Court win takes a human toll

17 Apr, 2015 02:00 AM
Peter Swift outside the Manjimup Court after his third of five court appearances.
“If that’s the action they want to take, let them come and get me.
Peter Swift outside the Manjimup Court after his third of five court appearances.

LAKE Muir landowner Peter Swift is claiming between $2.7 million and $2.9m compensation from the State Government after a failed attempt by the then Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) to prosecute him for illegally clearing 14 hectares of his land.

While Mr Swift won his battle with the DEC in October 2013 he says the contest cost him dearly in health and finances to the point where he can no longer work and make repayments to his bank, the P&N Bank.

During his trial, which involved five court appearances over nearly three years, Mr Swift also learned that about half his 485ha property had environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs), which meant he could not graze livestock on those areas, as it was considered illegal clearing.

The P&N Bank has recommended Mr Swift raise the issue with the Financial Ombudsman Service, an independent external dispute resolution scheme. The bank said it would abide by its dispute determinations.

Mr Swift said he was in a holding pattern and expected the bank could at any time try to take possession of his property.

“If that’s the action they want to take, let them come and get me,” he said.

He has made an application to Attorney General Michael Mischin for the $2.7m to $2.9m compensation after being invited by the Attorney General to make a possible claim for an ex gratia State payment.

Mr Swift is claiming loss in value of his property, DEC prosecution legal fees as well as expenses, lost wages, income and earnings as a result of the prosecution.

He is also claiming loss of earnings from his farm from the date of the DEC prosecution to the present time as well as for future loss of earnings.

Mr Swift is also claiming loss and future loss of income as a mechanic as well as P&N legal costs and current legal costs.

“I am on medication to stop me going loopy – I am pretty unstable,” Mr Swift said.

“I am a diesel mechanic but with this medication I can’t go into the workplace.

“My losses are up near $2.9m at this stage.”

He said a request to the bank to only pay the bank interest on his mortgage was declined.

Mr Swift, who stopped making payments on his mortgage last year, said he probably owed the bank about $900,000 due to the penalties.

“I offered to pay $20,000 for interest but they still rejected it,” he said.

“The (State) Government put me in this position.

“I was ahead of my payments and life was sweet for me until these people (DEC) invaded my life.”

Mr Swift said while the Department of Environment Regulation (formerly the DEC) said he could apply for a permit to graze his ESAs, he did not agree to those conditions because other farms with ESAs did not have to do the same.

He said the ESAs were also not on his title which is why he didn’t know they existed until the court case.

“I want what’s on my titles, which is rural farmland,” Mr Swift said.

“I am not asking for anything I am not entitled to, I just want back what I had originally.”

“We were in our sixth year and I could have had this place paid for.

“I am an innocent man and I want something to get me back in the position I was.”

Gingin Private Property Rights Group president Murray Nixon has lodged a petition in State Parliament to repeal the Environmental Protection (Environmentally Sensitive Areas) Notice 2005.

He said in the petition that if the full legal requirements of the Notice were fully implemented it would destroy the livelihood of an estimated 3000 to 4000 property owners and their communities from Kalbarri to the South West corner to Esperance.

Mr Swift had been invited to speak at the Property Rights Australia (PRA) annual general meeting in August.

The PRA has said WA had the worst property rights in Australia.



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