Tempers soar at environment forum

26 Feb, 2004 07:00 PM
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TEMPERATURES and tempers soared at Mt Barker on Wednesday as more than 300 south and south-west landowners confirmed that democracy survives in WA, despite the way the Environmental Protection Act 1986 is administered.

In an often-heated crossfire, many of the landowners spoke directly to the Environment Minister of instances of petty, ill considered and poorly administered provisions of the Act.

Dr Edwards, herself raised on a farm, maintained her cool.

"I know you paid a high price to use your land'" she said.

"All we want is a better system - one to build on to the excellent work you have all done.

"I repeat that we have no intention to interfere with your farming activities." She said she attended the meeting to hear landowners' concerns.

But her claim that there was no intention to interfere with farming activites was treated with a high degree of derision from the floor.

The response left no doubt that farmers required evidence to support Dr Edward's claim of non-interference.

A remark by a farmer wishing to remain anonymous encapsulated the majority feeling expressed.

"The greening of Australia began with farmers more than 100 years ago", the farmer said.

"This government, like others, has listened to the green movement which began as a scheme by a few individuals to politicise environmental issues."

Pastoralists and Graziers private property rights chairman Craig Underwood said the PGA welcomed the extension to the consultative period.

But he said the PGA remained concerned about the inadequate opportunity for getting input to Draft 13 from farmers, irrigators and pastoralists over the harvest and holiday period.

"A fair consultation period is urgently needed," Mr Underwood said.

"The PGA will remain opposed to regulations that place specific dimensions for clearing vegetation on normal farm operations such as firebreaks, fire and vehicle access tracks, fence lines, etc."

"There is so much variation across WA environments that many decisions must remain with the landowners discretion."

This was received with loud applause by landowners present.

Mr Underwood said the PGA couldn't agree with any regulation until it knows what the proposed codes of practice for land clearing will finally be.

He listed 13 points the PGA wants included in amendments proposed to Draft 13 of the regulations.

"How, for instance, is potential land degradation to be defined?" he asked.

"The PGA believes the Act and its regulations contravene the basic rules of administration law and the doctrines of natural justice."

Among the other speakers invited to address the meeting by PGA president Barry Court was Environment Department acting chief executive offer Derek Carew-Hopkins, Fire and Emergency Services Authority wildfire prevention manager Ralph Smith, and CALM chief executive officer Keiran McNamara.

Mr Carew-Hopkins said the Environment Department's key concern was to protect the environment.

"We don't want to be dealing with exceptional circumstances," he said.

"We want to make sure the exemption clauses are workable.

"The protection of your property from fire is a priority.

"I assure you, that the new Act will not affect fire protection issues.

"It is important to remember that we all share a wish to protect our environment."

FESA wildfire prevention manager Ralph Smith said approval to construct a firebreak from a fire control officer was required.

He said there were no proposed changes to be made to fire suppression arrangements.

South West region MLC Robyn McSweeney told the meeting the clearing of native vegetation regulations needed clarification.

"Land development investors can get away with murder, but farmers have to get permission and a $25 fee paid to CALM to cut down even one tree," Ms McSweeney said.

"There are five pages of regulations detailed to say you can't or can cut five trees.

"The first draft of the regulations was bad enough, the second draft is even worse."

When a drainage contractor complained of the length of delay in receiving a department permit to proceed, Mr Carew-Hopkins said he aimed to speed the process.

"We are mindful of your need for quick action," he said.

"Sometimes if there's a bio-diversity issue it can go from one department to another."

A Gingin farmer said the legislation on environmental issues was the worst he had ever experienced.

"We can't do anything without your approval," he said.

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