THE State government has moved to "better protect" environmental assets by increasing fees and employing more staff, but it will only benefit the "big end of town" according to Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) property rights spokesperson Gary Peacock.
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson recently announced the changes to land clearing fees to be introduced on July 1, 2019.
Mr Dawson said Western Australia's environmental assets would be better protected with extra resources allocated to improve native vegetation regulation, funded by new clearing fees to help the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) keep pace with the State's rapid economic growth and associated demand for environmental approvals, including clearing applications.
He said the clearing fees had not changed since the regulations were established in 2004 and currently represented an under recovery rate of approximately 99 per cent for DWER.
The new fees were expected to improve the rate of cost recovery and be returned to DWER in order to improve processes and the turnaround time of clearing applications.
The new fees are estimated to increase clearing revenue to $600,000 for 2019-20 (or 6pc recovery) and will fund additional staff and be invested in implementing a new Environment Online business system.
Mr Dawson said the adjusted fees followed extensive consultation throughout the State with a number of DWER-run workshops across Perth and regional centres late last year.
The department received 100 written submissions with comments relating to fee structures, the level of cost recovery, potential impacts to businesses, individuals and industry and the need for better transparency through publication of clearing data.
Mr Dawson said consistent and timely environmental decision making benefits industry, the community, the economy and the environment.
"The government has listened to all public feedback when considering fee increases for clearing native vegetation," the minister said.
"We have reduced the proposed fees associated with clearing under five hectares.
"Money raised from the fee increase will be reinvested in the department to employ additional staff - in both the assessment and compliance areas - and to improve business systems.
"In line with stakeholder feedback I have endorsed the development of a general government policy on native vegetation, and further investigation into improved vegetation mapping and monitoring and strategic regional conservation planning.
"These strategies will strike the right balance between clearing and protecting the environment and delivering a strong economic outlook that will benefit all community members - for now and future generations."
Mr Peacock said the government had taken the wrong track and "a better way to go" was to "reduce fees, taxes, costs and charges" to make it more affordable for smaller farmers, developers or investors.
"The only ones who will benefit from this is the big developers, because they can afford to pay and deal with the increased bureaucracy," Mr Peacock said.
"The little guy just can't afford to get through the process and defend himself if he falls foul of the system.
"There is an argument that this will reduce environmental outcomes."