READY TO FIGHT: (Left to right) Renee Engl, Russell Preston, Hugh Ermacora (kneeling), Alleyne Thompson and Adrian Gattenhof pi
READY TO FIGHT: (Left to right) Renee Engl, Russell Preston, Hugh Ermacora (kneeling), Alleyne Thompson and Adrian Gattenhof pi

Levy a 'seachangers tax'

By PATRIZIA REIMER HUGH ERMACORA calls it a seachanger's tax and ripped up his rates notice in disgust outside Mullumbimby Local Court yesterday.

He was there supporting another landowner, Russell Preston, who refused to pay the same rates charged by the Tweed-Lismore Rural Lands Protection Board.

Mr Preston appeared before the court on Thursday in his latest battle to avoid paying the rates. The first ended with the board trying to auction his 12-hectare Middle Pocket property in 2003 to recover the $1700 in rates he had accrued since the 1980s.

This latest civil matter was adjourned until June 26 when the Brisbane man's attempts to appeal the charges will be heard.

"If you own rural land and it's rated by the board and you are not receiving services or benefits, you need to ask, 'what are you paying for?'," Mr Preston said.

He attended a pre-trial hearing last month after the board took action for the $316 in rates he has accrued in the five years since the attempted land sale.

He is hoping to challenge the board's right to collect fees from landowners like him who do not own livestock.

The rates are collected on land greater than four hectares. The Rural Lands Protection boards in NSW are responsible for the management of animal health, pest animal and insect control, travelling stock reserves, stock movement, stock identification and drought relief.

In the Tweed-Lismore region, a general rate of $40 is charged yearly if the property owner declares they have no livestock.

If the property owner has livestock, he or she are levied according to how many animals they are rearing.

Some argue no rates should be charged when there is no livestock on the property, when the property is not suitable for livestock or when the owner is trying to regenerate the bushland on it.

A small band of Mr Preston's supporters joined him at the Mullumbimby courthouse in a sign of unity against what they say is an outdated form of taxation.

Among them was former Byron Shire councillor Hugh Ermacora, who owns 12 hectares at Koonyum Range, and has been paying the rates since 1985.

"It's a seachanger's tax," he said. "As more and more people move to this area and buy acreage it has become a cash cow too valuable to be dropped.

"It's legalised robbery by the government."

Mmanager of the Tweed-Lismore Board Brian McInnes said the board was just following State law by charging the rates and enforcing their payment.

"It's State legislation that everyone who has four hectares or more pays rates, whether they have livestock or not has nothing to do with it," he said.

"It's a shame he's costing all the other ratepayers money.

"It's State law and we've just had a case - a chap in Byron Bay who took it all the way to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court threw it out."

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