Pastoralists reject new lease terms

Brad Thompson
New rules: Board member Robin Mills on his Warrawagine Station in the Pilbara. Picture: Nic Ellis

Pastoralists have warned that the industry faces ruin under the terms of a new State Government lease agreement covering 90 million hectares of agricultural land.

A draft lease sent to all pastoralists in WA gives the Government unprecedented powers of termination on financial, animal welfare and environmental grounds, with no right of appeal.

All pastoral leases are due to expire in 2015 and the terms of the new agreement will shape the industry’s future at a time when many station owners are fighting for financial survival.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association is seeking legal advice on the lease, which it says denies pastoralists basic rights and will stifle investment in the industry by creating huge uncertainty.

PGA president Rob Gillam said the 15-page lease had a raft of clauses that could trigger immediate termination and had sent a shockwave through the industry, which currently operates under a two-page lease.

Some pastoralists had warned they would not sign the lease, a scenario that would create a legal and land management nightmare for the Government.

Lands Minister Brendon Grylls refused to speak to The West Australian about the leases or to respond to written questions about the concerns of pastoralists.

Mr Grylls would have the power to terminate immediately a lease over non-payment of rent, any breach of the Animal Welfare Act and in cases where pastoralists threatened to cease business or go into liquidation.

Pastoralists would be required to have comprehensive public risk insurance and meet the costs of any environment clean-up on their lease, regardless of the cause.

“Based on this lease I would question if the Government really wants a pastoral industry,” Mr Gillam said.

“The word termination appears over and over again,” Mr Gillam said. “There is no hardship clause and not even a right of appeal, something that people leasing a house in urban areas have before being kicked out.”

“It will discourage people re-investing, scare the hell out of people looking to invest and give the banks less confidence in the industry.”

More than 500 pastoral leases in WA are administered through the Department of Lands and its Pastoral Lands Board.

Board member Robin Mills, who runs Warrawagine Station in the Pilbara, said that under the terms of the existing lease it was difficult to control the handful of rogue pastoralists who overstocked their properties or ignored environmental laws.

Mr Mills said board wanted a strong and viable industry and recognised that some pastoralists wanted to diversify into tourism and irrigation projects.

He said some pastoralists, mainly in the Murchison and Goldfields, were just hanging on and might opt not to take up a new lease in 2015.