MLA backs land rights

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
MLA backs land rights
Camera IconMLA backs land rights Credit: The West Australian

A Liberal MP has accused his Parliamentary colleagues of "perpetuating abominable and scandalous" State property rights laws.

Murray-Wellington MLA Murray Cowper introduced a private Members Bill in Parliament last Friday calling for an overhaul of the State's property rights laws, which he said did not adequately compensate land owners for reacquired land.

Mr Cowper said with the Bill, he hoped to entrench some common law provisions into the Land Administration Act, to ensure landowners were properly compensated for land reacquired by the State Government.

He said unlike Federal laws, the State Constitution did not have an "express provision" required for it to have the power to take property.

Mr Cowper also said under the current Act, it was up to individual Government departments to administer compensation, which did not necessarily take into account the value of the land to the land owner.

"In WA, the State's express powers to take land and give compensation are contained in parts 9 and 10 of the Land Administration Act of 1997, which generally operates in conjunction with specific legislation pertained to the relevant public purpose … for example main roads, Water Corporation or a host of any other legislation," he said.

Mr Cowper said the origin of the land rights issue was a result of a "slow deterioration" of the rights of property owners.

"This was caused by a sweep of legislation that has washed across the political landscape and impacted detrimentally to a number of landowners," he said.

Mr Cowper also said about 20,000 WA landowners were affected by the legislation, with many of those living in the Murray-Wellington district.

He said the district was sandwiched between the major cities of Perth, Mandurah and Bunbury and therefore affected heavily by the electrical, water, gas supplies and major highways running through the area.

"There is whole range of other land uses that have impacted on the rights of land uses in that area," he said.

He pointed to a 2004 report of the Standing Committee of Public Administration and Finance into the impact of State Government action and process to the use and enjoyment of freehold and leasehold land in WA.

He said not a single recommendation of the 36 outlined in the report had been enacted upon.

Mr Cowper accused his Liberal colleagues of being implicit in failing to act on any of the recommendations, accusing his party of being the "perpetrators" of the State's property rights "injustice".

He said the Liberals had campaigned heavily at the 2005 election on property rights for landowners.

"We had rallies at these very steps of Parliament, involving hundreds of irate farmers protesting about the manner in which they've been treated," he said.

"And at that time, the leader of the opposition was our current Premier Colin Barnett, who said this issue would be dealt with by the Liberal Party.

"The fact that we've sat on our hands and done nothing about it is an embarrassment to me personally, but it should also be a wider embarrassment to all Liberal members."

In a much publicised case, Manjimup farmer Peter Swift won a case against the State Government last year which left him hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket despite being found not guilty.

Mr Swift had faced penalties of up to $250,000 if convicted of breaching a section of the Environmental Protection Act relating to the unauthorised clearing of native vegetation.

He was charged by the then Department of Environment and Conservation after it identified the alleged native vegetation loss at Mr Swift's property using satellite imagery monitoring.

Both Mr Swift and his neighbours maintained his innocence throughout trial, claiming the vegetation he had been accused of destroying was cleared before he bought the property about 60km east of Manjimup in 2007.

A Bunbury court acquitted Mr Swift of the offences but the ordeal left him emotionally drained and on the brink of financial ruin with an estimated $360,000 losses.

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