Key Points:

The draft Land Administration Amendment Bill 2016 has clarified some of the key proposals for WA Rangelands land tenure reforms.

The draft Land Administration Amendment Bill 2016 was released on 5 April 2016, and has shed further light on the proposed land tenure reforms that were approved by the Western Australian Cabinet earlier this year.

Public consultation of the proposed reforms commenced in early April, with submissions on the Draft Bill due by 5 May 2016.

Rangelands lease

The centrepiece of rangelands reform is the introduction of the new rangelands lease, which may be granted for any purpose that is "principally consistent with the preservation and ongoing management of the rangelands as a natural resource". Possible permitted uses under a rangelands lease included agriculture, tourism, Aboriginal economic development, conservation, environmental offsets and the general of carbon credits, as well as pastoral purposes. The Draft Bill has provided some clarity to the treatment of the rangelands lease under the mining and native title legislation.

Native title

The Draft Bill makes it clear that the future act process under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) will need to be followed as part of the conversion of a pastoral lease to a rangelands lease, or the grant of a rangelands lease over "new" ground. The future act process will also apply in relation to any extension of pastoral leases which is provided for by the Draft Bill. The negotiation of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) between the lessee and the native title holders will generally be required to navigate the future act process.

Proponents will be responsible for all costs relating to native title, including negotiation and meeting costs, any compensation, and registration of the ILUA. The State is, however, proposing to provide guidelines and an ILUA template to assist proposed lessees.

Amendments to Mining Act

The proposed consequential amendments to the Mining Act 1978 (WA) confirm that the rangelands lease will be treated in the same way as pastoral leases under the Mining Act. Some of the significant provisions under the proposed amendments provide:

  • the Minister for Mines must agree to any change, or variation, to the permitted uses under a rangelands lease; and
  • the access provisions will apply to a rangelands lease in the same way as to a pastoral lease, except that the restriction for mining access will also include restrictions to access within 100 metres of a "substantial structure" to take into account possible uses under a rangelands lease.

Land management

The Draft Bill proposes a more rigorous regime for land management, for both rangelands leases and pastoral leases.

Under the new regime, lessees must comply with various land management Acts such as the Environmental Protection Act 1986 and the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945. New provisions under the Draft Bill will grant the Minister powers to investigate compliance with statutory land management obligations, including to compel a lessee to report land condition data and provide information to the Minister to support compliance with their obligations under the LAA.

The Minister is able to issue directions, default notices and refuse lease renewals if land management laws are contravened. However there are some safeguards for lessees, such as the Minister not having the power to forfeit a pastoral or rangelands lease on the grounds that a lessee has contravened a land management law.

Dissolution of Pastoral Lands Board

The Pastoral Lands Board (PLB), which is currently responsible for administering pastoral leases, would be dissolved under the Draft Bill and a new Pastoral and Rangelands Advisory Board (PARAB) created. The powers of the PLB are to be absorbed by the Minister for Lands, while the PARAB is to only have an advisory capacity.

The proposed dissolution of the PLB, and the reduction of pastoral industry representation on the PARAB (as compared to the PLB) is controversial. However a number of protections have been put in place under the Draft Bill to safeguard pastoralists' interests, including:

  • the ability to appeal adverse decisions on pastoral lease renewals to the State Administrative Tribunal; and
  • the requirement that the Minister seek independent advice, from a member of an expert panel, about a land condition matter prior to making an adverse decision in relation to a lease.

Submissions?

Anyone with an interest in a WA pastoral lease, or an interest in the proposed WA rangelands tenure reforms should review the Draft Bill and consider making submissions.

Not much time has been allowed – submissions close on 5 May 2016.