Fair veg­e­ta­tion laws also an is­sue for NSW

The Western Star - - RURAL WEEKLY -

A MOREE solic­i­tor is paving the way for mean­ing­ful change in NSW na­tive veg­e­ta­tion laws af­ter wit­ness­ing first hand the leg­is­la­tion’s gross im­bal­ance of power – and its heart­break­ing con­se­quences for the whole com­mu­nity.

Bren­dan Moy­lan has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence rep­re­sent­ing land­hold­ers un­der fire by the cur­rent NSW Na­tive Veg­e­ta­tion frame­work, and has long cham­pi­oned fur­ther changes to leg­is­la­tion.

Now it seems head­way is be­ing made.

As a Moree branch mem­ber, Mr Moy­lan last week raised his con­cerns at The Na­tional Party State Con­fer­ence in Cowra, to a re­cep­tion he de­scribed as “ex­tremely pos­i­tive”.

“While we’re very grate­ful for the re­cent re­peal of the Na­tive Veg­e­ta­tion Act, I be­lieve there is fur­ther scope for the frame­work to be im­proved.”

Mr Moy­lan moved a motion, that was suc­cess­fully car­ried, to change Bio­di­ver­sity Con­ser­va­tion Act and Lo­cal Land Ser­vices Act, call­ing on the NSW Gov­ern­ment to amend the leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions on bio­di­ver­sity to in­clude that the onus of proof lies with the prose­cu­tor at all times and never with the land­holder.

Also, that pro­ceed­ings can only be com­menced within two years of the date that the of­fence is al­leged to have taken place and that fam­ily trust com­pa­nies and/or cor­po­rate trustee land­hold­ing com­pa­nies are not dealt with as a “cor­po­ra­tion” for the pur­poses of max­i­mum fines for penal­ties un­der the Act.

Fur­ther amend­ments in­cluded that land­hold­ers are en­ti­tled to le­gal pro­tec­tions such as the right to si­lence and pro­tec­tion against self-in­crim­i­na­tion as other se­ri­ous crimes in NSW, and that farm map­ping used for as­sess­ing bio­di­ver­sity be re­quired to be con­firmed by af­fected land­holder prior to re­lease for lo­cal com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion.

He also called for an amend­ment that this map­ping be based on the use of land prior to and at Au­gust 25, 2017.

Mr Moy­lan praised NSW Min­is­ter for Pri­mary In­dus­tries Niall Blair and Deputy Premier John Bar­i­laro for giv­ing the is­sue their full at­ten­tion, and was con­fi­dent the voice of the con­stituency would be heard.

“Cur­rently in the Moree re­gion I have over 80 farm­ers un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion with the Of­fice of En­vi­ron­ment and Her­itage,” Mr Moy­lan said.

“Th­ese are hard­work­ing ‘mum and dad’ farm­ers. They are vol­un­teers in the com­mu­nity, they are em­ploy­ers in ru­ral Aus­tralia, they are good peo­ple be­ing pros­e­cuted un­der bad law.

“Th­ese are very dif­fi­cult cases. The huge stress this places on fam­i­lies, and the com­mu­nity, can not be un­der­es­ti­mated.”

Mr Moy­lan de­scribed the leg­is­la­tion as fu­tile in its agenda.

“One thou­sand hectares of sparsely veg­e­tated coun­try west of Garah does not have the same en­vi­ron­men­tal value as 1000 hectares of pris­tine rain­for­est, but un­for­tu­nately the law does not re­flect this,” he said.

Mr Moy­lan be­lieves the cur­rent laws are so un­just, land­hold­ers un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion are given less rights than hard­ened crim­i­nals who are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the police.

“Even in a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion you’re en­ti­tled to the ‘right to si­lence’ whereby the of­fender need not say a word,” he said.

“But if a farmer knocks down just one tree, he has to an­swer ques­tions and pro­vide in­for­ma­tion or face a prin­ci­pal fine of up to $660,000 plus an ad­di­tional daily fine of $66,000 for each day that he does not an­swer to the Of­fice of En­vi­ron­ment and Her­itage.”

He ex­plained that there was no onus on a crim­i­nal to pro­vide any doc­u­men­ta­tion to in­ves­ti­gat­ing police, how­ever it was com­pul­sory for land­hold­ers to sub­mit ev­ery­thing from per­sonal di­aries to crop ro­ta­tion rec­om­men­da­tions.

“This is just a small ex­am­ple of the im­bal­ance of power we are deal­ing with on a daily ba­sis and it’s a huge is­sue for our whole re­gion.”

Mr Moy­lan be­lieves this is an is­sue that “will not go away”, and that west­ern farm­ers were en­ti­tled to some clear­ing lee­way.

“At the end of the day we are try­ing to feed a na­tion, and a world, us­ing the fi­nite re­source that is pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural land. There is an un­der­es­ti­ma­tion of the unique value of the re­gion, which is hugely frus­trat­ing.”

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

FAIR LAWS: Moree solic­i­tor Bren­dan Moy­lan is hope­ful that un­fair NSW na­tive veg­e­ta­tion laws will fi­nally be ad­dressed by the NSW Na­tional Party.

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