Pastoralists outraged by 'lock-up'

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

Pastoralists have hit out at the heritage listing of more than 19 million hectares of the West Kimberley, concerned that it will create uncertainty for the industry.

Environment Minister Tony Burke last week announced that the area, which takes in several cattle stations, had been placed on Australia's National Heritage register.

Pastoralist John Henwood, whose Fossil Downs station, near Fitzroy Crossing, comes under the blanket listing, said it was "the most ridiculous thing" he had witnessed.

He said it was in the same category as the Federal Government's decision to ban live exports to Indonesia.

"We were told just last week the listing would only include the Devonian Reef and the Gogo Fossils, now the whole of Fossil Downs has been included," Mr Henwood said.

"There has been no real thought put into the listing at all."

Mr Henwood has had enough of the Federal Government's actions impacting on the future viability of the West Kimberley, and said it was time for the pastoral industry to "get militant".

He said pastoralist plans to develop new industry in the West Kimberley were now likely to be affected.

"We were not just doing this for ourselves but for the whole of Australia," Mr Henwood said.

"When the country runs out of oil and coal you will only have sun, wind and water left. This decision has seen highly productive areas for food production, such as the Fitzroy Valley, locked up."

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam agreed, saying the listing was another slap in the face for the WA pastoral industry by the Gillard Government.

Mr Gillam said the listing encompassed some of the most productive grazing areas in Australia and would create a greater level of uncertainty for pastoralists.

"This National Heritage listing is yet another policy put in place to appease vocal Green environmental activists, many of whom have never set foot outside of the metro area, let alone in the Kimberley," he said.

"The listing is not an identification of specific or unique heritage sites and locations, it is a blanket listing of the entire West Kimberley which includes one of the most productive grazing areas of WA, the Fitzroy Valley.

"Decisions over the number of cattle you can have on a station, whether watering holes can be accessed, which traditional stock routes can be used, controlling wild dogs or even where and when mustering activities can occur, will now be in the control of faceless bureaucrats in Canberra."

Mr Gillam said the Kimberley was one of the least explored, and yet potentially most highly valuable, areas remaining in Australia.

"It is also one of the nation's most underdeveloped regions, with a high level of unemployment, and pastoralism is just one industry with the capacity to become a major sustainable employment provider," he said.

The area to be placed on the National Heritage List includes the Kimberley coast from Cape Leveque in the west to Cambridge Gulf in the east, the Kimberley plateau and country south to the Oscar and Napier ranges, and the Fitzroy River.

Mr Burke said National Heritage listing was about protecting Australia's outstanding heritage values by considering them in any development proposal under national environmental law and the listing itself did not prevent development.

"National Heritage listing protects heritage values - it is not an automatic lock-up," he said.

The listing of the West Kimberley had taken several years and was one of the biggest and most complex assessments undertaken by the Australian Heritage Council.

Mr Burke said the assessment included extensive consultation with several people and groups, including the WA Government, traditional owners, the mining industry, pastoralists and other owners and occupiers.

Pastoralists impacted by the listing should contact the environmental liaison officer at the National Farmers Federation on (02) 6274 2672 or environment@nff.org.au .

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails