By ERWIN CHLANDA
Live export restrictions, on-shore gas production, Native Title and security of land tenure present challenges to the cattle industry, according to Chris Nott, president of the NT Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA), speaking at its annual meeting today.
Some uncertainties come from “global protein competition in a world made smaller by free trade” as well as “irrational government interventions” such as banning live export which was “dramatic and with substantial consequences. We now see that same intervention with the live export of sheep.
“The existence of the entire live export trade can be gone at the stroke of a politician’s pen. What industry in Australia faces such a threat?” asked Mr Nott (pictured).
It is a “threat fuelled by well-resourced animal activists whose primary modus operandi is to undermine the very existence of an industry that has existed since time itself.”
Troubles from other directions may include the development of onshore gas and the demands and actions of the mining sector.
“It would be a mistake should government allow gas companies to railroad land access agreements through before legislation is enacted protecting landholders as per recommendations [of the fracking inquiry].
“We also believe there is scope for the NTCA to be the independent trustee for the holding of Bond money and establish an office to ensure the integrity of the oil and gas industry.
“We believe this will give the pastoral industry and the broader community greater confidence because onshore gas development can only occur on the pastoral estate.”
Mr Nott says non-pastoral use permits are “in a state of paralysis. We simply don’t know what can be approved without challenge. Do the Native Title holders have the power to veto the entire application?
“Despite the best efforts none of these have been answered and we are in the position of stifling potential private investment in a flat depressed economy while this matter remains unresolved by the NT Government.
“I am well past hearing from the NT Government they support the economic diversification of the pastoral estate when their words are not being supported by actions.
“It is them, and them alone, who are behind this delay. The NT Government has missed the bigger picture in their attempt to win the so-called bush vote.”
Mr Nott says security of land tenure and Native Title are causing uncertainty nation-wide: “From the North Australian White Paper it can be concluded that 56% of the land in North Queensland, 45% of the land in the Territory, and 38% of the land in Northern Western Australia is held under pastoral lease.
“Nearly 94% of North WA is subject to a native title claim or determination as is 62% of North Queensland and 30% of the NT. So to sum up, if and when all outstanding claims have been resolved this may grow close to 70% of Australian land mass.
“What we want is that we can go about the business of doing business without uncertainty. We want to know we can spend money on infrastructure; on people on our property without it being sold out from underneath us.”
Mr Nott says giving freehold titles to pastoral lease land needs to be re-visited.
“Back in the late 1980s and early 90s the NTCA came to within a whisker of having pastoral leases converted to freehold. The likes of Ken Warriner and the late Grant Heaslip were driving forces behind that push.
“We are again exploring that option and in looking around the country it appears only Queensland has a path to it.
“After 40 years of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and more than 20 years since Mabo there has got to be a land tenure system which is better than the restricted one we have now. This isn’t about winners and losers. This should be about everyone winning.
“The beef industry in the Territory is estimated at $1bn. Our live export trade with Indonesia generated more than $360m last year alone and with the onset of the new trade agreement we will see that grow as the tariffs on the first 500,000 head of cattle is lifted. This will increase by 4% per annum before being capped at 700,000.”
The News put to the NTCA that under current legislation (NT Pastoral Land Act 1992 – Sect 85b Registration) the Pastoral Land Board (PLB) can grant permits for land under pastoral lease to be used “for non-pastoral purposes to the extent specified in the permit”. There are currently no native title implications.
A spokesman for the NTCA says the NT Government is proposing “to insert a ‘right to negotiate.’
“This effectively means the PLB would have to follow the wishes of the Native Title holders, and if they do not wish for it to go ahead then the PLB would be duty bound to follow those wishes.
“This would then trigger another appeals mechanism which would add to the length of process. It is a right which does not exist today.
“What does exist is notification. To date there have been 18 non pastoral use applications and only three have been opposed. The NT Government is adding a requirement to fix a problem which doesn’t exist.”
UPDATE Saturday 3.15am
Territory Labor politicians Malarndirri McCarthy and Warren Snowdon have issued a statement labelling as a “lie” claims by Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack at the meeting that the live cattle export will not be safe under Labor.
They say: “The Labor Party supports the live cattle trade, unequivocally.
“Indeed, it was a Labor Government which invested and worked hard to put the sector on a sustainable path.”
Cattlemen face land tenure, gas, live export and Native Title
By ERWIN CHLANDA