Suffering and Oppression in the Pilbara
by David Archibald
24 January 2017
Some 1.8 million people live on the sandy coastal plain in Perth, Western Australia. What sustains and pays for the lifestyle of most of those people comes from the semi-arid and desert regions that lie beyond the Darling Scarp. Mining produces most of that income. To sustain mining, individuals have to risk their capital to find new deposits to replace older mines as they deplete. Anything that suppresses the animal spirits of prospectors makes us all poorer.
Excessive Regulation Discourages Prospecting
This is the story of one prospector who had planned to drill five reverse circulation holes, each to about 200 metres, on a lease on the Meentheena pastoral lease north of Nullagine.
The Main Roads Department wanted to build a sealed road out to the manganese mine at Wood Woody. The lessee of Meentheena required that Main Roads build a cattle-proof fence where the road passed near a water course. The cost of putting the fence in was going to be close to $0.5 million, so Main Roads bought the pastoral lease for a similar sum instead. Once in possession of the lease, Main Roads handed it over to the Department of Conservation and Land Management, subsequently rebadged as Parks and Wildlife.
Enter our prospector. He was paying $20,000 a year on lease rental to the Department of Mines and Petroleum and $10,000 a year in rates to the Shire of East Pilbara. On top of that he would need to pay $20,000 for an aboriginal heritage survey and $20,000 for a fauna and flora survey, taking his total expenditure to $70,000 before he could do any useful work.
The flora and fauna survey requirement was particularly galling because Meentheena had been a pastoral lease since the 1890s, much the same as the hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of country around it.
The five holes would have cost about $40,000 all up. But to proceed would have meant that $40,000 of work plus $70,000 of regulatory expenditure, for $110,000 of total expenditure. Our prospector relinquished the ground instead, the holes went undrilled and we are all the poorer, all due to the requirement for permits that don’t achieve anything.
At least our prospector came out of his misadventure in our regulatory system with the bulk of his capital intact.
Uncompensated Confiscation at Ningaloo
The next story is one of confiscation and bureaucratic torture. In the mid-1930s, the Lefroy family purchased Ningaloo Station, on the coast between Coral Bay and Exmouth. This is a pastoral lease of 49,750 hectares which the Lefroys developed into a merino sheep and tourist business. Three generations of the Lefroy family have been born, lived, worked and died on the station and know no other life.
In 1995 the Minister for Lands (Liberal) renewed the lease for 39 years from July 1, 2015, as per the Land Act 1933 but with a condition that land could be excised from the lease for ‘Conservation’. This condition is contrary to said act.
In 2002, the Minister for Lands (Alannah MacTiernan, Labor) informed the Lefroy family she was going to resume 48% of the Ningaloo pastoral lease for the ‘Ningaloo Marine Park’ and that the family had two years to achieve a compromise with the Department of Parks and Wildlife. They were to sign an agreement to surrender the 48% of the lease or forfeit the entire pastoral lease in 2015. Further, despite loss of the 48% of the station, the lease rent would not be reduced!
The 48% of the lease required by Parks and Wildlife consisted of 22,202 hectares stretching up to 22.4 km inland from the coast and contained all eleven stock watering points — including tanks, troughs, mills and solar systems, the homestead and out buildings, three staff quarters, airstrip, the 100 year old shearing shed, garages, engine sheds, workshops, homestead water well, shearers quarters, laneways and holding paddocks, the Point Cloates lighthouse and keepers quarters and six licenced developed tourism businesses. In fact every piece of infrastructure the Lefroys owned was included in the proposed area to be excised.
Parks and Wildlife want to take the homestead and out buildings too
The Lefroys prepared a detailed submission to retain their infrastructure and homestead while giving up most of the coastal strip of land. This was rejected by Parks and Wildlife. The Minister had signed the “Gascoyne Coastal Policy” which stated the excision boundary was not to be changed. In other words, Parks and Wildlife were going through the motions of ‘Consulting’ or ‘Compromising’ with the pastoralist but there was no change to the considerable area wanted by them.
Much to the surprise of the Lefroy family, the Minister for the Environment covertly placed all of Ningaloo Station’s infrastructure on the National Heritage list and subsequently the Lefroys received correspondence from the Department of Lands stating that they would not receive any compensation as the infrastructure was heritage-listed.
In 2004, the then opposition shadow Minister for Lands, Brendan Grylls (National party) and MP Colin Barnett, now Liberal Premier of WA, signed an ‘Agreed Position Document’ which stated that the Coalition would revoke legislation to excise land from pastoralists; pastoralist holding leases would continue beyond 2015; pastoralists would continue to manage their licensed tourism ventures, and no development would be permitted along the Ningaloo coast. But they have been in power for two terms now, and nothing has happened.
When this document was placed before the current Minister for Lands Terry Redman (Nationals) he refused to recognise it. The Minister has offered the Lefroys the right to reside in their own house, which they would have to keep insured and maintained. This offer is only current until an Indigenous Land Use agreement is completed. This ‘compromise’ meant the Lefroys would lose all means of income from wool, meat and tourism, lose the primary producers’ fuel rebate, lose any security and, to top it all off, there would be no compensation.
Obviously the Lefroys have been badly treated by the State Government. The right thing to do would be for the State Government to cease and desist from its attempts to acquire Ningaloo Station.
Apart from the natural justice and morality aspects of the matter, there are good practical reasons for doing that. One is that, as a privately run tourist operation, the Lefroys offer value for money and provide an alternative to coastal access controlled by Parks and Wildlife. Things can only go backwards if Parks and Wildlife gains control of Ningaloo. Secondly, Parks and Wildlife has a budget of $212 million per annum while the State debt is galloping away to somewhere beyond $40 billion. Most of that $212 million is spent torturing people on the high side of the Darling Scarp – miners, farmers and pastoralists alike. There will have to be savings effected to get the State budget into balance and Parks and Wildlife is a good place to start. A reduction to perhaps $50 million a year would be appropriate to begin with. Taking over Ningaloo Station is going in the wrong direction for so many reasons.
If elected as the Member for Pilbara, I undertake that I will do all in my power to ensure that the Lefroys are left in peace as the custodians of Ningaloo Station. In fact, compensation for their suffering due to Parks and Wildlife’s attempts at empire building may be in order.
David Archibald is the Pauline Hanson’s One Nation candidate for Pilbara. His latest book is American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare.