THERE is a rising level of frustration by Esperance property owners with operations at a standstill on the Esperance extension of the State Barrier Fence.
Designed to help protect the Esperance agricultural region from vermin, only 63 kilometres of the 660km Esperance extension of the State Barrier Fence has been completed in the past two years, raising concerns with local farmers about their susceptibility to wild emus and dogs as well as the future of the project.
Esperance Biosecurity Association chairman Scott Pickering, who has been a long time campaigner for the Esperance extension of the State Barrier Fence, said he had requested a meeting with Agriculture and Food minister Alannah MacTiernan to discuss what the hold up was and find a solution.
"It's been over two years and all they've put up is 63km of fence and there is $4 million worth of fencing material that is sitting there not being utilised," Mr Pickering said.
"The indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) was supposed to be signed off last October and that has stalled for some reason, so it's extremely frustrating for landholders."
Esperance farmer Neil Wandel told Farm Weekly he had leased a corner of his property to store some of the fencing material the government had bought for the Esperance extension project two years ago, but that the material had been left to gather dust.
"I thought it was only going to be there for six months but it's been sat there for a couple of years now," Mr Wandel said.
"There is millions of dollars of wire there which is starting to go rusty, so if they don't move it or put it up soon it won't be worth putting up at all.
"Three quarters of the fence will go through private land, so if they offered it to the growers and had a contract price they could get together and get contractors to put it in, but at the moment it's just a real stalemate."
When questioned about the cause of the delay in parliament last week Ms MacTiernan said the government's inability to start the remainder of the project was due to the indigenous land use agreement negotiations still being in progress.
"I can understand that they are taking a long time," Ms MacTiernan said.
"There has been some impact from COVID in that some of the group meetings had to be cancelled."
Ms MacTiernan said the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) was focused on finding a resolution to the ILUA negotiations but that there were "processes outside of the department's control".
"We certainly have looked at other ways that we might be able to do this," Ms MacTiernan said.
"There is a view that 70 per cent of the remainder is on freehold property, so we should be able to get on with it.
"My understanding is that only around 25pc of the remainder is on freehold property and it is very interspersed.
"I have certainly had a letter from Mr Neil Wandel about whether or not we can look at having some arrangements whereby those little bits that are there can be done separately while we are trying to resolve the native title issues for the other areas.
"The advice from the department initially was that that would be too expensive, but if we can negotiate something, we are happy to do it."
In responding to Mr Wandel's concerns about the condition of the fencing being compromised due to its location, Ms MacTiernan said there was no cause for concern as the material had been galvanised and was designed to be out in the weather for "many, many decades".
The Nationals WA MP for the Agricultural Region Colin De Grussa said it was vital for the State government to promptly put all its resources into completing the project.
"We have all the material there ready to go and obviously farmers are really keen to get their fencing done because of the devastating impact pests have on their businesses," Mr de Grussa said.
"To some extent the minister tried to blame it on the traditional owners and I know they have worked very hard to negotiate with the government so I don't think that is fair.
"I would ask the minister to see if there are any hold ups at her end within the department because I think that is probably more where the problem is.
"My understanding is that the department wasn't ready to do it, started and then stopped and that was the first delay and now the State's solicitor's office is too busy to draft the ILUA agreements."