Support for rangeland reform

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
Email Jenne Brammer

A controversial plan to axe the Pastoral Lands Board in favour of an advisory body that would provide input into the development of future land management options in the rangelands is a vital part of proposed reforms, according to rangeland ecologist and former board member Tony Brandis.

Dr Brandis, who was the environmental representative on the PLB for two-and-a-half years before June 2015, said a new broader advisory body needed to be in place as part of the planned rangeland reforms, aimed at unlocking the potential across the full rangelands which account for 87 per cent of the State's land mass.

The proposed reforms, involving amendments to the Land Administration Act 1997, would enable potential land use beyond the pastoral industry, such as tourism, carbon farming, and conservation.

Dr Brandis said the identification of a range of management opportunities meant running stock might not remain the main economic option for pastoralists, which in turn could help address issues such as the economic, social, and environmental challenges in the area.

He is hopeful if pastoralists had options other than running stock, this would lead to better economic viability for existing leaseholders and encourage new business enterprises and attract families to the area.

Meanwhile, running less stock could lead to eventual regeneration of an estimated 20 million hectares of pastoral land identified as being in poor or very poor condition, he said.

The focus of future land management in the rangelands requires sufficient effort by Government, industries, and interested and informed stakeholders, to ensure that the pressures placed on our natural resources are balanced and sustainable in the long term.

Dr Brandis said to implement true reforms in the rangelands, an advisory board with a broad range of land management and business expertise was necessary.

Under the Land Administration Act, the PLB comprises five pastoralists (one of whom is Aboriginal), one conservationist, one representative from Department of Agriculture and Food WA and one from Department of Regional Development and Lands. The chairman is also a pastoralist.

"So we have a board that is dominated by pastoralists - obviously the interests will be pastoralist-focused," Dr Brandis said.

"In terms of the reforms, we need to start again; and that means having a broader advisory board, which would include some pastoral industry representation but not be dominated by pastoralists," he said.

"It is important that others with legitimate interest have valid input into designing new management models for the rangelands."

"There are lots of opportunities for the future of the rangelands and the advisory body should be looking to identify what might be possible to build a vital and sustainable future in this part of our State," he said.

Dr Brandis said many existing leases were sub-viable or marginally viable, meaning with reforms, people may wish to leave the industry while others would be keen to have a go at doing something different.

"Where pastoralists can show a report card saying their economic and environmental credentials are good, we should encourage those people to keep doing what they are doing, if that is what they want to do," he said.

"But there are many pastoral business enterprises that are not able to show that they have a strong future by maintaining the status quo and are heavily reliant on outside sources of employment (such as contract fencing, contract mustering or working for mining companies to make ends meet)."

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association also welcomes most initiatives contained within the rangeland reform proposals, in particular the automatic right of lease renewal.

But the PGA strongly opposes plans to abolish the PLB.

The PGA's concern is a broader advisory body would not have the knowledge, expertise or understanding needed to ensure the best outcome for the pastoral industry.

PGA chairman Tony Seabrook said members did not see the abolition of the PLB being of any benefit to the pastoral industry, and wanted to see the status quo remain.

"Having a broader advisory body in the hands of a minister who is not favourably inclined toward the pastoral industry could be incredibly dangerous," he said.

"Within the rangelands, approximately one-third is made up of pastoral land.

"The remainder is unallocated crown land. If the minister wants to appoint an advisory group to advise him on what to do with the portion of the rangelands that is not pastoral, that is entirely his business.

"However, there is an incredible difference between the management of the rangelands that are not in the hands of pastoralists, and the rangelands that are leased by pastoralists - and they need to be administered by a different group."

_BILL DETAILS _

·Establishing a statutory right of renewal for a pastoral lease that is compliant with the lease conditions and the provisions of the Land Administration Act 1997.

·The option to extend the term of pastoral leases out to 50 years. Leases shorter than 50 years may be able to extend to the maximum 50 years after negotiating an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) and applying to the Minister for Lands.

·The statutory transfer of diversification permits to an incoming lessee.

·The change of date for pastoral lessees to lodge their annual returns (from end of financial year to end of calendar year).

·Establishing a Rangelands lease, enabling a wide range of activities on the land including tourism, livestock grazing, Aboriginal land management practices or combination of several.

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

Sign up for our emails