Anger at Pastoral Board axing

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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The Pastoralists and Graziers Association has reacted angrily to Land Minister Terry Redman's proposal to abolish the Pastoral Lands Board in favour of a broader Rangelands Development Advisory Body, and questioned the suitability of the type of members on the initial board.

The proposal to scrap the statutory authority that oversees the industry, and transfer its powers to the Lands Minister, is part of proposed amendments to the Land Administration Act 1997.

The long-awaited reforms aim to unlock potential across the full Rangelands, which account for 87 per cent of the State's land mass. This would enable potential land use beyond the pastoral industry, which represents 34 per cent of the Rangelands.

Delivering the opening address at last week's PGA convention, Mr Redman said as part of the reforms, it was necessary to establish a Rangelands Development Advisory Body which reflects the full capacity of the legislation and would advise the minister. This body would replace the PLB.

Department for Lands executive director of strategy and reform Amanda Hughes, who also spoke at the PGA conference, said the Rangelands Development Advisory Body would be charged with helping to find a balance between Native Title, conservation and commercial interests in the Rangelands, and that pastoral expertise would be represented.

Although not the final Rangelands Advisory Body, an invited group comprising a mix of skills and expertise, met for the first time two weeks ago.

Chaired by seafood entrepreneur Professor George Kailis, other attendees were Pew Charitable Trusts' David McKenzie, Aboriginal leader Peter Yu, Wongan Hills farmer Sue Middleton, Environmental Protection Authority's Tom Hatton, and Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive Simon Bennison.

PGA president Tony Seabrook said he had grave concerns about the relevance of expertise of people at the meeting last week and the potential for such diverse interests on a body responsible for overseeing the pastoral industry.

"This is like asking school teachers and truck drivers to advise on aviation matters - they are not the right people to be there," he said.

Mr Seabrook questioned the rationale in having an academic (Prof Kailis) chair the group when pastoral leaseholders bear all the risks and cost of any reforms.

"If the minister wants to put this advisory group together to look after the 66 per cent of the Rangelands that is unallocated land, then that is fine. But this is an industry that doesn't need governance by a group of people with passing interests in an industry they know nothing about," Mr Seabrook said.

Invited to that meeting to represent pastoralists were Mr Seabrook (York farmer), former PGA president Rob Gillam (retired pastoralist), PBL chairwoman Leanne Corker of Red Hill Station (practising pastoralist) and Wooleen Station's David Pollock (retired pastoralist now focussed on tourism).

Mr Seabrook said only one practising pastoralist was currently represented on a group that would have a strong bearing on the industry's future.

Mr Gillam, also speaking at the PGA convention, said although many pastoralists had conflicts, arguments and debates with the PLB in the past, he was confident all of them would prefer to deal with the devil they knew.

"The devil they don't know is the Lands Department, which started the lease renewal process in 1983, only to conclude in June this year," Mr Gillam said.

He said there could still be an overarching body dealing with the entire Rangelands estate, however, a specialist body was still needed to represent the particular interests of the pastoralists.

The PGA members also expressed concern that a proposed six-week formal consultation period, expected early next year, would not be long enough.

Mr Redman wants to amend the legislation before the next election.

The Bill will include five key reforms:

· Establishing a statutory right of renewal for a pastoral lease that is compliant with the lease conditions and the provisions of the Land Administration Act 1997.

· The option to extend the term of pastoral leases out to 50 years. Leases shorter than 50 years may be able to extend to the maximum 50 years after negotiating an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) and applying to the Minister for Lands.

· The statutory transfer of diversification permits to an incoming lessee.

· The change of date for pastoral lessees to lodge their annual returns (from end of financial year to end of calendar year).

· Establishing a Rangelands lease, enabling a wide range of activities on the land including tourism, livestock grazing, Aboriginal land management practices or combination of several.

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