Attempts to cast the slain environmental officer Glen Turner as a pariah who was persecuting an honest farmer have appalled a former colleague, who fears the alleged killer will be romanticised as “some kind of Ned Kelly” of land clearers.
“I want to honour Glen by setting the record straight,” said Steve Beaman, who worked alongside Mr Turner as a compliance officer in the state’s north-west for the state Office of Environment and Heritage.
Mr Beaman, who took redundancy last year, accompanied Mr Turner in August 2012 when he visited Ian Turnbull, the 79-year-old farmer who is now accused of murdering Mr Turner in a hail of five gunshots, three of which hit the man.
Mr Turnbull allegedly ambushed Mr Turner and fellow officer Robert Strange last week on a dirt road at Croppa Creek, north of Moree.
“I was deeply grieved by Glen’s death,” Mr Beaman said. But he became troubled two days later when he read a media statement from a Turnbull family member who described Ian Turnbull as a respected elder who “crumbled” under the pressure of prosecutions and orders to remediate land cleared of trees.
Mr Turnbull had been unhappy about Mr Turner visiting their properties and the family reportedly hoped this tragedy would lead to changes to the NSW Native Vegetation Act to give farmers more say about land clearing.
Mr Beaman was further saddened by Moree mayor Katrina Humphries saying that festering environmental tensions meant violence was “always going to happen” and federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce decrying the “crazy situation where you don’t own the vegetation on your land, the state government does, and many people have had enough”.
Mr Beaman said no industry was exempt from regulation, and that included crop farming. "Sensible regulation prevents a nation from free-falling into anarchy,” he said.
He said the Office of Environment and Heritage, upon learning the Turnbulls were considering buying the properties Strathdoon and Colorado, decided to write to give them fair warning that they may require formal consent for any planned clearing. The Turnbulls had been known for buying land with remnant vegetation and clearing it for cropping, and the office was aware that the two properties contained habitat critical for koalas and other species.
The then Catchment Management Authority, the consenting authority, had assessed the properties and deemed that they should not be cleared. “Despite this knowledge, the Turnbulls commenced clearing the land – even before they had settled on the purchase of the properties in 2012,” Mr Beaman said.
Ian Turnbull pleaded guilty in the Land and Environment Court to using a bulldozer to clear 421 hectares on his son Grant’s property, Colorado, and 73 hectares on grandson Corey's adjoining farm, Strathdoon. Two further prosecutions were commenced against Ian and Corey Turnbull over unauthorised clearing on Strathdoon between January and September 2012.
In a letter to state Environment Minister Robert Stokes last month, the Northern Inland Council for the Environment said it had been informed that illegal clearing on the Turnbull properties was “occurring right now”. The family had persisted “despite state and federal investigations into the illegal clearing”. It would be a test of the government’s resolve to address the problem, the letter said.
Mr Beaman said: “Glen wasn’t persecuting anybody. He was just doing his job, a job fully supported and appreciated by the broader community.”