Ex-PLB chair set to speak out

Ex-PLB chair set to speak out


Agribusiness
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FORMER head of the Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) Leanne Corker, will now take her personal concerns about the proposed changes in the draft Land Administration Amendment Bill and its management, to upcoming forums.

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FORMER head of the Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) Leanne Corker, will now take her personal concerns about the proposed changes in the draft Land Administration Amendment Bill and its management, to upcoming forums.

After nine years with the PLB, Ms Corker resigned last week citing her concerns with the draft.

At the time, Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said he was disappointed to lose such a staunch defender of pastoral areas and said Ms Corker's decision highlighted widespread frustration with the reform process.

Ms Corker told Farm Weekly this week, she felt "gagged" by the Department of Lands (DoL) as she was not able to publicly discuss her concerns about the proposed changes and how the Rangelands would be administered and managed.

She criticised the department for "preaching" and failing to allow industry members to present their views.

Mrs Corker said the final straw came when a departmental official publicly questioned the integrity of the PLB at a Rangelands consultation forum held in Perth earlier this month.

"A representative from the DoL stood up and said one of the reasons the board needed to be dissolved was because its processes were not transparent and it was not accountable," she said.

"They also said that there was a perceived conflict of interest with pastoral representation on the board, which was hard to manage appropriately – I thought that was very unprofessional of them.

"The PLB is accountable, it is accountable to the Department of Lands Minister."

Ms Corker said the DoL representative's statement defamed the PLB and insulted her as the chair and the board members who she believed had worked with a high degree of integrity.

Ms Corker said she will be engaging in upcoming industry and DoL forums about the proposed changes.

"Because of my position on the board I was effectively gagged from talking about that in public forums," she said.

"The department told me I couldn't say certain things, they were a bit protective and I couldn't express my own personal views if I represented the board."

As a pastoralist Ms Corker said in good conscience she couldn't continue in silence.

Ms Corker said while there where some good points within the proposal, she believed the bad things outweighed the good.

"Although I fully support the philosophy and intent to realise the potential of the Rangelands and diversify its economic base, I have strong personal views about the proposed Land Administration Amendment Bill 2016, which do not align with the position of the State as described in the several consultative documents that the DoL has authored.

"I am particularly concerned that the facts have been misconstrued and that the public may be misled as to what will be achieved by the implementation of these changes."

Ms Corker fears grass roots experience will also be lost from the administration of pastoral lands, due to the government's decision to dissolve the PLB.

"It will all be done by bureaucrats and will open up a can of worms that isn't open at the moment," she said.

Ms Corker said that it seemed the department had dismissed the PLB's work.

"I felt like I was wasting my time," she said.

"The department didn't care or have any respect for the board."

In her written resignation to the Lands Minister Terry Redman, Ms Corker said it had become clear that he and the DoL had little respect for the PLB and assigned no value to the important role it performs in administering WA's pastoral land.

"For several months leading up to the announcement that the PLB would be dissolved, the board repeatedly requested the DoL provide an update on the Rangelands reform program,'' she said.

"I was extremely disappointed that the PLB was not consulted at all on the detail and intent of the amendments to the Land Administration Act, particularly since it had previously taken an active role and been regularly consulted and well informed by the DoL in the early stages of the Rangelands reform program.

"It would appear that the PLB was intentionally kept in the dark."

Ms Corker said she had lost respect for the DoL and had no confidence that it could support the PLB adequately and effectively.

She said the DoL had acted unprofessionally and had made unnecessary and misleading statements.

"I think they are going about it the wrong way and I think they are styling a story to suit what they want to happen," she said. "They are not selling a balanced forum.

"I am just disappointed about the patronising way in which the department is treating the industry."

Ms Corker said the department had not consulted at the public forums, but rather "preached".

"They don't like challenges," she said.

"The department talked for as long as they liked and told people they were only allowed 40 seconds to speak at the forums.

"That's hardly consultation."

A DoL spokesperson said it would continue to support the PLB.

"The Department of Lands provides administrative support to the PLB and will continue to do so as needed," the spokesperson said.

"The department provides administrative support only and does not direct the PLB chair or board members."

But Mr Seabrook backed Ms Corker, acknowledging her dedication and service to the pastoral industry.

"Leanne has been one of the staunchest advocates for the WA pastoral industry and it is most disappointing that she has made this decision to resign as the PLB chair due to her increasing frustration over the government's Rangelands reform program," he said.

"This is the same level of frustration that is reverberating throughout the pastoral industry, as the Lands Minister pushes forward with his Rangelands reform agenda that offers limited benefits to pastoralists and fails to provide any opportunities to leaseholders which do not already exist.

"Under Leanne's tenure, the PLB has been a major force in ensuring the interests of the pastoralists have been protected from mindless bureaucratic interference."

Mr Seabrook said under Ms Corker's watch the PLB made tremendous progress in drafting policies for the industry that interpret the Act with common sense, protecting the lessee and the Rangelands.

"On behalf of the PGA and its members I would like to thank Leanne and her family for her service and dedication to the industry at what appears to be the onset of a volatile time in industry/government relations," he said.

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