PGA fears release of Rangeland ratings

30 Oct, 2014 01:00 AM
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The document is not part of the lease process and will not effect pastoral leases.

PASTORALISTS have nothing to fear from the desktop assessment on Rangeland leases conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), according to acting executive director of biosecurity and regulation John Ruprecht.

But the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) still believes the assessments are subjective and the method of deducing the information they contain is dubious.

"The document is not part of the lease process and will not effect pastoral leases," Mr Ruprecht said.

"The purpose was to do a desktop assessment to add and contribute to the Rangelands reform program.

"It was about how a stand-alone lease can support livestock, based on the lease size, carrying capacity and Rangeland conditions.

"It looked at a threshold of 4000 cattle units, which was seen as a viable pastoral business and then looked at Rangeland condition and the lease's size and whether it could contain those numbers."

The document gives every pastoral lease across the northern Rangelands an A, B or C rating.

Mr Ruprecht said the document came from 2010 drought concerns and how the Rangeland condition could be managed during tough times, and was a contribution to the Rangeland reform program.

He said it only took into account one lease, and didn't take into account if leaseholders held one or more leases and had other sources of income.

"It was looking at the viability, based on the lease size, the carrying capacity of land systems on the lease and the most recent assessment of Rangeland condition," he said.

"The Rangeland condition does need to be managed to meet ecological management conditions as per the legislative requirements of the Land Administration Act.

"It wasn't looking at biodiversity, but pastoralists do need to manage the Rangelands to ensure the native plant species are maintained."

Details in the report are being released to about 40 pastoralists, under a Freedom of Information request.

The group of pastoralists have been issued letters through DAFWA informing them which category A, B or C their leases fit into as a stand-alone pastoral enterprise.

Farm Weekly understands the ratings are based mainly on carrying capacity and relied on information from published Rangeland surveys.

Mr Ruprecht said category C was defined as not viable, with insufficient biophysical land capability to become viable within five years.

PGA Kimberley division chairman and Kalyeeda station pastoralist Peter Camp said Rangelands pastoralists were very anxious about the process and who would get access to the information.

"We do not want to pursue the information any further," Mr Camp said.

"There are about 30 pastoralists, who have been classed into category C in the Kimberley - but we don't want to find out who they are.

"I would like to see the information taken out of DAFWA and for this to go off the radar.

"It was very poor timing with all the type of the leases, but we hope this situation will never happen again.

"It should never have happened, and we don't see the point (of it)."

Mr Ruprecht said the document did not rate the pastoral enterprise as a business.

PGA vice president and its pastoral chair Ellen Rowe said the reports were subjective.

She said the association was strongly against the release any information about pastoralist's business, professional, commercial or financial affairs, as this violated their privacy and was not in the public interest.

"This information is private, and pastoralists should be afforded the same rights as any other lessee in WA, regardless of who the landlord is," Ms Rowe said.

"How would a tenant in a HomesWest property feel if their private information was in danger of being forcibly released to the public?

"The Rangeland condition reports are commercial in confidence documents, and are submitted as part of the legislative arrangements governing pastoral leases in WA, and they are not for distribution between government departments or third parties, including members of parliament.

"The reports are very subjective, and in this particular case consisted of a desktop review, which is dubious at best.

''They do not take into account the individual and diverse nature of each pastoral enterprise, and to blanket label stations as non-viable is ridiculous.

"The PGA will be vigorously opposing this Freedom of Information request, as this information is commercial in confidence, and we are awaiting feedback from our solicitors as to the best way to stop the release of this private information."

Mr Ruprecht said the document considers whether soils, land and vegetation resources can support 4000 cattle units, which equates to a herd of approximately 2700 breeding cows.

"It's not how a lease may be managed financially," he said.

"It really did consider a viable pastoral business of 4000 cattle units."

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