Gnaraloo Station calls for pastoral lease clarity along the Ningaloo Coast, as deadline draws closer

Aerial view of 3 Mile Camp on Gnaraloo Station

Gnaraloo Station Gallery

A pastoralist on Western Australia's Ningaloo Coast says the future of his station remains uncertain, as last minute lease negotiations continue.

Audio 7:21 Hear from Paul at Gnaraloo Station in WA

ABC Rural

Paul Richardson from Gnaraloo Station is one of several lessees, located between Carnarvon and Exmouth, who are still negotiating boundaries and exclusion zones with the State Government. less than four months out from leases rolling over.

All of Western Australia's 507 pastoral leases will expire on June 30.

Mr Richardson said although negotiations were ongoing with government representatives, he was disappointed with their progress.

"They're not so much negotiations as us being told what we have to accept," he said.

"I received a letter last year saying my lease was compliant, but I still haven't received my lease paperwork.

"These are legal documents and once we get them we'll need time to get legal advice, it's a concern that it's running so close to the wire."

Like his northern neighbour, Leonie McLeod at Warroora Station. Mr Richardson is concerned about coastal parts of the station being excised.

It is understood the State Government wishes to redraw station boundaries along the World Heritage listed coastline, to allow a beachfront strip of land to be co-managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and traditional owners. These are legal documents and once we get them we'll need time to get legal advice, it's a concern that it's running so close to the wire. Paul Richardson, Gnaraloo Station

Minister for Lands Terry Redman has previously said the land would be used for conservation, recreation and low-impact tourism.

For Paul Richardson, that strip of land contains the most profitable elements of his business.

"All our water points are on that land, our pipelines, our wilderness tourism business is in that area," he said.

"We have an idea of where the boundary line is going to be, but until the mapping is set down, signed off and agreed we cannot be sure."

Mr Richardson said he believed the current tenure system worked well, with pastoralists on the ground year-round managing the land at no cost to WA taxpayers.

He said that should a new strip of land come under State Government control, there would be a strong temptation to sell off that land for development to cover the cost of its management.

"If you take in Gnaraloo, Warroora, Cardabia and Ningaloo Stations you're looking at probably eight times the size of Cape Range National Park [in Exmouth]," he said.

"Cape Range has around 40 staff.

"I understand DPaW and traditional owners need to manage the marine park, but that could be quite simply solved by

giving them legal access to the coast through all the pastoral stations.

"That way they wouldn't have to exclude the land, their management of the marine park could continue and they could leave the working model the stations currently have on the coast."

Mr Richardson cites Gnaraloo's turtle conservation program, which began in 2008, as one example of that 'working model' of station management.

"Gnaraloo Bay is the largest confirmed mainland rookery of loggerhead turtles in Western Australia," he said.

"We're one of only three bodies throughout the whole of Australia who do full season monitoring.

"When we started 100 per cent of nests were being dug up by foxes, yet in the past five years we have not lost one nest to a fox.

"That's due to our baiting program, it's proof stations can effectively manage the land and 80 per cent of that program is funded by the camping fees from guests."

WA Premier 'not entirely happy with pastoral lease negotiations

The WA Premier has said he is "not entirely happy" with the way lease negotiations have been conducted with pastoralists on the Ningaloo Coast.

Colin Barnett said yesterday while he felt it was important that a coastal strip of the stations comes under Government control, he did not want pastoralists to lose their homes, as was being proposed in one case at Ningaloo Station.

Mr Barnett made the comments when responding to a question from talkback caller Colin on ABC 720 Mornings with Geoff Hutchison. I think there's scope being negotiated for them to continue to operate some tourist operations, but I agree it has been untidy. Colin Barnett, WA Premier

"This issue has been going on for a long time, 15 years at least," he said.

"I've not been entirely happy with the way in which it has been conducted.

"But my understanding was that most of the issues with those pastoral stations along the Ningaloo Coast have been broadly agreed."

Mr Barnett said he hoped that, come June 30, the pastoral leases in question would be rolled over for a new term.

"But I do think the coastal strip is important and ultimately needs to come under State Government management and control," the Premier said.

"Camping areas are good and we would like to see pastoral people stay in those couple of stations, live in their homesteads at least.

"I think there's scope being negotiated for them to continue to operate some tourist operations, but I agree it has been untidy.

"I've sat in both Government and opposition and this saga has just gone on and on and on."

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