Off to Market

Kate MatthewsCountryman

The list of assets set to be sold off as part of the Department of Agriculture and Food WA's (DAFWA) change in direction has finally been released.

The release of the list of assets considered surplus to requirements has come more than two years after Agriculture Minister Terry Redman first announced an audit of, and potential sale of, the so called 'lazy assets'.

Fifty five sites are to be disposed of, including research stations, district offices and depot yards. Another four have been deemed 'not worth of disposal' and one will be retained.

The bulk of the assets are located in regional WA but 109.7 hectares of prime real estate are in the metropolitan area.

This includes 9.4ha of surplus land surrounding the department's South Perth headquarters and 13.3ha from its Forrestfield office, 87ha of excess land at the Medina Research Station and vacant bushland in Success.

Mr Redman would not disclose the total value of the listed assets, but realtors have suggested the metropolitan sites, if developed into residential lots, would attract about $70 million.

This includes $40-$50 million for the land at Medina, $21 million for South Perth and $8 million for Forrestfield.

Also on the list were the department's Broome office, which is in operation, and the Derby office, which is operating with skeleton staff.

Two vacant district offices at Meekatharra and Three Springs and the Newdegate and Badgingarra research stations are also destined for sale.

More than 20 unused depots formerly used by the Agriculture Protection Board - many with offices - have made the list.

The stocktake of lazy assets followed a department refocus of its core business to become an economic development agency.

During a candid interview with _Countryman _, Mr Redman said the list of assets for disposal was yet to be approved, but an unused depot at Moora had already been sold off.

He said the essential assets needed for business now and into the future had been kept and those surplus would be sold to create capital for agriculture's future needs.

The Minister also confirmed there would be no job losses as a result of the sale of lazy assets and sales would take place at appropriate times.

Staff at the Broome and Derby offices will eventually be moved and co-located with other agencies.

At Kununurra where the existing quarantine inspection yard is in use, Mr Redman said there were plans for "other yards".

"I have been talking about this for a long time. It's not new, the sharp point is what's getting sold," he said.

While backlash was expected, Mr Redman said it was no surprise the department was going through this exercise and he had not received negative feedback from grower groups since the stocktake was first mooted.

"When budgets are tight, this is what a good farm business should do," Mr Redman said.

"They don't leave something lying in the shed that doesn't contribute."

As for research stations on the list, Mr Redman said he was happy to find a solution where the asset could be acquired by the community group leasing it, as was the case in Newdegate.

While the total value of the assets for sale is yet to be determined, Mr Redman said he was rapt with his efforts to secure a Treasury exemption, ensuring revenue from the sale of assets would be used within agriculture and not shared with general revenue.

The sale of land assets has been approved by Treasury to cover DAFWA 2011-12 budget commitments totalling $85.5 million.

This includes $34.1 million for the total cost of new information management systems and the total allocation of $3 million for New Genes for New Environments centres at Katanning and Merredin.

From the sale of metropolitan land, $48.4 million will go towards the projected $234 million redevelopment of DAFWA headquarters in South Perth, including the Australian Export Grain Innovation Centre, set to start in 2014.

The next step will be consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Once approval by Mr Redman and Cabinet has been given, properties will be listed for 30 days with the Department of Regional Development and Lands' (DRDL) Property Asset Clearing House where other government agencies can register their interest.

If there is no take up, it will flow through to local government, followed by the open market.

The process will be managed by the DRDL.

With the exception of Moora, none of the properties identified have been listed for sale.

"As a government, we can point and show we are putting a focus and priority back on agriculture," Mr Redman said.

"We are modernising the agency and trying to the deliver to the needs of industry. It's not a quick exercise and the consequence is a clear and objective assessment.

"We need to get it right. We have the challenge now to dispose of those assets and convert them into what we want to do."

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Reports start page 6

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