State backs down on leases

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The State Government will go back to the drawing board after a major backdown on the terms of new pastoral leases covering 90 million hectares of WA.

Pastoralists and Graziers' Association president Rob Gillam won the concession after a tense meeting involving a PGA lawyer, the State Solicitor's Office, Department of Lands acting director general Mike Bradford and Government MPs.

The meeting yesterday paved the way for the Government to scrap highly controversial clauses in a draft lease that sent shockwaves through the industry.

However, the backdown might come too late to save the Government from a Supreme Court battle with respected Pilbara cattleman Don Hoar.

Mr Hoar's lawyer Ross Williamson will write to Lands Minister Brendon Grylls today asking him to renew the lease on Balfour Downs.

Mr Williamson said that if Mr Grylls did not renew the lease on the 640,000ha station north-east of Newman on the existing terms, he would begin legal action.

"There is no reason for us to back off," Mr Williamson said.

"There is a binding agreement in place from 1997 for the lease to be renewed on the same terms."

Several lawyers have questioned the Department of Lands' legal right to introduce changes to existing leases when they expire on June 30, 2015.

The legal cloud has complicated the debate about the terms of the draft lease, which gave the Government unprecedented powers of termination on financial, animal welfare and environmental grounds.

The real estate industry, banks and investors warned changes to the lease could create a legal minefield, with the uncertainty causing jitters in the market.

Mr Gillam refused to discuss the legal issue but welcomed the outcome of yesterday's meeting.

"This is the first step in a very complicated and emotive issue, and we welcome the Government's decision to address pastoralists' concerns over the proposed new draft lease," he said.

Mr Grylls, who initially rejected concerns over the draft lease, is being represented by Nationals WA colleagues Vince Catania and Wendy Duncan in the talks.

Concern over leases has dominated a parliamentary committee's public hearings as part of an inquiry into the industry.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails