Nearly 400,000 hectares of ag land grabbed for national parks

Avenel station, a former Kidman property, on the NSW-SA border is one of five stations bought by the NSW Nationals Parks and Wildlife Service this year to add to parks and nature reserves.
Avenel station, a former Kidman property, on the NSW-SA border is one of five stations bought by the NSW Nationals Parks and Wildlife Service this year to add to parks and nature reserves.

Anger has been expressed at the NSW Government buy-up of existing large pastoral leases in Western NSW to be turned into national parks and reserves.

The purchase of five properties amounting to nearly 400,000 hectares of land this year has led to calls for the buying program to "stop", with Barwon Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Roy Butler saying he will personally deliver the message to NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean.

Pastoralists' of West Darling (PAWD) president Matt Jackson declared: "The acquisition of these properties by the NSW Government has united the local community in disbelief and anger for a number of reasons, which must be addressed forthwith."

Western pastoralists are concerned at many issues over the buy-outs including the effect on rates for landholders, likely decommissioning of water storages on the properties and loss of money to local economies.

More than $500,000 will be cut from town economies with the loss of the grazing operations, they say. It's not known yet what promised tourists dollars will flow from the new national parks.

NSW Farmers says it is very concerned at the loss of agricultural production that may see other rural ratepayers forced to pay more Local Land Services rates and other rates including for the dog fence.(National Parks do not pay rates). NSW Farmers spokesperson Bronwyn Petrie said she was also concerned at the decommissioning of water resources on the bought up land (parks policy), that will kill native wildlife used to those water sources and force pest species onto surrounding farmland.

Also of great concern was that National Parks had paid almost $2.6 million over the market price for the Koonaburra station near Ivanhoe, paying over $9m for a property on the market for $6.5m.

It is believed several young farmers wanting to get into agriculture were forced to drop out of the Koonaburra sale process. A farmer that heard of one sale (Langidoon/Metford) that Parks were willing to pay $70 an acre, compared to the asking rate of $60 an acre.

Pushing young farmers out of the property market because prices are being inflated is very unfair, one station holder told The Land. "With recurring droughts the land is just not worth that."

In all, five properties have been bought this year Avenel, Koonaburra, (166,924 ha in total) and in June the NSW Government announced the purchase of the 153,415ha Narriearra Station near Tibooburra, with Minister Kean saying at the time Narriearra's purchase would allow "further purchases". He said Narriearra went towards his goal of adding "200,000 hectares to the National Parks estate", but that has now doubled.

Matt Jackson, PAWD president, during the drought receiving a relief hay delivery.

Matt Jackson, PAWD president, during the drought receiving a relief hay delivery.

In June, National Parks also announced they had bought neighbouring stations Langidoon and Metford (60,468ha in total) , 65 kilometres east of Broken Hill, as nature reserves.

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While the buy-up program was publicly announced, many are also now concerned that the government is buying land to gain carbon credits. Avenel, on the NSW-SA border was bought for an estimated $20 million and came with a "carbon farming deal" in place. The former Victorian owners had spent a large amount of money on water storages and making the station drought-resilient.

The acquisition of these properties by the NSW Government has united the local community in disbelief and anger for a number of reasons, which must be addressed forthwith.

Matt Jackson, president PAWD

Mr Butler told The Land he was adamant that the buying program "stop". He said the government had failed to look at the possibility of stewardship so that the stations could still carry on as existing operations.

"This buy-up has forced up prices and will leave young farmers out in the cold as they have to put up 50-60 per cent in loan deposit rates.

"The buy-ups will also mean a loss in local employment and will affect the ability of government to administer services with the loss of rates and we will see pests breed up on the new park areas.

"They haven't even looked at an environmental stewardship program that could have seen parts of the stations preserved, while it could continue in production. Access to rangeland goats will also be lost."

Barwon MP Roy Butler will tell Environment Minister Matt Kean to stop the station buy-ups.

Barwon MP Roy Butler will tell Environment Minister Matt Kean to stop the station buy-ups.

"My message to the Minister is 'please stop, stop taking agricultural land out of production'."

PAWD president Matt Jackson in a letter given to The Land (see letters p26), urged the government to end the buy-out program.

"PAWD has heard anecdotal information suggesting that the NSW Government may have paid above fair market value for Narriearra and Langidoon/Metford, above the $20 million asking price for Avenel, and outbid pastoralists who had carefully done their sums on what these properties are really worth in the process of doing so. In the case of Koonaburra Station, the sale price of $9.185 million is significantly higher than the asking price of $6.5 million. In isolation, the Koonaburra transaction appears to be a reckless misuse of taxpayer funds. These points raise several questions:

"How much did the NSW Government pay for Narriearra, Avenel and Langidoon/Metford?

"Why did the NSW Government pay $2.685 million above the asking price for Koonaburra?

"How does the NSW Government justify paying above fair market value for these stations?

"How does the NSW government value a property identified for conservation purposes?

"The buying activity of the NSW government in far west NSW has prevented a number of pastoral families from purchasing properties.

"This outcome has crushed many young aspiring pastoralists who no longer believe that buying their own property is within their reach."

Avenel.

Avenel.

NSW Farmers chair of conservation and resources committee Bronwyn Petrie, who also sits on the NPWS advisory council, said she was very concerned that the non rate-paying National Parks would force up land rates on farmers.

In her area of Tenterfield, almost 30 per cent of the land was now non-rateable.

She called on government to look at the rate situation, and on Parks to be a good neighbour and not decommission water sources.

"We want them to be good neighbours," she said.

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This story Parks' buy-up outrage among western communities first appeared on The Land.