WILL Burrell, tourism operator and owner of Kimberley station El Questro, received a rude shock last December when he discovered that the Department of Conservation and Land Management had earmarked 97,361 hectares for exclusion from his 274,149ha station.
After 2015, DCLM will have added 4.7 million hectares of station country to its portfolio.
The site to be excluded on El Questro contained the picturesque Cockburn Range, an area that Mr Burrell acknowledges warrants conservation.
But Mr Burrell is wary of jeopardising the viability of his cattle station, particularly with cattle receiving around $600 a head on the live export market.
“I needed the pastoral activity to supplement my income from the tourism venture,” Mr Burrell said.
“Grazing cattle in the north-west is a very profitable business.”
Since last year, Mr Burrell has successfully negotiated with DCLM a more practical delineation of the site, reducing the exclusion back to around 45,000ha.
While Mr Burrell has reached a mutually acceptable outcome, he said he remained anxious until the new pastoral leases were finalised in 2004.
“The goalposts could have changed by then,” he said.
“What pastoralists want is security of tenure, they don’t like the Government interfering with their boundaries.
“The want bankable tenure.”
Mr Burrell said most pastoralists wanted to sort out the situation with the Native Title Act and would accept losing land off their pastoral leases in return for security of tenure and security of return of their investment into the land.
For nearby neighbour, Drysdale Station owner Anne Koeyers, the issue of community access opens up a range of other issues.
While in theory greater community access is a sound idea, pastoralists believe they would be left to deal with the reality on the ground – when people became lost, roads needed repair or cattle were killed, Mrs Koeyers said.
“Access by whom, when, where and under what conditions?
“You can’t run a business when everyone has a key to the door.”
Mrs Koeyers said there was uncertainty about how the government would determine rents on tourism ventures.
Drysdale may not have an abundance of tourist attractions but the station owners have built up a small tourism venture to supplement their income.
“Are you making money because you have Mitchell Falls on your lease, or because you have invested money into your lease?
“Is it fair to place a rent on infrastructure you have created?”
Former Peter & Brownes chief executive turned agribusiness operator Graham Laitt believes that northern pastoral leases were integral to building up global live export markets.
His agribusiness company, Liverenga Pastoral Company, owns two Kimberley cattle stations, two broadacre properties in Geraldton, two in Wagin, and recently acquired livestock feed operation Milne Feeds. According to Mr Laitt, WA has only 2,000,000 head of cattle compared with the 26 million in the rest of Australia.
WA, therefore, did not use its pastoral leases to its best advantage, he said.
His vision for the State’s pastoral industry is to build up the herd by locating cow and calf breeding herds in the Kimberley, transporting market cattle south to be fattened, and then on-selling to feedlots or the live export market.
This method would allow the numbers of breeding female cattle to build up and also would open up new markets that want a better quality meat than can be grown in the Kimberley, he said.
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