Serious shortcomings and a lack of accountability and enforcement have been exposed within the ACT Government’s Land Management Agreements (LMA) with rural leaseholders.
The agreements are supposed to encourage co-operation between the government and rural landholders to establish environmentally friendly farming and conservation practices.
But the large number of out-of-date agreements, no regular compliance checks and no evidence of enforcement from ACT Government agencies led the Auditor-General to conclude that “the value of LMAs is questionable”.
The report analysed 63 LMAs in the ACT and found that half had not been reviewed and replaced as required in the last five years. Of these, 24 Agreements were over 10 years old, 10 were up to 17 years old and two were 19 years old.
“A significant proportion of Agreements are out of date and they often lack a depth of information and assessment,” Auditor-General Michael Harris said.
“The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) is not effectively managing Agreements to ensure that they are relevant as an active and ongoing land management tool.”
The report also found that leaseholders do not trust the agreements and only enter them as a “necessary inconvenience” to obtain their lease.
“Their attitude seems to be that the agreement should contain as little detail as possible, which minimises their obligations over the five-year review period,” the report notes.
“The LMA process has received scant regard from lessees in the past due to their awareness that [Parks, Conservation and Lands] staff have not been consistently undertaking compliance and enforcement activities.
“There is no evidence of any monitoring and enforcement activity being undertaken by any ACT Government agency in relation to rural leaseholders and their Agreements.”
The report made six recommendations for the EPSDD, including establishing an ongoing discussion forum where issues can be raised, developing a policy to document and keep records of agreements, having a minimum level of detail for agreements and better compliance and enforcement initiatives.
The ACT Government has four months to provide a formal response to the report and a spokesperson said the EPSDD did not want to pre-empt that with a response at this stage.