For Buddhist retirees Jack and Lin Chia, every life is sacred, including plants.
But a Melbourne council accuses the elderly couple of poisoning a large pine tree in the backyard of their Balwyn North home.
The allegation has been deeply upsetting for the family and now they face legal action if they don’t pay $4,000 in fines.
“I don’t know how the tree died,” Jack told 9News.
“I’m sorry about that. Really sorry.”
Despite the fact that only one tree was involved, Buroondara council issued both Jack and Lin $2,000 violation notices.
Under local law, the owner or owners of private land where a tree has died is guilty until proven guilty. The onus is on the title holder to prove that someone else was responsible.
The couple’s son, Norm, says it’s “grossly unfair”.
“It’s biased against any form of challenging local law. It’s basically impossible for my parents to prove they did nothing.”
Urban planning expert Bill Kusznirczuk says this is a “special” case, especially since pine is considered an “environmental weed”.
He criticized the council for issuing two infringement notices, telling Nine News: “There is no explicable reason why every occupant of the house would be fined for this tree. I think the council needs to look into this. very carefully.”
Jack and Lin admit that they had already asked the council for a permit to cut down the aging tree, fearing that the falling branches could be dangerous.
But they insist they had nothing to do with his death, as killing living beings is against their spiritual beliefs.
“My parents don’t use chemicals, they don’t use pesticides or fertilizers,” Norm told Nine News.
Boroondara council told Nine News that “tree protection is a priority for residents”.
“Residents have identified the protection of the tree canopy on private land as fundamental to preserving the amenity character of Boroondara. To protect this special character, the council has a local law that requires a permit to remove or destroy a “significant tree”.
The local law has been in place for 14 years and includes a clause holding landowners responsible for what happens on their land.
“Under this clause the owner or owners of land from which a significant tree or canopy is removed or killed is guilty of an offense unless the owner or owners can prove that the interference was undertaken by another party without the knowledge of the owner or owners.”
The council is currently considering an appeal from the couple.