Rent warning for pastoralists

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

The Department of Lands has warned the State's pastoralists that unpaid rents could jeopardise their lease renewals.

The department began posting rent invoices to pastoralists this week.

DoL director-general Colin Slattery said paying rent on time and in full was necessary, otherwise pastoralists risked losing security of their tenure when all leases were due to expire on June 30.

Because the pastoral lease renewal process this year requires payment in advance of the new lease, the rent invoices are being presented in two parts, from March 1 to June 30, 2015, under the old leases and July 1 to August 31, 2015, under the new leases.

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Pastoralists are also being encouraged to sign and return one of the two lease options offered by the department last year.

Pastoral rent is reviewed every five years and this will be the second invoice to reflect the latest rates, which have dropped by more than 41 per cent since the last review.

Mt Magnet pastoralist Ashley Dowden, from Challa station, said despite the decrease in rents, many pastoralists in parts of the State had continued to struggle with debt, largely because of dry weather conditions and stock losses from wild dogs. Mr Dowden said he was lucky because he'd diversified in the tough years but he knew of plenty of other pastoralists who were in significant financial hardship and would struggle to pay the rents and levies, as well as comply with the qualification criteria set-out in the lease renewals.

"I decided 20 years ago that I wasn't going to sit here and go broke," he said. "But many pastoralists, especially in the Southern Rangelands, have not had an income in the last five years because of wild dogs decimating their flocks," he said.

"Because the industry has been in the doldrums for such a long period of time there is very little spare money," he said. "Very few pastorlists have investments these days."

Meekatharra pastoralist Liam Johns, of Killara station, runs his station but also subleases Belele and Butta stations from the Bundundea Aboriginal Corporation.

He said he was 90 per cent confident of retaining the sub-leases but also said there was a degree of uncertainty when dealing with corporations.

"I had a meeting with Bundundea people this week and if nothing has come along in the meantime, the deal would be a five-year sub-lease and then a five-year option after that," he said.

"The lease renewal should be fine but you're never really sure what could be around the corner. But, having said that, there would have to be millions spent on the stations for them to use it for any other purpose."

Last year _Countryman _ reported that the department had contacted more than 30 pastoralists to inform them they were at risk of not having their leases renewed because they were in arrears.

In addition, 31 Aboriginal corporations have failed to pay rent on their pastoral leases and Agricultural Protection Board rates.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said the implications of the leases reverting to unallocated crown land did not "bear thinking about".

"We in the industry know that, the Department of Lands clearly understands that. It is the last thing in the world they would want to happen, " he said.

Mr Seabrook said the change in the status of the land opened a can of worms under animal welfare, native title and environmental laws with implications for the livestock industry and mining exploration.

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