Signs to stay, say farmers

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Mingenew farmers are standing firm in their opposition to Karara’s water licence application by refusing to remove protest signs despite the threat of hefty fines.

Mingenew Shire this month informed several farmers they were contravening the town planning scheme by erecting the signs that were visible from the road.

The signs have been up since October last year, after Karara applied to draw the remaining water rights of the Parmelia aquifer for its iron ore mine.

The shire ordered their removal on the grounds that they were “making an advertisement or announcement” that was not approved by council.

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Mingenew farmer Ben Cobley disputed this claim and refused to take his signs down.

“I am not taking mine down because of the principle. I am voicing my constitutional right to protest,” he said.

“The shire hasn’t got a leg to stand on because we are not announcing or advertising anything. We are peacefully protesting.”

Peter Horwood vehemently opposes Karara’s application, as well as the shire’s decision to request the signs’ removal.

“A complaint was made to the shire by Karara, and that’s when they told us to remove the signs,” he said.

“I thought we were in a country where free speech was in the constitution.”

Mr Horwood’s sign still stands and he said he was undecided as to whether he would remove it.

Mingenew shire chief executive Ian Fitzgerald admitted Karara had pressured the shire, but ultimately it was council’s decision.

“It was brought to our attention by Karara that the signs were contravening our town planning scheme,” he said.

Mr Fitzgerald said the shire had the power to issue $50,000 fines to farmers for not removing the signs, but he “didn’t want it to get to that point”.

Mingenew farmers Peter and Kate Mills erected several signs on their property late last year, with the phrases ‘iron ore for breakfast’ and ‘save water for our food’.

Mr Mills said he was “surprised at the shire’s attitude” and would keep the signs up for as long as he could.

“We are going to push it for as long as we can,” he said. “I thought we were entitled to our own opinions.”

The farmers who erected signs on their properties are part of the Mid West Water Action Group, formed last year to oppose Karara’s water licence application.

The group’s main concerns about Karara’s application were its potential negative impacts on the environment and that it took away from food production.

They also opposed the Department of Water’s (DoW) first in, first-served policy that allowed one user to draw the majority of an aquifer.

Karara originally applied for 5.3 gigalitres per annum, but has since scaled back its application to five gigalitres per year.

The DoW is expected to make a decision on Karara’s application by the end of June.

The shire issued the farmers letters this month and gave them until July 2 to remove the signs.

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