Committee slams 2005 ESA Notice

30 Aug, 2015 02:00 AM
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Gingin Private Property Rights Group president Murray Nixon hopes the State Government will act on the standing committee's recommendations regarding environmentally sensitive areas.
Gingin Private Property Rights Group president Murray Nixon hopes the State Government will act on the standing committee's recommendations regarding environmentally sensitive areas.

A PARLIAMENTARY committee has recommended that all WA landowners affected by the Environmental Protection Environmentally Sensitive Areas) Notice 2005, known as the ESA Notice, be notified of the law and its impact.

The committee also recommended the ESA Notice be reviewed.

As it stands grazing an ESA is illegal clearing with a $250,000 fine but many landowners do not know if they have ESAs on their property because there was no notification before or after

the ESA Notice became law in 2005.

ESAs also have 50 metre buffer zones which cannot be grazed, which means they can increase exponentially as butter zones become ESAS that need more buffer zones.

The Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs, which considered Murray Nixon’s petition to repeal the ESA Notice, said 98,042 parcels of land were identified as ESAs in the

South West Land Division, not including Crown Reserves or State Forest.

The committee said the impact of the ESAs was of particular concern to farmers and graziers as wetlands, which are ESAs, are prime agricultural land.

“Wetlands cover large areas of this State,” the report’s executive summary said.

“Landowners not aware of an ESA may be subject to significant fines.

“Being denied the ability to clear native vegetation on an ESA can have a significant financial impact on landowners and on the value of land.”

Committee chairman Simon O’Brien said it was “extraordinary” the government, when passing the ESA Notice, did not formally

notify affected farmers.

“The committee recommends the department formally notify each landowner of the law and its impact,” Mr O’Brien said.

“While accepting that some areas of special environmental ensitivity should be afforded protection, the committee ecommends a review of the ESA Notice and of the seemingly allencompassing scope of wetlands declared ESAs.”

The committee also slammed the limited consultation and the way it selectively reduced the opportunity for WAFarmers

and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) to have enough time to consult with members on the proposed ESA Notice.

The committee said DER had limited its consultation in relation to the ESA Notice to only seven days, “and for peak stakeholder bodies only, before the notice was published in the Government

Gazette.”

Both WAFarmers and PGA were faxed the same invitation to comment on April 1, 2005, before the notice was gazetted on April 8, 2005.

“This consultation was so limited as to be pointless and was merely undertaken to technically comply with legislative requirements,” the committee said.

When DER executive director Sarah McEvoy appeared before the

committee she said there was always an expectation during

consultation that the peak bodies would discuss the issues and disseminate them to members.

Mr Nixon, a farmer, Gingin Private Property Rights Group president and a former state Liberal politician, said there were 22 normal farm and land management practices that were illegal on land declared an ESA, but landowners were not notified.

“Wetlands, declared ESAs, were identified by aerial mapping, desk top study, were not verified in the field and certainly are not accurate,” Mr Nixon said.

“About 90 per cent of the land between Armadale and Bunbury, west of the South West highway is included.

“Already fear of the unknown has started to depress values.

“If the ESA Notice was fully implemented the ESA Notice would destroy the livelihoods of an estimated 3000 to 4000 property owners and their communities from Kalbarri through to the South West corner to east of Esperance.” Environment Minister

Albert Jacobs said in a letter to the committee that ESAs

were initially included in Regulation 6 of the Clearing Regulations for a transitional period of nine months to allow time to develop a notice following the commencement of the clearing provisions.

“The current (ESA) notice was made at the conclusion of the nine

months on April 8, 2005,” Mr Jacobs said.

“It is essentially the same list as was included in the regulation.”

But Mr Nixon said while notification was a requirement in

Regulation 6, it did not appear to carry through to the ESA Notice.

“It would appear that under Regulation 6, the owner of the land had to be notified before and area was declared an ESA, now under the ESA Notice, no notification is required.

“Landowners that had not received notification before April 8, 2005, had no reason to believe they had an ESA on their property.

“Therefore there was a major change that was not advised to anyone.”

“More importantly why was the notice required if there were no

changes intended.”

The committee found a referral model Mr Jacobs proposed to

introduce to amend land clearing laws could provide some

administrative convenience to the department but would

not resolve the substantial issues identified in the committee’s report.

The committee also found there was limited information available to the public on ESAs, that printed maps were not

readily available and that it remained a challenge for landowners to identify an ESA using the government’s internet source WA Atlas.

The committee said landowners had also not been adequately advised that a law had been introduced that restricted their land use.

It also found that noting an ESA on a Certificate of Title would

notify the landowner or another party (after a title search) of the existence of an ESA but would not notify that person of the impact of the ESA.

Currently ESAS are not noted on titles.

The committee also recommended that section 51C of the EP

Act be redrafted to state in clear, direct and positive language the circumstances in which a person is authorised to clear native vegetation.

Another recommendation was that the grazing exemption in

regulation 5, Item 14 of the Clearing Regulations, which permitted maintaining existing cleared land, should apply to ESAs.

Mr Jacobs told the committee that based on the number of titles

which included ESAS, the cost of notification without any allowance for the administrative resources required to undertake the process, would be more than $15.6 million.

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