Embattled farmer drives case home to Premier
Cranbrook landowner Peter Swift has made a 700km round trip in a prime mover to deliver a letter to Premier Mark McGowan’s office, requesting a meeting over a land issue which he says has caused him financial and mental ruin.
Mr Swift, a former diesel mechanic, fulfilled his dreams by buying his own farm 12 years ago, but has been embroiled in a bureaucratic and legal nightmare since.
Shortly after he bought the land, the State Government deemed 200ha of his 485ha property to be an environmentally sensitive area, despite it being zoned as rural farmland by the Cranbrook Shire Council and carrying no ESA when he bought the property.
The ESA means he cannot graze cattle and so earn an income from almost half his land. A grazing permit could be issued, but these applied for just two to five years and could be revoked any time, meaning there was too much un-certainty to buy livestock, Mr Swift said.
Mr Swift was also blamed for illegally clearing the property by the then Department of Environmental Regulation.
In 2013 he was found innocent after a three-year court battle, but was $360,000 out of pocket for legal costs in defending himself.
Mr Swift’s letter to Mr McGowan’s office said he was being pushed off his land by Environment Minister Stephen Dawson, and Mental Health Minister Roger Cook would “rather refer him to mental health to be sedated, than deal with the issue”.
He said he had been handballed for more than a decade between government departments and agencies, with nobody willing to listen or take responsibility.
Mr Swift said the ordeal, which resulted in eviction threats from his bank because he was unable to meet mortgage repayments, led to a breakdown and he was on a cocktail of drugs to address mental health issues. The farm had been listed for sale with Landmark for years but was not saleable because of its inability to earn an income.
The Forest Products Commission is now likely to buy the property, with his bank accepting the offer as full and final payment, meaning Mr Swift can finally walk away.
But he will be “hundreds of thousands of dollars” out of pocket from losing his equity in the property, the costs of defending himself in the court case, and the inability to work elsewhere because of the toll on his mental health.
Mr Swift said he wanted to meet the Premier make him aware of the impact the Government’s actions were having on constituents, and to request restitution so he could have hope of starting again.
A spokesman for Mr McGowan’s office said the Premier would respond to the letter as soon as possible.
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