Banks put pressure on station owners

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Banks are turning the screws on station owners and asking to deal directly with the Department of Lands amid growing fears that scores of pastoral leases will not renewed because of over-stocking and other issues.

The number of non-compliant leases has blown out from 94 to 149 in the past few weeks despite warnings they will not be renewed unless pastoralists act on land management notices and pay outstanding rent and rent vermin control fees.

One of the biggest deals in the history of the WA pastoral industry - Gina Rinehart's plans to buy four Kimberley cattle stations covering more than one million hectares - hinges on the stations being compliant.

Pastoralist and Graziers Association vice-president Ellen Rowe said station owners were under pressure to allow their banks to deal directly with DOL.

"Pastoralists have received requests to give their lending institutions authority to deal directly with the department," Mrs Rowe said. "Personally I find it intrusive and I've never encountered anything like this before now."

A waiver being circulated by the Commonwealth Bank asks pastoralists to acknowledge that the information they are seeking from DOL includes any directives from the Pastoral Lands Board and any compliance issues.

All leases, covering 87 million hectares of WA, are due to expire on June 30 - along with associated mortgages, caveats and other encumbrances.

A DOL spokesman said the number of non-compliant leases was likely to fluctuate during the renewal process.

"Currently the PLB and the department are working with a number of lessees to develop plans addressing rangeland conditions," he said. "The PLB has the discretion to accept such plans as an alternative to prescribing livestock numbers."

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