LIBERAL MLC Robyn McSweeney recently launched a stinging attack on Department of Environment Regulation (DER) bureaucrats for their treatment of Manjimup landowner Peter Swift.
Her attack stems from when Mr Swift was accused by DER of illegally clearing 14 hectares of his property and found not guilty in the Bunbury Magistrates Court nearly two years ago.
His victory was bitter sweet because during his three-year trial involving five court appearances he was made aware that nearly half of his 486 ha property was classed as environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs), meaning he could not use it for grazing his livestock.
To do so could incur a $250,000 fine.
He was unaware of the ESAs before he bought the property because they are not mentioned on titles.
During a parliamentary debate this month on the Environment Protection (Environmentally Sensitive Areas) Notice 2005, known as the ESA Notice, Ms McSweeney said Mr Swift had been treated appallingly by bureaucrats, particularly from DER.
“The court case that eventuated and took some years to be heard was an absolute nightmare for a man who did nothing wrong,” Ms McSweeney said.
“His farm is a lifestyle farm which he bought for his retirement and he will more than likely end up losing it because of the way he was treated and the money he has lost through being ill which was a direct result of the environmental bureaucrats.
“Why was the court case allowed to proceed?
“These questions need to be asked.
“I went into politics to help people not to harm them.
“This (ESA Notice) started under a Labor government’s regime and it continued under ours.
“It should never have continued for so long.”
Ms McSweeney said perhaps some justice could be done now that the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs Committee’s report into the ESA Notice had been tabled in parliament.
“No-one has been more affected by these ESAs than Peter Swift,” Ms McSweeney said.
“Those departments that took this man to court, in my opinion, need to be reprimanded and they should look at their actions and what those actions cost in human terms.
“It did not just start with our government but with the previous government and it is something that governments need to work together on to rectify.
“Having been in Parliament for 14 years, this case really bothers me.
“This is not a single case.
“I have met many farmers over the years who suddenly found they were unable to graze their land.
“It seems to me that the bureaucrats in DER from Labor’s time in government and then carried on in our term of government have a great deal to answer for and we have a duty of care to help this man who is innocent.
“The government tends to let some reports that come through this place sit on the shelf but I believe this report will not because it contains some very good recommendations.”
“I thank the committee and I believe that its report will have teeth.
“I also hope that there will be some sort of negotiated outcome for Peter Swift.”
A government response to the report is expected no later than mid-October.
The Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs Committee’s report debated came about after farmer and Gingin Private Property Rights Group president Murray Nixon had a petition presented to parliament to repeal the ESA Notice.
Mr Nixon said there were 22 normal farming practices that could not be carried out on an ESA.
Liberal MLC Mark Lewis said the issue was “effectively a property rights issue at its core and centre”.
“It is extraordinary the government, when passing the environmentally sensitive area notice, did not formally notify the affected landholders,” Mr Lewis said.
The committee report has recommended the ESA Notice be reviewed and DER formally notify each of these landholders representing 98,042 parcels of land be notified that they have ESAs on their properties.
The PGA and WAFarmers were given three business days to consult with its members on the ESA Notice before it was gazetted (became law) in 2005.