Victory, but at cost

27 Nov, 2002 10:00 PM
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ONE WA grower may finally emerge victorious from the muddy water of land clearing legislation to win back his land for farm use.

But the pending victory for Beermullah property owner Baldo Lucaroni has come at a cost.

It has taken a Yellow Pages-sized volume of letters to government agents, hundreds of phone conversations and emails, costs thousands of dollars and even prevented him from selling his land to a willing buyer.

The soil conservation notice (SCN) was illegally applied in the first place, according to Mr Lucaroni, and should the government finally rubber stamp the decision to remove it, no one would be held accountable for his losses.

Central to Mr Lucaroni's problems was that the State Government changed soil conservation processes without making the necessary legislative amendments to the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945, according to those fighting the case.

And the same applied to more than 300 other land clearing cases in WA.

Environmental consultants Jim Ferguson and Jim Kenneison - who represent dozens of WA farmers on the matter - argue that in a bid to include environmental impact in land clearing assessments, the government failed to amend the Act.

Backing these claims is a Cabinet summary sheet, dated March 1995, that stipulated legislative amendments were necessary to modify assessment processes.

But advice issued by the Environmental Protection Authority four years later recognised that some of the components had been implemented and others had not, "including the modification of relevant Regulations under the Soil and Land Conservation Act".

Failure to ammend the Act, along with a series of other "bureacratic bunglings" which followed - including a contentious Memorandum of Understanding - made most SCNs void and illegal, Ferguson and Kenneison claim.

In Mr Lucaroni's case, a SCN was applied without warning to prevent him clearing a section of land that had already been cleared and cultivated more than five years previous.

Even more confusing for Mr Lucaroni was the discovery that just 24 hours prior to the SCN being applied to his property on the grounds of wind erosion, the Deputy Soil Conservation Commissioner Andrew Watson had claimed soil erosion was generally not regarded as "fatal flaw" in a clearing application.

According to a transcript of evidence, Mr Watson made the statement at a standing committee hearing into public administration - the very same group Mr Lucaroni has now turned to, to have his case heard.

Another are of contention existed over whether Mr Lucaroni actually needed to make a notice of intention (NOI) to clear the section of land now closed off under the SCN.

As he understood it, the land had been previously cultivated and left to lay idle, as part of normal rotational cropping procedures.

The soil conservation commission had claimed "re-growth" areas were subject to the NOI application process.

But Mr Watson was recorded on a tape held by Mr Ferguson from a public meeting earlier this year, contradicting the position.

In an attempt to clear up the matter, Farm Weekly contacted Soil Conservation Commissioner David Hartley.

He replied that a change of land use was grounds to make a NOI application.

After speaking to the standing committee earlier this month and wading through years of confusing bureaucratic processes, Mr Lucaroni has been told the SCN on his property is likely to be removed.

Mr Hartley said that did not prove that is had been wrongly applied to the property in the first place.

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