Warning on 'worthless' leases

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The owner of Red Hill Station is seeing red over proposed changes to pastoral leases as pressure builds on the State Government to back down on a host of termination provisions.

Digby Corker, the husband of Pastoral Lands Board chairwoman Leanne Corker, launched a blistering attack on the draft lease in a letter to Lands Minister Brendon Grylls last month.

Mr Corker said the draft was unfair, unworkable and unacceptable. He said it should be substantially re-written with full oversight by Mr Grylls and the PLB.

The draft lease has been condemned by the Pastoralists and Graziers Association and its lawyers, and raised concerns among banks.

Mr Corker said the draft lease undermined efforts to increase the "bankability" of leases by tenure reform - one of the key aims of a Department of Lands program which began in 2010.

"It opens up a raft of things to trigger losing the lease," he said.

"There's a risk we won't be able to mortgage leases because banks won't look at it."

Mr Corker warned Mr Grylls and his department that many of the new provisions were unnecessary and simply created more risk, uncertainty and red tape for pastoralists.

"The punitive and restrictive nature of the conditions make a mockery of the rangelands reform program, are contrary to the Government's commitments to providing better and more secure tenure, and to reducing red tape," he wrote in the letter, which was also sent to all members of the PLB and Agriculture Minister Ken Baston.

"Its adoption will, in time, render pastoral leases worthless."

Mr Grylls refused to comment yesterday but has previously played down the impact of the proposed changes on the industry.

The PLB is a statutory authority that administers pastoral leases under the Land Administration Act.

It was not responsible for drafting the new lease, but is charged with advising the Minister on policy relating to the pastoral industry and the administration of leases.

There are 452 stations made up of 507 pastoral leases covering about 87 million hectares of WA.

The Government has renewed leases on an ad hoc basis for years and they have decades left to run, creating a legal minefield around the nominal 2015 expiry date.

The PGA said this week the Government faced a legal battle with industry if it tried to impose new conditions. The department had received more than 90 comments on the new lease when submissions closed yesterday.

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