Chinese firm loses WA land clearing appeal

Rebecca Le May - AAPCountryman
Camera Icon. Credit: Nic Ellis

A Chinese company suspected of illegally clearing land at a pastoral station in WA’s north has had its appeal against a stop-work order dismissed, but has been encouraged to apply for a permit retrospectively.

Zenith Australia Investment Holding was in June ordered to stop clearing vegetation at Yakka Munga Station east of Broome after native title group Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation complained.

WAC chairman Wayne Bergmann said traditional owners were shocked to find massive trenches had been dug up, causing significant damage to important flora, including boab trees ripped out of the ground.

The company had disregarded the binding terms of a land use agreement by undertaking major work without consulting native title holders, showing a lack of “basic decency and respect”, Mr Bergmann recently told AAP.

The state government says about 120 hectares of land has been cleared without authorisation.

According to the company, the clearing was for the purpose of all-year-round stock watering, and constructing roads and fences.

The Appeals Convenor recommended to Environment Minister Stephen Dawson that he dismiss Zenith Australia's appeal, saying “there is a reasonable basis to suspect unlawful clearing”, which Mr Dawson accepted.

Mr Dawson noted the company had started talks with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation about applying for a clearing permit and said that was appropriate, encouraging them to go through the process.

“It would be an absolute travesty if this company gets away with illegal land clearing by simply applying for a retrospective permit,” Environs Kimberley spokesman Martin Pritchard said on Thursday.

He called on Mr Dawson to prosecute the company and rehabilitate the land to discourage further bulldozing.

The Wilderness Society also called for sanctions against Zenith Australia.

The company is a division of Shanghai CRED, a real estate conglomerate that jointly bought the Kidman cattle empire with billionaire mining magnate Gina Reinhart.

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