In recent days, whilst pulling ragwort and stacking it in heaps to compost, just in time for millions of seeds to descend from nearby properties and negate my hard work, I’ve got to thinking.
Doing one’s weeds is a bit like paying tax. We don’t really want to do it, knowing that the benefit to us is fairly marginal in the short term, but most of us do both because we feel a sense of social responsibility to the community in which we live.
Removing noxious weeds and paying fair taxes are both deemed desirable by society, so we pass laws to make them compulsory, and put sanctions in place for those who don’t comply.
But that, sadly, is where the comparison ends. While the tax office has many compliance officers and will pursue you vigorously if you fail to pay your tax, the same cannot be said for enforcing clean properties.
In Victoria this enforcement power is vested in Agriculture Victoria through the Catchment and Land Protection Act, and in years gone by there was some genuine effort (by the then Lands Department) to really get things done on the ground.
As well as some extension effort, the Department actually undertook spraying on recalcitrant properties and charged the cost to the landholder.
Not any more, I’m afraid. In recent years the government doesn’t want to be seen to be harsh, it would appear.
Any extension or education effort has been outsourced to Landcare who can do nothing more than ask nicely.
To avoid any real action, the Department has cleverly constructed numerous hoops which must be jumped through in the correct order over a number of years before they “may consider enforcement support in future years”.
Now no one wants to make a complaint against their neighbour (we have to live together and who knows whose stock will be where tomorrow!) but if one does, in desperation after asking nicely many times, go to the Department, here’s what they do:
They send a letter to the offending property owner, informing them of their legal responsibilities and suggesting where they might get help.
But that’s not all – they then send a letter to the complainant telling them about the first letter!
And the evidence of how well their approach has worked is all around us at the moment – there’s no doubt that weeds are worse now in South Gippsland than they were 30 years ago.
It isn’t for the lack of trying. Landcare’s Community Weeds Task Force has been trying valiantly with policies, extension and lobbying our local politicians.
But those doing the right thing continue to get more frustrated and disillusioned with a system which allows those who don’t care, to continue to shirk their legal and moral responsibilities with impunity.
Frank Hirst, Ranceby.