In his paper on the Green Letter Laws (para 5.4) Dr O’Brien has pointed directly to the problems that we now face in matters relating to land clearing and the approval process. By introducing “unnecessary additional environmental bias into interpretations and conditional approvals” as foreseen by Dr O’Brien agencies have acted in a manner contrary to the laws of justice and prejudicial to the legitimate expectations of applicants in dealing with notification of intent to clear land for agricultural purposes. This bias has grown to the extent that environmental considerations have become the only considerations. AGWA have clear directions from the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945 in regards to processing notification of intent to clear and this is being ignored in favour of unproven biodiversity conservation considerations.
The Code of Ethics’ instruction to “Practice universal fairness, and protect people’s rights to due process, equal opportunities and equitable outcomes” has not been adhered to. Abuse of the Code can be found in the membership of various agency working groups and committees involved in the process of public consultation and policy formulation following the State Cabinet 1995 decision. Agency overlap on committees could have made effective review of particular agency responibilities difficult. Events such as a committee that reviewed an important, but very controversial, statutory planning report produced by the chairman of the committee, as a consultant, did little to engender confidence in the process.
AGWA, the EPA, the DEP, and the WAPC have produced flawed and misleading guidelines and policies. For example the EPA Bulletin 966 (Clearing of Native Vegetation, Advice to the Minister, EPA of WA 1999) makes extravagant claims regarding the biodiversity value of native vegetation to agriculture, leading to the vegetation’s elevation to a status far beyond reasonable conservation values. Many of the claims have not and cannot be supported by fact, nor can the claims be shown to apply to all remnant vegetation in the agricultural region of Western Australia. Such things are difficult to argue against in public as it is an emotive issue and most of society – including farmers – see the natural Australian landscape as a thing of great beauty. However, the Bulletin 966 biodiversity claims are for the most part the result of subjective judgements and yet the Bulletin is relied upon to prevent further land clearing in the Agricultural Region.