Farmers unaware of land restrictions

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Many property owners in the South West land division remain unaware they could be affected by an Environmentally Sensitive Areas Notice, meaning they could be prosecuted for grazing their land, because it is considered to be illegal clearing.

A parliamentary committee, chaired by Simon O'Brien MLC, said 98,042 parcels of land were identified as ESAs in the South West land division, but many landowners would be unaware their land is subject to these restrict- ions.

This means they could face a maximum fine of $250,000, because there was never any notification before or after the ESA's introduction in 2005.

The parliamentary committee wanted the system overhauled and provided nine recommendations, including that the Environmental Protection Authority formally notify affected landholders of the ESA notice and its impact.

However, in his response to the recommendations, Environment Minister Albert Jacob said it was not necessary or practical to write to each affected landholder.

Mr Jacob's response said instead landholders would refer to the DER's explanatory material and consult with the department as necessary.

The committee also sought for wider consultation with the farming community. Although WAFarmers, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association and Gingin Property Rights Group were consulted over a one-month period this year, the committee considered much wider consultation was necessary.

Mr O'Brien said he was not satisfied with the response by Mr Jacob on these matters and other recommendations in the report and would meet the minister to discuss them further.

For Manjimup land owner Peter Swift, the lack of clarity remains a frustration that has affected his livelihood.

Mr Swift said he still had no clarification about environmental restrictions on his property, which were devaluing his property.

Mr Swift purchased his 1200 acre property in 2007 and since 2010 has been victim of an overzealous State Government environmental department.

In 2010, he was prosecuted for illegal clearing on his property, based on satellite imagery, but was found to be innocent.

The ordeal left him financially and emotionally drained, leading to severe depression.

But the ordeal has not stopped there because despite Mr Swift's property being zoned rural, Environmentally Sensitive Areas Notices, which were never listed on the title, mean about 50 per cent of the land cannot be used for grazing.

To do so would carry a maximum $250,000 fine.

With the threat of P&N Bank foreclosing on his property at the end of this month, the land has been placed on the market but has attracted no interest.

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