Tapping into Western Australia’s Rangelands

The Minister for Regional Development and Lands in Western Australia, Terry Redman, is pushing to reform how Western Australia manages its “Rangelands”.

These reforms have potential opportunities and implications for agricultural ventures.

The newly introduced “Rangelands Leases” will allow for multiple and varied uses of the Rangelands and a broader range of activities, including tourism, broad scale agriculture and/or horticulture. Whilst this can currently be achieved by applying for diversification permits, there won’t be a need for a diversification permit if a pastoral lease is converted to a Rangelands Lease. However if a pastoral lease is not converted, the legislation will provide for transfers of diversification permits with a transfer of a pastoral lease.

Pastoral lease holders will have the ability to convert their pastoral lease to a Rangelands Lease, and it is intended that any person may apply for a Rangelands Lease.

The latest step in the reform process was the release of the draft Land Administration Amendment Bill 2016 (Draft Bill) by the Department of Lands on 5 April 2016. Submissions on the Draft Bill are due by 5pm on 5 May 2016 and the Minister for Lands, Terry Redman, is looking to introduce the Draft Bill into WA Parliament in August.

What are the “Rangelands” and why reform?

87% of Western Australia’s landmass comprises “Rangelands”. Approximately 1/3 of the Rangelands are covered by pastoral leases, with the remainder being made up of unallocated crown land, unmanaged reserves, the conservation estate and other forms of tenure.

The Western Australia State Government recognises that the Rangelands are a valuable asset and wants to reform Rangelands management to:

  1. allow for more diverse uses of the Rangelands;
  2. balance the needs of new and existing industries with the rights of traditional owners and other existing interest holders and ensure that the environmental value and cultural heritage of the Rangelands is maintained;
  3. increase investment in the Rangelands;
  4. introduce a new lease type, the “Rangelands Lease”, that allows for multiple and varied land uses; and
  5. improve security of tenure for pastoral leaseholders with a view to increasing the value of pastoral leases.

New Rangelands Lease

The centre piece of the reform is to introduce the new rangelands lease. Unlike pastoral leases, which only allow use of land for pastoral purposes, a rangelands lease will allow more diverse uses. They “may be granted for any purpose that is…principally consistent with the preservation of the rangelands as a natural resource”. The Minister will have a broad discretion to decide the permitted purpose, apply conditions, confer one or more options to renew and specify the lease term. Guidance published by the Department of Lands suggests that intensive land uses may be considered provided that the overall outcome of the lease is preservation of the rangelands.

The Department of Lands suggests that rangelands leases could be granted for purposes such as:

  • broad scale agriculture and/or horticulture;
  • grazing of livestock;
  • tourism
  • Aboriginal economic development and land management practices;
  • mining company activities that are inconsistent with pastoral uses;
  • conservation purposes; and
  • any combination of these activities, or other types of activities not yet contemplated.

What land can be granted as a Rangelands Lease?

  • new grant over unallocated crown land;
  • new grant over unmanaged reserves; and
  • conversion of pastoral lease land by a pastoralist (given the nature of the tenure, it is difficult to see a third party being able to receive a new Rangelands lease over an existing pastoral lease).

Pastoral Lease changes

The rangelands reforms propose several changes to pastoral leases and the current governance structure. They key changes for pastoralists will be:

  1. Renewal: Minister’s discretion to refuse a renewal is limited to circumstances where the lessee is non-compliant with the lease conditions or the Land Administration Act;
  2. Term: pastoral leases with terms of less than 50 years will be given the option to extend their lease to the maximum of 50 years (however this is likely to have native title implications that will need to be addressed); and
  3. Diversification Permits: diversification permits will be transferred with the lease to an incoming pastoral lessee (diversification permits are issued under the Land Administration Act and allow pastoral leaseholders to carry out activities other than the primary pastoral use of grazing native vegetation with authorised stock).

Dissolution of the PLB and introduction of the PARAB

The Draft Bill proposes to dissolve the Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) and create two new advisory panels, the Pastoral and Rangelands Advisory Board (PARAB) and a panel of independent experts (Panel).

  • The current powers of the PLB will be absorbed by the Minister for Lands.
  • The PARAB will advise the Minister and can research (i) uses to which the Rangelands can be put; (ii) administration of the Rangelands; and (iii) other matters affecting the economic, social or environmental development of the Rangelands. Unlike the PLB, PARAB will not be a decision maker.
  • The Minister must seek and take into account (but not necessarily follow) the advice of an expert chosen from the Panel when proposing to make an “adverse decision” in relation to a pastoral or rangelands lease.

Paired with these changes is the introduction of a right for pastoral leaseholders to appeal the Minister’s decision in relation to a pastoral lease renewal to the State dministrative Tribunal.

Land Management

Stricter land management requirements on both pastoral and rangelands lease holders are proposed. For example:

  • to manage the land using best environmental practice appropriate to the area, to maintain indigenous pasture and vegetation and to not remove trees or disturb or affect soil (unless permitted by the lease);
  • to monitor and assess the condition of the land and report to the Minister annually. The Minister may provide information (e.g. satellite imagery) that will assist;
  • the Minister will be able to direct lessees to submit a land management plan, including if satisfied that the lessee is not managing the land sustainably; and
  • the Minister will be able to issue directions (e.g. to reduce stock), default notices, forfeit leases and amend/suspend/cancel diversification permits, and must refuse lease renewals and refuse diversification permits if land management and conservation laws are not followed.

Native Title

Rangelands Leases and some changes to pastoral leases will need to address native title. In most cases, this will likely require the lessee to enter into an Indigenous Land Use Agreement under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) with the applicable native title holders or claimants. It is worth considering the native title implications of your situation carefully because there may be easier options in some circumstances, e.g. where an existing pastoral lease is being converted or an existing native title agreement exists.

Next steps

The Western Australia Department of Lands is hosting stakeholder forums around the State throughout April. Public submissions on the Draft Bill are due on 5 May 2016. For more information, visit the Western Australia Department of Lands’ website