Verdict a blow for King family

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

A Kukerin farmer says he has been left “shattered” by the guilty verdict handed to him for unlawful land clearing.

Matthew King, who with his wife Therese runs a sheep and cattle enterprise at Kukerin, was before the court last week for clearing about 5.2 hectares of land after a severe fire in 2004.

Mr King said he pleaded guilty last week to clearing just over 2ha of land in 2005 after stacking the dead timber, completing fencing and ripping out rabbit warrens.

That area is now under a wheat crop and part of a 50ha paddock.

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However, he pleaded not guilty to clearing a further 3ha on a separate area of the farm, claiming he simply stacked the dead trees and lightly stick raked.

The Perth Magistrate’s Court found Mr King guilty of that charge and he was given a spent conviction, fined $12,000 and ordered to pay more than $11,000 in court costs.

But Mr King said the 3ha has regenerated well and he did not believe he was doing the wrong thing.

“I thought I was doing the right thing by the law but we can’t clear a stick, whether it’s dead or alive,” he said.

“On the section I stick raked, that has actually come back better. The suckers and so forth have come back quite quick and thick.”

Mr King said the 2004 fire “harvested” his crop for him in the space of six hours, stripping 30mm of top soil and causing millions of dollars in damage. He said 80 per cent of property was burnt.

Now, after successive bad seasons, the fine and court costs have come as an additional blow and Mr King said they were still taking stock of their situation.

“It’s taken its toll,” he said. “If we don’t get a good year, like some other farmers, we’ll contemplate whether we’ll keep farming.”

Mr King said the family, who have been on the property for more than 60 years, had planted about 15,000 trees, and he believed the clearing laws were too prohibitive.

“These laws need to be changed so farmers can farm their land,” he said.

WAFarmers described the Department of Environment and Conservation’s prosecution of Mr King as “trivial” and a “misuse of public funds”.

“This outcome is impractical and needs to be addressed so that farmers can be clear on what activities they can undertake with respect to dead vegetation on their farms,” WAFarmers senior vice-president Dale Park said.

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