North Queensland family seek action over ABC claims of illegal clearing

Dean and Emmalee Jonsson and their two children, William and Colby, with a sign on their property reading "Koala Killer".
Dean and Emmalee Jonsson and their two children, William and Colby, with a sign on their property reading "Koala Killer".

The ABC has refused to respond to questions over a story that aired on ABC TV last Thursday, just ahead of the state election, accusing a Far North Queensland family of illegal tree clearing. 

Warren and Gail Jonsson were at the centre of a news report that alleged the family had illegally logged 60 hectares of land on their Mt Garnett property, Wombinoo.

The story, which included drone footage from the Wilderness Society claimed the area had been home to endangered species, including koalas.

ABC claimed the Federal Government had confirmed the family were under investigation over the clearing – a claim denied by the Jonsson family. 

Since the report aired, the family have had signage on their property vandalised with the words ‘koala killers’ and a Catapillar D7 set alight and destroyed. That incident has been reported to police who are currently investigating. 

The Jonssons are now taking legal action over the claims which they say were politically motivated and timed to run just ahead of the election, in which tree clearing was a controversial issue.  

“On Sunday someone went out to the property and wrote koala killer over a no entry sign going into our farming area on Wombinoo and while there they also set alight to a D7 bulldozer,” Mr Jonsson said.

“We are definitely seeking compensation – we are seeking compensation for damages done to our business and the stress it has caused our family.

“We will seek justice.”

The Jonsson’s story 

Warren and Gail Jonsson operate their business in conjunction with their sons and daughters-in-law. 

Dean and Emmalee Jonsson manage the cattle operation on Wombinoo while Bradley and Natasha manage the family’s Ravenshoe property where they grow avocados and potatoes.

The family also operate Jonsson’s Farm Market in Cairns and are passionate about their ‘paddock to plate’ approach to farming. Last year, Warren was named the Mareeba and District Fruit and Vegetable Grower of the Year. 

The Jonssons have owned Wombinoo, located 50km south of Mount Garnett, for three decades. 

Warren and Gail Jonsson

Warren and Gail Jonsson

Mr Jonsson said he obtained a high value agriculture permit from the State Government to clear 2700ha of the 25,000ha Wombinoo but has, to date, only cleared 560ha. They have since developed about 300ha for cultivation, last year growing 6000 tonnes of silage that has been stored for drought feed. 

They have planted 3000 avocado trees on the property and hope to plant another 5000. The Jonssons are also investigating the potential of growing macadamias on Wombinoo. 

Mr Jonsson said representatives from the Federal Government had visited the property on two occasions to identify any threatened species of national environmental significance and ultimately cleared the family of any wrong doing.

He said scats found at the base of trees were taken back to Canberra for testing but were determined not to have come from koalas. 

“I’ve been there for 30 years and I’ve never seen koalas,” he said. 

The Jonssons also say they’ve undertaken their own independent ecological assessment on the cleared area, at a personal cost of around $50,000. 

Mr Jonsson said it was his understanding that a member of the Wilderness Society had come onto the property within the past month and, using a drone, had filmed an area of cleared land.

He said the footage was sent to George Roberts from the ABC in Brisbane who then contacted Mr Jonsson seeking comment.

“He (George Roberts) told me he had footage from the Wilderness Society where we had been illegally clearing land,” Mr Jonsson said.

“I told him we had a permit for clearing under high value agriculture and that the land cleared was done three years ago and it was legal. 

“He assured me that it wasn’t legal and asked if I would like to be quoted on certain things. I refused to be quoted on anything because he had already made up his mind that what I was doing was illegal.

“I said to him he shouldn’t use the footage because there were allegations that weren’t true and he should contact the appropriate authorities to get the right story.”

AgForce responds 

Today, AgForce called on the Federal and State Governments to explain the truth behind the claims. 

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said The Wilderness Society had a long history of making unsubstantiated allegations and the Jonssons maintained they had all the relevant approvals. 

"AgForce does not condone any landholders deliberately engaging in any illegal activity, but nor do we condone landholders being vilified and persecuted if they have acted in accordance with the law," he said.

The burnt dozer on the family's property.

The burnt dozer on the family's property.

"If the Federal Government is actually investigating this matter, they need to do so quickly as the public airing of unsubstantiated allegations is doing enormous damage to the owner's business and reputation. 

"With the unsubstantiated claims being made on the eve of the state election, it looks and smells like these landholders are just being used as pawns in a political game.”

Queensland Country Life has sought clarification from the Federal Government over the claims and also contacted the ABC for comment. 

A spokesperson for the ABC said they had “no comment on this today”.