on the basis that the Land Court had made an error of law in construing the relevant rating categories in the Council's Revenue Statement. 

The Appeal Court found that the Council's Revenue Statement devised a structure whereby "[f]reehold land holdings above a certain size, which had a use or intended use of gas extraction or associated activities, although not its whole or predominant use, are subject to [a] specific categorisation" (at [44]).

Accordingly, the Appeal Court held that, properly construed, the Land fell within category 4/31 Petroleum Other (>400 HA).

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2021.

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