The draft Land Administration Amendment Bill 2016 will not be introduced to the WA Parliament during this term of government. But proposals for reforms to WA Crown land tenure are likely to be revived following the upcoming State election. 

The anticipated Rangelands reform was put on hold earlier this month when the WA Minister for Lands, Terry Redman, was unable to get the draft legislation on the cabinet agenda prior to the coming State election.

This was the third attempt in the last 30 years at fundamental reform to tenure in the Western Australian Rangelands, comprising 87% of the State. There are concerns that its rejection frustrates significant opportunities for the sustainable development of the Rangelands for the benefit of all Western Australians. However Rangelands reform is likely to be high on the agenda of whoever wins government in the March 2017 State election.

The need for reform

The draft Land Administration Amendment Bill 2016 was released on 5 April 2016 following approval by the Western Australian Cabinet earlier this year to amend the current Crown land tenure laws. Termed the "Rangelands reform", the draft legislation proposed to amend the Land Administration Act 1997 (WA) in a bid to deliver new investment opportunities and improve the sustainability of land use in the Western Australian Rangelands. While pastoralism is the predominant land use in the Rangelands, covering a third of the land, it is estimated that over 7,000 square kilometres of that pastoral land is degraded and eroded and 25% is classified as being in poor condition. In order maximise the value of this land, and the larger Rangelands estate, greater diversity in land uses and more secure tenure is required.

The highlight of the Rangelands reform was the introduction of the rangelands lease as a new form of tenure which will permit multiple and varied land uses, including (potentially) agriculture, tourism, conservation and carbon farming, as well as pastoral use. In addition, the reform included provision for:

  • statutory right of renewal for compliant pastoral leases;
  • increased terms for pastoral leases (to 50 years);
  • transfer of diversification permits to incoming pastoral lessees; and
  • the dissolution of the Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) and the creation of a new Pastoral and Rangelands Advisory Board.

So what was the problem?

The Rangelands reform was strongly opposed by the WA Pastoralist and Graziers Association (PGA), with the main concern expressed by the PGA being in relation to the proposal to dissolve the PLB and create a new Pastoral and Rangelands Advisory Board.

The PLB currently has joint responsibility with the Minister for Lands for administering WA pastoral leases. The PLB's functions include advising the Minister on policy relating to the industry, administering pastoral leases and ensuring the leases are managed sustainably. The PGA's main concern with the dissolution of the PLB centred around the dilution in pastoralists' representation on the new Pastoral and Rangelands Advisory Board and its diminished (purely advisory) powers (as compared to the PLB). The new board was to have only two out of its possible ten members from the pastoral industry, with the remaining members from other representative industries including Aboriginal, conservation and tourism groups.

However, not all pastoralists opposed the new legislation, with many coming out in strong support for the Draft Bill and criticising the PGA (as has the Minister) for standing in the way of reform. The PGA has acknowledged the need for reform – on terms acceptable to it.

At the end of the day, the PGA won this round by successfully lobbying Liberal Party ministers to keep the Draft Bill off the current Government's legislative agenda.

Where to from here?

While the Draft Bill has failed to make its way into Parliament under the current government, momentum still exists for reform in this area. The Minister for Lands has flagged that Rangelands reform is still on the agenda, and the PGA has indicated it is working on an alternative reform proposal which it intends to present to the Western Australian Government.

Rangelands reform is likely to be revisited following next year’s State election. What the reform looks like and the timing of changes to the Act will depend on the election outcome.

Besides legislative reform, the Department of Lands may look at formulating policies to encourage more diverse land use within the existing legislative framework, such as facilitating carbon farming on pastoral leases.