Farmer backlash forces land grab backflip

Melissa Grant

Dozens of Queensland farmers are breathing a collective sigh of relief after the federal government retreated on plans to compulsorily acquire agricultural land to expand two military training bases.

For months farming families around the Shoalwater Bay base, near Rockhampton, and the Townsville Field Training area had faced the nightmare prospect of being forced off their land so Singaporean troops could train on it.

Graziers Linda and Lawson Geddes, aged in their 60s, stood to lose their 15,000 hectare property at Kunwarara, which borders Shoalwater Bay and has been in their family for 140 years.

"We didn't want to go - the thing is where do you go?" Mrs Geddes told AAP.

"It (the backflip) is just like a weight being lifted off your shoulders - you feel like you can finally breathe again."

The Turnbull government announced it would ditch compulsory acquisitions and only pursue voluntary sales on Tuesday, four days after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce met with landholders around Shoalwater Bay, including the Geddes.

"We just wanted to be able to show him the land because nobody had looked at what they were going to take, they just put lines on a map in Canberra," Mrs Geddes said.

"He was most surprised. He said 'I'll have to fix this up'."

Mr Joyce said the government had worked out a way to proceed with the expansions in a way that worked for local landowners.

"We are not an arrogant government," he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said land would only be purchased from farmers willing to sell, with a masterplan to soon be finalised.

"The case has been made ... it's one the government has listened to and heard very clearly," she told ABC radio.

The land grab encountered a strong backlash from farmers, who gained support from both sides of Queensland politics and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.

AgForce General President Grant Maudsley said the federal government's decision was a victory for common sense.

"It's disappointing that these farming families had to go through months of unnecessary stress and heartache, but we are pleased the right result was achieved in the end," he said.

Labor's agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, called for the federal government to apologise and commit to a more transparent process as it pursued land on a voluntary basis.

"No doubt graziers will feel under pressure - as they are encircled - to sell their land to accommodate defence," he said.

Queensland Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne said the backflip was welcome but the federal government still had to answer a lot of questions about the "shonky process" and the anguish it had inflicted.

The state's opposition leader, Tim Nicholls, said the decision showed the prime minister was prepared to listen and act in the best interest of Queenslanders.

The government wants to expand the two military bases as part of a $2.2 billion investment by the Singaporean Army that will see about 14,000 of its troops use the sites for up to four months each year.