State eases land-clear rules

Brad Thompson
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State eases land-clear rules

Court win: Peter Swift. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

The State Government has bowed to pressure from farmers to relax controversial laws on land clearing that have led to a series of bitter court battles.

The changes come after Munglinup farmer Max Szulc served 15 months jail for breaching an order not to clear native vegetation on his property and other high-profile cases.

Under the changes, farmers will be able to clear 5ha of native vegetation a year for farm management purposes and infrastructure projects.

The existing limit of 1ha a year has caused a major headache for farmers and been policed through analysis of satellite images covering millions of hectares of agricultural land.

The Government also moved to slash protection of native vegetation regrowth on land previously used for agriculture.

Farmers can now unlock land legally cleared for agriculture in the past 20 years, double the current limit of 10 years.

Environment Minister Albert Jacob said the changes would take effect from tomorrow and he flagged cutting more red tape to make it easier for farmers to manage their land.

"They are intended to reduce regulatory burdens that prohibit future growth and success for land owners and managers, and help farmers get on with managing their land," he said.

The move comes weeks after South West farmer Peter Swift won a three-year court battle over land clearing and follows years of intense lobbying by WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association.

The Government is considering further amendment to the Environmental Protection Act to streamline clearing approvals and is committed to replacing the Wildlife Conservation Act.

The Conservation Council of WA warned relaxing the law might backfire if it triggered Commonwealth intervention.

WAFarmers president Dale Farmer said the changes were long overdue but did not go far enough or remove the threat of criminal prosecution.