A sheep farmer near RAAF Base Williamtown took the Air Force to the NSW Supreme Court after it ignored a “cease and desist” notice she personally issued to stop flying aircraft over her property.
Julie Steepe, representing herself, argued on Thursday that the RAAF owed her $15.3 million for “trespass” on her farm at Bulahdelah, which contravened her “lawful right to quiet enjoyment of my property”.
Justice David Davies on Thursday dismissed the case, ordering her to pay costs.
Steepe’s 40 hectares of land is located 50 kilometres north-east of Williamtown, which is home to F-35s, Hawk, PC-9s and the E-7A Wedgetail aircraft. She claimed flights had increased from fewer than five per week to around 500.
In 2020, she issued the RAAF a series of invoices after the organisation didn’t comply with her order to “cease and desist”. The final notice stated it had seven days to show what lawful authority it had to “trespass” on her land.
“A breach of the border … will incur a fee of $AUD167,000 plus a further $AUD167,000 for each subsequent breach,” it said.
“This being compensation for breaching my lawful right to quiet enjoyment of my property, as well as my lawful right to the alienation of my property from the Crown.
“The border of my property extends to the centre of the earth and to the expanse of the universe.”
Unhappy with the response, Steepe took RAAF to the NSW Supreme Court, arguing the invoices now totalled $15.3 million.
She also sought an order to prevent further RAAF aircraft flying over her property.
Justice David Davies said in his ruling, “A landowner does not have any right arising from ownership of the land to prevent aircraft flying over their property, provided that it is at a height above that which is necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of the land and the structures upon it.
“The plaintiff submitted that she has a right to ‘quiet enjoyment of the land’, and that is interfered with by the noise of the aircraft. Any notion of quiet enjoyment is a matter between a landlord and a tenant, either as an implied or express condition of a lease.
“The word ‘quiet’ in those circumstances is not concerned with noise as such, but with a right to reside on the land without interruption, interference or disturbance by the landlord or grantor of the land. The only appropriate analogy for an owner of land in fee simple is that no other person has a right to trespass upon the land or, arguably, commit a nuisance on or onto the land.
“As will be seen below, matters of trespass and nuisance as far as aircraft are concerned, have been dealt with by statute. The plaintiff has no other ‘right’ of quiet enjoyment.”
Last year, Australian Aviation reported how noise complaints at Brisbane Airport have increased from 24 to 117 a month since the opening of its new runway.
The development comes despite earlier promises that new flightpaths would reduce disruption for locals by allowing aircraft to take off over the bay at night, rather than across the city.
The airport played down the situation and said questions and complaints were “expected” given the changes.