An Aboriginal leader has warned that Indigenous communities in WA will miss out if the state loses $100 million in carbon farming contracts because of outdated pastoral lease laws.
Kado Muir, who manages the Ngalia Foundation and Walkatjurra Ranger Program in the Goldfields town of Leonora, said the area was plagued with high levels of unemployment and social issues, including high suicide rates among young people.
He said carbon projects — where trees are planted and managed to offset carbon emissions — would offer important job and business opportunities.
“It will be a sad day if we are not able to bring these projects to fruition as a result of WA government inaction,” he said.
Mr Muir’s warning came after Goldfield Carbon Group managing director Andrew White said his company would be forced to move two $50 million federal government contracts from WA to Queensland and the Northern Territory if he was not able to secure commitments from the WA government to pass a law enabling the carbon industry.
He said the laws in WA had failed to keep up with a new industry.
GCG has contracts with the Federal Government through the Clean Energy Regulator to sequester about eight million tonnes of carbon by planting millions of trees in WA.
But Mr White said there was uncertainty over carbon credits and permitted land use in the state.
The two contracts were expected to provide long-term returns of more than $1 billion in the international carbon market.
Mr White said GCG needed to get moving on the Goldfields project by June and the Pilbara project about a year later.
He said the projects would sequester carbon through land restoration projects involving the replanting of native species. They would also generate new industries such as bush tucker, which is proving of interest to health and pharmaceutical industries.
“It’s a no-brainer — there are no negatives to allowing this to take place,” he said. “This is a land restoration project. You can’t argue against it.”
A recent report outlining the potential of carbon farming in WA found the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative could provide millions of dollars of new income to rangelands pastoralists and restore productivity to degraded lands in WA.
Under the initiative, farmers and land managers can earn carbon credits by storing carbon or reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the land. These credits can then be sold to people and businesses wishing to offset their emissions.
The report, released in December by the Carbon and Rangelands Policy Working Group, identified carbon farming as being worth almost $200,000 each year to the average pastoral lease in the southern part of WA’s outback.
Mr White said he was hopeful the newly elected WA Labor Government would bring a fresh approach to the industry.
A spokesperson for new WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan was not available for comment this week.
Meanwhile, about 40 pastoralists who collectively manage an area of pastoral lease land twice the size of WA’s south-west have signed a petition calling on current and future governments to support the development of a carbon farming industry in WA’s outback.
Pastoralist and petitioner Jason Hastie said carbon farming had great potential.
“It offers pastoralists the opportunity to diversify income streams, survive the boom and bust of droughts and markets, and restore large tracts of degraded land at no cost to government,” Mr Hastie said.
“Some carbon farming could be happening now, under our current laws, on pastoral leases, but more certainty needs to be added to further diversification on pastoral leases which in turn would provide greater certainty and open up further carbon opportunities.
“Queensland and New South Wales pastoralists are already benefitting from sequestering carbon.”
By Wendy Caccetta