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In SA, there are in excess of 300 pastoral leases, with this land occupying more than 40 per cent of the state.

The use of pastoral land has, for many years, been controlled by the Pastoral Land Management and Conservation Act 1989.

The state government has been undertaking a major review of the act and has put proposed new legislation to replace the act – the Pastoral Lands Bill 2020 – out for public consultation.

Existing leases are proposed to roll over at the commencement of the bill. But, they will be subject to a review by the Pastoral Board within five years to ensure their conditions are consistent with the requirements under the proposed legislation.

There are a number of major changes proposed as a consequence of the bill. The first of these proposed changes is to increase the maximum possible lease term from 42 years to 100 years. This will allow greater certainty of tenure and, with it, mean that pastoral lessees will be able to take a longer term outlook when it comes to investigating in the business operations of the land.

In addition to the longer lease terms, there is express provision made for alternative, non=pastoral land uses and for the grazing of species other than sheep or cattle. This broadens the scope of activities potentially permitted on pastoral land.

A significant change proposed is the removal of maximum stock numbers. It is proposed that there will be no limit on the maximum stock numbers and pastoral lessees will be able to make their own decisions on the number of stock being run on the land. But, there are further amendments which have an effect on the actual stock numbers – there are provisions relating to the condition of the land and ensuring that it is maintained to a certain condition, with various consequences if it is not.

There is also provision in the new legislation for the relevant Minister to develop policies and guidelines. While these policies and guidelines will not attract the scrutiny of Parliament, any policies or guidelines adopted will have to be complied with and will be enforceable. For example, the guidelines could set out specific requirements for fencing or maintenance and, if not complied with, the pastoral lessees could be pursued.

A further change is the obligations in respect of items like fencing. The new provisions set out a need to maintain ‘adequate infrastructure’. This means that the lease holder is only required to maintain infrastructure that is required for the particular pastoral use being undertaken on their land, rather than there being a blanket standard which applies across the board for all pastoral land irrespective of its use.

These are some significant changes and it will be interesting to see what finds its way into the new legislation following the consultation process.

This article was published in The Stock Journal on Thursday 8 October 2020.