Pastoral reform split

Rueben HaleCountryman
Pastoralist Tom Jackson, from Austin Downs Station, is one of a group of breakaway pastoralists that oppose the Pastoralists and Graziers Association's hardline position on the rejection of the State Goverment's rangelands reforms.
Camera IconPastoralist Tom Jackson, from Austin Downs Station, is one of a group of breakaway pastoralists that oppose the Pastoralists and Graziers Association's hardline position on the rejection of the State Goverment's rangelands reforms. Credit: Countryman

A group of breakaway pastoralists have defied the Pastoralists and Graziers Association’s rejection of the State Government’s rangelands reforms.

Eight pastoralists have signed a letter addressed to Premier Colin Barnett to express concern that the PGA is not acting in their interests and risks blocking the most significant reforms to pastoral leases and outback lands in more than 100 years.

The rebel group’s letter comes amidst an angry protest meeting organised by the PGA last week in Perth, after it accused the Government of failing to listen to their concerns about proposed rangelands reforms.

Public consultation on the Government’s planned changes began almost a fortnight ago with a forum in Perth and will continue through the month.

Last week PGA president Tony Seabrook said the Minister for Lands, Terry Redman, had not listened to the concerns of what would be contained in the Bill, expressed by its members during several meetings across the State since last year.

He said the Government’s intention to scrap the Pastoral Lands Board and replace it with the Pastoral and Rangelands Advisory Board was unacceptable.

He also said the prospect of an advisory board that included conservationists and other interest groups who didn’t support the industry had spooked station owners throughout WA.

But the leader of the rebel pastoralists group, Tom Jackson, said the the signatories to the letter felt it necessary to write directly to Mr Barnett to indicate that they do not agree with the current approach taken by the PGA to the amendments to the Land Administration Act.

“We feel that the PGA’s approach in, for instance, declaring the continued existence of the Pastoral Lands Board is not negotiable has not been constructive to dialogue over the detail of the reforms,” Mr Jackson from Austin Downs Station, near Cue, said.

Mr Jackson was a member of the 2009 Wendy Duncan Review which made recommendations resulting in the Government’s rangelands reform program. He said a meeting with the Premier was needed to ensure a more sensible discussion between pastoralists and the Government occurs.

“The Government’s efforts in pursuing a rangelands reform agenda to date are appreciated by pastoralists like myself who believe that changes are long overdue,” Mr Jackson said.

Pastoralists that attended public consultation meetings at Mt Magnet, Gascoyne Junction and Port Hedland signed the letter after it was revealed reforms would deliver improved security and new opportunities for their leases, he said.

“At the Mt Magnet consultation meeting, 15 out of 17 pastoralists signed the letter to the Premier and 10 more pastoralists have also signed the letter of concern following meetings in the Gascoyne and at Port Hedland.”

Mr Jackson said many pastoralists would not attend the PGA forum following a series of consultation meetings in the regions last week at which the benefits of reform were explained.

“While we do have some concerns about a small number of provisions in the draft Bill, we know that we need the increased security and flexibility offered by the amendments,” he said.

“We don’t wish to see the baby thrown out with the bathwater because of a small number of provisions in the Bill that we believe can be resolved with further discussion.”

Mr Seabrook said more than 80 people attended the emergency forum.

“We had the support of the majority of the industry for our position, when you consider that on top of those that attended we also had many written and verbal apologies from stations that were mustering,” he said.

“By the end of the meeting a motion was carried that our members would not support the Bill in its current form, unless changes are made that are acceptable to the industry.”

Meanwhile, WAFarmers is concerned about the potential impact on foreign investment and access to markets in China after Treasurer Scott Morrison again moved to block the sale of the Kidman cattle empire.

WAFarmers president Tony York said the Federal Government was walking a fine line on the sensitive issue of foreign ownership of agricultural land.

Mr York said that if Chinese investors were rebuffed, it might have ramifications for trade in agriculture.

Mr Morrison has notified the Chinese companies behind a $371 million bid accepted by the Kidman board that the sale is not in the national interest.

Two Chinese entities — the Pengxin Group and Shanghai CRED — would have owned about 80 per cent of Kidman and Co through Dakang Australia, but the application was withdrawn on Tuesday.

Kidman assets include 150,000 cattle and more than 10 million hectares of properties, including Ruby Plains in the Kimberley.

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