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The WA Government is proposing to reform Crown land tenure in the State. In June 2016, the Land Administration Amendment Bill 2016 (Amending Bill) will be introduced into Parliament. Broadly, the Amending Bill seeks to make focused changes to Part 7 of the Land Administration Act 1997 (WA) (LAA) dealing with pastoral leases, with a view to accelerating and encouraging the future sustainable development and diversification of the Rangelands region.
In April 2016, the draft Amending Bill will be made available for public consultation and submissions. Holders of WA pastoral land interests should consider the impact of the proposed changes on them and monitor the timetable for the feedback sessions and submissions on the draft Amending Bill. Times for the stakeholder forums to be held in major centres around the State are available on the WA Department of Lands’ website. For more information, please contact Teresa Lusi.
The WA Rangelands, which comprises of Crown owned land, covers 87% of the State’s total land mass and is divided into seven sub-regions, as shown on the map. Pastoral leases are currently granted over approximately one-third of the Rangelands. The Rangelands contribute significantly to the wealth of the State and Australia, not just economically, but also socially, culturally and environmentally. Following an extensive consultation process with government agencies and other stakeholders, the Minister for Lands has proposed changes to Part 7 of the LAA in an attempt to increase the future economic viability of the Rangelands, create opportunities for innovation through sustainable development and diverse land use of the Rangelands, and achieve greater security of tenure for pastoral lessees so as to encourage investment.
The LAA currently focuses on the administration of pastoral leases. The permitted use of land subject to a pastoral lease is currently limited to grazing of livestock and some agriculture and horticulture. However, over half of the Rangelands is used for non-pastoral purposes such as mining, petroleum and gas operations, conservation and tourism. This means that these land uses are outside of the LAA and the pastoral lease system. The Amending Bill aims to create a modernised land tenure process known as a Rangelands lease. This lease will allow for a wider range of activities to be conducted on the land including agriculture, horticulture, tourism, conservation, Aboriginal economic development and land management and environmental offsets by mining companies, with the ultimate aim of attracting new entrants into underutilised areas of the region to undertake these activities.
Below is a table summarising the key changes to the LAA in the Amending Bill.
Currently, pastoral leases are granted for terms between 18 and 50 years, with no guaranteed right of renewal upon application.
Diversification permits granted under Division 5 of Part 7 of the LAA currently permit a leaseholder to use the land for other purposes beyond grazing and limited agricultural and horticultural purposes (discussed above). However, note, the permit is tied to the lessee of the pastoral lease, not the lease itself. Consequently, an incoming lessee on assignment of the pastoral lease must apply for a new permit. Further, the asset value of the pastoral lease may not fully reflect income streams from diversified activities.
Time for lodging annual returns is financial year end.
Lessees will be required to submit annual returns by calendar year end, to better suit their operational needs. This requirement will apply to both pastoral leases and Rangelands leases.
Pastoral Lands Board has joint responsibility with the Minister for Lands to administer pastoral leases.
Breach of certain land management laws relating to bushfire and control or eradication of pests, weeds and feral animals, is not necessarily a breach of either the LAA or the pastoral lease.
The Amending Bill will deem a breach of certain land management acts (such as the Bushfires Act 1954, the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945 and the Environmental Protection Act 1986) a breach of the LAA and therefore a breach of the pastoral or Rangelands lease, potentially resulting in forfeiture of the lease.
The combined maximum area a lessee may hold under a pastoral lease is 500,000 hectares before the public interest test under section 136 of the LAA applies. Due to modern and improved pastoral techniques, this area cap is now considered unduly restrictive for pastoral leases. Additionally, the requirement for the Minister for Lands to apply the public interest test causes administrative delay and unnecessary red tape.
To reflect the reality of the changing size of pastoral lease holdings in the Rangelands, under a pastoral or Rangelands lease or a combination of both, a lessee may hold a combined maximum area of 1.5 million hectares before the public interest test applies. The public interest test requires that the Minister for Lands is satisfied that the transfer would not result in so great a concentration of control of pastoral land (or Rangelands lease land) as to be against the public interest.
Compensation is payable for lessee’s lawful improvements which remain on the land after lease end.
Most penalties in Part 7 of the LAA are $10,000 for actions such as making use of pastoral land beyond pastoral purposes without a diversification permit.
Penalties will be increased in line with CPI increases to ensure they remain current in today’s dollar values.
1 A future act is a proposal to deal with land in a way that affects native title rights and interests. Examples of future acts include the grant of a mining tenement or compulsory acquisition of land by the Crown. A future act will be invalid to the extent it affects native title unless it complies with the procedures set out in the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). These procedures vary depending on the nature of the future act.