Rangelands reform scrapped as negotiations break down

Rangelands reform scrapped as negotiations break down


Agribusiness
Tony Seabrook

Tony Seabrook

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THE draft Land Administration Amendment Bill has been scrapped, after the failure of almost a year of negotiations between the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) and the Lands Department.

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THE draft Land Administration Amendment Bill has been scrapped, after the failure of almost a year of negotiations between the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) and the Lands Department.

The outcome maintains the status quo and has left some in the Rangelands community angry that the PGA's actions have further delayed widely-supported reforms, including to safeguard and extend leases and provide a wider scope of land uses such as carbon sequestration.

PGA president Tony Seabrook said while it was a wonderful opportunity to do something good for the Rangelands' future, he believed the proposed legislation was not right for the job.

"We are in the process of writing legislation we consider the most beneficial for the long-term future of the industry," Mr Seabrook said.

"The department's legislation has failed, so the pastoral members of the PGA will sit down and work out a much better proposal."

Mr Seabrook hopes to soon discuss the PGA's legislation with the government.

"We hope to have a meaningful discussion," Mr Seabrook said.

"We opposed the legislation because it had stuff in it that we didn't want.

"We do want reform, so we would like to work in that direction."

Lands Minister Terry Redman was unable to get the draft legislation onto the cabinet agenda on Friday, which would have allowed it to be considered within this term of government, due to resistance from Liberal Party members.

Mr Redman said this was a direct result of the PGA's criticism of the legislation.

Mr Redman said it was disappointing as significant benefits and reforms which were supported by some pastoralists and other stakeholders across the Rangelands would not be realised.

"I have not been able to get the Bill on the cabinet agenda,'' Mr Redmand said.

"That's a huge disappointment to me - my belief is that there is broad support across the pastoral industry for reform and I've made every effort to genuinely reform what is very old legislation to open up opportunities in the Rangelands.''

Mr Redman said the PGA's actions had prevented significant benefits and opportunities for diversification for the very pastoralists the association claimed to represent.

"The PGA had fought for the status quo to continue in the Rangelands and this means investment opportunities are limited to pastoral purposes only, lands ministers may appoint whomever they wish to the Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) without consulting the industry, the lands minister may decline to renew a lease with no appeal mechanism available to the lessee and may sell, rather than renew, a pastoral lease regardless of the lessee's compliance, with no avenue of appeal for the lessee," Mr Redman said.

"The PGA's actions have denied pastoralists the statutory right to renew compliant leases and extend leases by up to 50 years.

"The industry advocate and Industry Review Panel, which I proposed, having heard concerns from stakeholders during consultation, would have provided industry-endorsed, independent checks on ministerial power that will now be denied to lessees in difficulty."

Mr Redman said he understood the reforms had come from and were developed by informed dialogue with pastoralists, who did not feel that the PGA had heard them.

"Throughout their negative campaign the PGA has misrepresented the PLB as a representative body with the power to protect individual pastoralists, this is simply not true," he said.

"The PLB is not a representative body and it cannot be an advocate for individual pastoralists.''

Mr Redman said his proposals included an industry advocate, paid for by government, to help lessees who may be facing challenges.

"Now industry representation is left to bodies such as the Kimberley and Pilbara Cattlemen's Association, which has been very constructive throughout this process, and the PGA which has stood in the way of reform and benefits for pastoralists.

"I took on the challenge of Rangelands reform because I could see the real issues faced every day by many of the smaller pastoralists and the benefits that would have come through diversification and investment in the Rangelands."

Mr Redman said the interests of pastoralists and the regional community were at the heart of his attempts to legislate a stronger position for sustainable economic development in the Rangelands.

But Mr Seabrook said while the lack of reform was a loss, the legislation would not have benefited the industry.

"The legislation failed because of the intransigence of the Department of Lands with regards to the changes industry requested," Mr Seabrook said.

"It was bad legislation.

"The significant players in the Kimberley I spoke to last week, had nothing but gratitude for the work the PGA had done in first trying to amend and then oppose the legislation, once it became apparent the department was not prepared to move (on the requested changes)."

Pastoralist Jason Hastie, Pingandy station, Meekatharra, said the industry had missed another reform opportunity.

"Each time we pastoralists miss the opportunity for reform, related laws can change around us that will limit our options for reform in the future," Mr Hastie said.

"This is another missed opportunity for the Rangelands, thanks to the PGA and those with conservative attitudes in the Liberal Party, who seem happy to abandon the Rangelands through neglect.

"This happened in 1988 when WA pastoralists missed out on the opportunity for perpetual leases.

"Pastoralists need to continue to pursue improved tenure and the option of carbon sequestration."

Pastoralist Joe De Pledge, Mandora station, said he is standing behind the PGA and its efforts.

"It's not that we don't support change, but there was criteria that we just couldn't tolerate," he said.

"The PGA did the right thing in not supporting this legislation."

Mr De Pledge said while some may argue it was a missed opportunity, it needed to be of benefit to industry.

"We need a simple and fast way of doing agriculture," he said.

"It is too hard to get permits."

Mr De Pledge said it was a shame the lands department had not been open to industry early on in the piece.

"The minister needed to be more open and have those conversations with us, rather than letting it go on for so long," he said.

"They were much more open to listening to what the industry had to say at the end, but it is a shame it took them that long - they said they were listening, but they weren't."

Mr De Pledge hoped the PGA would work to get new legislation to incorporate a simple and inexpensive native title process and would like to see an upgrade to tenure and an automatic lease rollover, without the large costs.

He said pastoralists need a easier and simpler process with a legislation that industry supports.

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