Court battle

22 May, 2002 10:00 PM
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By CHELSEA CORMELL

A WA landowner has threatened to sue the State Government over land clearing bans, claiming natural justice had been denied.

If successful, it could encourage dozens of disgruntled landowners to take similar action, which could cost the Government millions of dollars.

Representatives of the embattled landowners have warned that legal action could begin within the week if a clearing ban imposed by Soil and Land Conservation Commissioner David Hartley was not removed.

But Agriculture Minister Kim Chance has welcomed the possibility of court action on the issue, which has dogged the farming industry for years.

Mr Chance said the complexity of issues surrounding land clearing made it a matter best resolved by the courts.

"I have always welcomed the idea of a single defining case," he said.

Mr Chance admitted a veil of secrecy had surrounded bureaucratic processes relating to clearing bans but rejected claims that natural justice had been denied.

Environmental and legal consultant Jim Kenneison claimed Mr Hartley had broken the laws of natural justice, which would prove extremely costly for WA.

Mr Kenneison, who was chief crown prosecutor in the Northern Territory and chief crown counsel in South Australia, alleged Mr Hartley had failed to comply with the most basic elements of natural justice.

The laws required him to issue the landowner with substantiated evidence to support his claims that land clearing would result in soil degradation.

He failed give the landowner the opportunity to defend himself at a hearing, which was also part of the law.

Mr Kenneison said the case could open the way for other claims because Mr Hartley had consistently ignored these laws when assessing applications for land clearing.

In another case, a WA Supreme Court judge ruled that an injunction on BGC Australia be removed on the grounds that Mr Hartley and his representatives failed to provide evidence to substantiate the imposition of the clearing ban imposed on the land.

Mr Chance said he was not a legal expert but the advice given to him left him feeling confident the about the outcome of the proposed action.

He said the claimants would first have to prove the actions taken by Mr Hartley and his representatives were outside of the statute.

However, natural justice laws state a person has the right to be heard before the imposition of statutory power, which could strip a person of their general legal rights.

Mr Hartley refused to comment on the allegations.

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