WA’s Ministers for Environment and Aboriginal Affairs have responded to questions about the unauthorised clearing of native vegetation at Yakka Munga Station by Shanghai Zenith.

Minister for Environment Stephen Dawson answered questions from the Legislative Council on June 25 about the illegal activity at the Kimberley pastoral station.

Minister Dawson said the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) has advised him of the “activities undertaken at Yakka Munga Station.”

The Minister also confirmed the clearing was an offence and that he was aware DWER are investigating at Yakka Munga.

“The clearing of native vegetation is already an offence unless done under a clearing permit or the clearing is for an exempt purpose under the Environmental Protection Act 1986,” Minister Dawson said.

A stop work order has been issued to Shanghai Zenith after unauthorised land clearing. Photo by Hannah Cross.

Nyikina Traditional Owner Wayne Bergmann welcomed the response.

“No one is above the law … To be a pastoralist you are required to be a fit and proper person under the Land Administration Act 1997. You need to operate within the law and earn your social licence to operate,” Mr Bergmann said.

Last week the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation issued a stop work order to Shanghai Zenith citing section 51C of the Environmental Protection Act 1986.

This section states that “a person who causes or allows clearing commits an offence unless the clearance” is authorised with a permit or other exemptions.

According to the Act, penalties for body corporates committing an offence under 51C can be liable to a penalty of up to half a million dollars.

If an offence continues after notice has been given, there is also a daily penalty of up to $100,000.

Although welcoming of the Minister for Environment’s response, Mr Bergmann remains unimpressed by how long it took for a stop work order to be given in the first instance and that the land “needs to be put back as it was.”

“The real issue is if a D10 dozer was clearing Kings Park, would it take two weeks to get a stop work order?” Mr Bergmann said.

In a statement to NIT, WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt said, “Any breach of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 will be pursued.”

The Minister also said the government “immediately responded to the calls of the Nyikina people” once notified of the clearing.

However, a stop work order was only issued on June 20 after letters were delivered to Minister Wyatt, Minister for Regional Development Alanna MacTiernan, and Minister for Environment Stephen Dawson on June 6.

Unauthorised clearing had already taken place in early June, prior to these letters being sent.

When questioned as to why the Minister’s office had been silent on the issue thus far, Minister Wyatt said “prosecutions for any illegal activity … may be prejudiced by any public comments” before investigations on the issue are complete.

“This government prioritises a thorough investigation and proper legal process over a running media commentary of serious matters concerning environmental stewardship and Aboriginal culture,” Minister Wyatt said.

By Hannah Cross