PGA claims win in lease fight

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The pastoral industry is set for a major victory in its showdown with the State Government over lease agreements covering 90 million hectares of agricultural land in WA.

The Government conceded yesterday it would need to make major changes to a draft lease that outraged pastoralists when it was released for comment in August.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam and other key industry figures have led the campaign against the lease drafted by the Department of Lands, which they warned gave the Government unprecedented powers of termination on financial, animal welfare and environmental grounds, with no right of appeal.

Mr Gillam will use today's opening of the PGA annual convention to launch a scathing attack on Lands Minister Brendon Grylls over his handling of the draft lease and other key land tenure issues.

Mr Gillam is due to say: "Pastoralists are now facing their greatest challenge - securing their future with a Minister who our members believe remains indifferent to their industry.

"We are now in the second term since Minister Grylls became the political guardian of the pastoral industry and, to date, the issues of tenure, rents and rangeland monitoring are still not resolved.

"This has not been as a result of the lack of action by the industry, or the PGA, but the indifference of the Minister for Lands, who refuses to personally engage at any level with the PGA."

Mr Grylls refused to comment on the claims but has gone into damage control over the draft leases, asking Nationals WA colleagues Vince Catania and Wendy Duncan to work with the PGA.

Mr Catania said the PGA's concerns would be reflected in changes to the draft lease, which is set to replace all existing agreements on June 30, 2015.

He said the changes would be discussed at a meeting on November 13 where the PGA and its lawyers would be able to go through the amended lease "line by line".

It is understood the Department of Lands is seeking independent legal advice after PGA lawyers cast doubt on the entire lease renewal process.

Mr Gillam is also expected to take a swipe at political leaders in the Eastern States over opposition to foreign investment in agricultural businesses and land.

He believes they have tried to exploit the issue by demonising foreign investors to justify a return to protectionist policies.

Mr Gillam argued the focus should be on encouraging investment in agriculture by cutting red and green tape.

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