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Minister of the Environment and Queen of WA?

! UPDATE ! : The administrators have just written to give notice of eviction for October 15th. They also want the legal rights to the proposed litigation by Narrogin Beef Producers. In other words, they want to firesale the farm and clean up any proceeds of the wrongs done against Matt and Janet. The Thompsons would lose everything. Right now more than anything they need legal brains to help them out.

Here’s the sweet two line clause that pretty much gives total control over all businesses in WA to the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC).

Condition A1 is an all encompassing point recently added to the Thompson’s license. It’s a sweeping clause, and measured entirely with opinions. Anyone with the right to say Yay or Nay on what’s reasonable here is the proxy for ruling Monarch. It’s so powerful that if we referred to noise instead of odour, and applied it to, say, Perth Airport, I’m pretty sure we could stop all flights to Western Australia until they shift those runways to the Gibson Desert.

A1 The licensee shall ensure that odour emitted from the premises does not unreasonably
interfere with the health welfare, convenience, comfort or amenity of any person who is not on the premises.

(Apparently, if they’re on the premises, they can be uncomfortable or inconvenienced, and that’s quite ok.)

What’s “unreasonable” exactly, and how do you measure that? Do we count an “inflammatory-quotient” of the complainants letters? Is that extra points for CAPITALS and overdone exclamations “!!!”?  If we tally up the pain, perhaps we divide that number by the profits they hope to make if the feedlot is shut down and their dreams of wealth from subdivision come to pass? If only someone could sell us a reasonable-o-mometer.

When this document was written (three months ago) the grand Condition A1 apparently did not apply to other odour producing businesses — the phrasing suggests that it may have been specially started just for the Thompsons (my emphasis added):

Condition A1 was inserted by the DEC, and is understood to be a standard condition that it intends to apply to all odour intensive premises in the future.

Intends indeed.

Since we can’t determine or measure what’s “unreasonable”, this license condition effectively amounts to a ruling that makes it possible to destroy any business which is legally operating, just through an organized campaign of loud complaints. You may only need to find 10 or 20 households willing to put their names to it. (Got any enemies?)

Does the traffic on a local road unreasonably interfere with your health and welfare? Close the road. Does the early noise from a building project disturb your sleep? Time to stop construction. Does the dog next door keep you awake at night? Time to …

So let the games begin,

and may the biggest whinger win.

The appeals convenor report has other  impossibilities. The Thompson’s point out that they have to show they can manage 10,000 cows while they are only permitted to have 6,000:

… (DEC) require (Narrogin Beef Producers) to establish it can manage odour levels at 10,000 head, but that the holding is restricted to 6,000 head until the former is established. In the view of Narrogin Beef, this is a circular requirement which cannot be complied with.

And it’s all the more silly, because they’ve already shown they can manage 6,000…

DEC’s complaint database indicated that while holding about 6,000 cattle in 2005, very few complaints were generated.

and even 10,000:

In relation to stock holding, Narrogin Beef stated that it has successfully demonstrated it can operate reasonably at 10,000 head, citing support of the Town and Shire of Narrogin, local testimonials and odour surveys undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and Food

They’ve also shown they have reduced odours through detailed measurements. The Chair of the LCCC declared that odours had been reduced using 6000 measurements, and recommended approval be given for the feedlot to operate at 10,000 head.

Even the DEC admitted Narrogin Beef ought to have a license for 10,000, as it gave them permission for that twice. Once, back in 2005*, and again after the appeal against the 2008 license was resolved.  But in 2010 — after the improvements had been made and odours reduced, the license was cut back again to 6,000?

From this information, it appears that Narrogin Beef implemented changes to its management practices between 2008 and 2009 which were sufficient to satisfy the DEC that odour levels had been reduced.

It is apparent that under the previous licence, the DEC gave notice to Narrogin Beef that the requirements of conditions G3(i)-(iv) of the July 2009 licence had been met, and that the number of cattle could be increased up to 10,000 head. Given this occurred during the currency of the previous licence, it is arguable that the conditions relating to 6,000 head should be deleted from the present licence. This is for the reason that the conditions were, in the view of the DEC, met under the terms of the 2009 licence. By re-including them in the current licence (which is a new instrument) suggests the licence holder will need to re-satisfy the DEC of all the matters that were the subject of consideration under the previous licence – that is, the licence holder would require the DEC to issue a new notice under condition G4, notwithstanding the DEC has previously indicated these matters were met to DEC’s satisfaction.17

What more could anyone do?

Don’t misunderstand me. We do need a way to protect people from businesses that do unreasonably affect their lifestyles, but there need to be measureable benchmarks. We need empirical evidence to protect the businesses from the people.

In politics as in science, empirical evidence rules.


*How’s this for complicated. If you search the Thompsons licenses you won’t find a written one for 10,000 back in 2005. Back then, they applied for 10,000 head license, and were told they had been awarded it, but the old paperwork was carelessly copied by DEC and the number 6,000 stuck. The DEC verbally agreed, but the written error was never fixed.


Lawrie at #29 says it well:

No matter if our endeavour sometimes seems futile we must persist. We know right is on our side although might is on the other. We can help the Thompsons by alerting as many people as possible to their plight. ACA and Today Tonight are always looking for stories where the little guy is monstered by the bureaucracy. We can all send letters to the WA Premier. Forget the paper shufflers and the minister, go straight to the top. Colin Barnett is the name and he is supposed to be a Liberal; you know, someone who is for smaller government and who is supposedly supportive of private enterprise.

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