Article – Minister for Lands admits Western Australia's pastoral lease system is 'clunky'

6 August 2015
Tom Edwards
ABC Rural

The Western Australia Minister for Lands has admitted the approvals process for agriculture projects on cattle stations is “clunky”, but says the system is being improved.

In announcing major project approval for the world’s largest prawn farm on Legune Station, in the Northern Territory last week, Seafarms Group chairman Ian Trahar said the project could not have occurred in WA due to red tape.

Mr Trahar said the NT Government had shown “tremendous vision” by amending its Pastoral Land Act, which had allowed the $1.45 billion project to occur.

He said he told WA Premier Colin Barnett there was not the legislative framework to permit such a project in WA.

Lands Minister Terry Redman acknowledged there was limited scope for pastoral diversification in WA, but said much needed reforms were on the way.

“It’s certainly concerning if industry’s making that point,” he said.

“I haven’t had anyone that’s approached me about sites and therefore the land tenure issues…being raised as a show stopper.

“I know that this group looked all the way from Exmouth right up the coast and chose to land on a site that’s obviously got a whole range of benefits, not just land tenure.

“It will no doubt be water, it will be access to fresh water or access to salt water; all the infrastructure items and natural assets that they need to make this work.”

Mr Redman conceded the government had to ensure it aligned policy and legislative frameworks with investment interest from industry.

But he denied WA was missing out on lucrative projects due to inflexible land tenure legislation.

“I’m pleased that this has happened because that will test the waters, so to speak, as to what will be a significant investment and obviously a significant employer,” Mr Redman said.

“But obviously there’s a long way to go yet to make this work.

“If we can learn from the experience of the Northern Territory that will certainly help Western Australia.

“Being so close to the border I’d be very surprised if there’s not osmosis that occurs across the border in terms of economic support for Western Australia as well as out of this project.”

Mr Trahar’s comments were echoed by Project Sea Dragon managing director, Chris Mitchell, who described the Pastoral Land Act amendments in the Northern Territory as “vital”.

“If you can’t get permission to grow prawns you can’t have a project,” he said.

“So the fact that they’ve put legislation in that says you are permitted to conduct other activities is a critical part of it.

“And that’s one of the reason why we were able to locate the project in the Northern Territory.”

Mr Mitchell said the company looked at WA and there were a “number of reasons” why potential sites fell through.

“But that non-pastoral use permitting, which was clear and transparent and understood (in the NT) turned out to be a major factor,” he said.

Mr Redman said it was a concern that industry was raising tenure arrangements as a barrier, but the government was working on reforms to existing legislation which he hoped to conclude before “the end of this term of government”.

He said there were already examples of tourism, aquaculture and conservation ventures under the current system in Western Australia, but admitted the process was “clunky”.

“It’s not easy to pathway yourself through and I can understand how the private sector, when they have a look at that and work out what they need to do that that becomes a barrier.”

The government’s Water For Food program would enable investors to look at irrigated agriculture opportunities on pastoral leases, he added.

Mr Redman said it was “very likely” WA would move towards legislation more akin to the Northern Territory.

“We need to change and make it easier for proponents, if they have business investment interests, to bring resources to the table, give some sort of security of tenure that allows bankability.

“And allows pastoralists the opportunity to diversify outside of what is a very very limited scope for their business activities and that pastoralism, which is essentially sheep and cows.”

PHOTO: Lands Minister Terry Redman says Western Australia 'can learn' from the Northern Territory pastoral lease reforms

Courtesy of ABC Rural

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