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You might be surprised to learn that mining giants like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton lease and manage huge swathes of pastoral land here in Australia, although you’d struggle to find mention of it in their annual reports. Transparency issues aside, what is it that attracts mining companies to farm cattle?
To begin, the lease and management of cattle stations by miners has been going on for years. Rio Tinto, for example, manages six stations in Western Australia’s resources-rich Pilbara area alone, including the Karratha cattle station, which it has leased and managed since 1966.
Similarly, BHP Billiton holds many pastoral leases, as does gold miner Northern Star Resources. And Chinese-owned Citic Pacific.
Obviously there’s a connection between pastoral leases and land access. When resources companies wish to explore, construct and mine, they have to negotiate with native title holders and pastoral lease holders. Holding a pastoral lease means bypassing the latter, making construction of infrastructure that much easier.
That said, leases held by large corporations can make for positive contributions too. For instance, they’ve got the money to spend on infrastructure repairs, maintenance and major capital works to keep stations operating even in hard times. It has also been reported to stabilise the value of land owned by surrounding farmers and provide continued work for locals.
In a recent development, Rio Tinto has announced it is in the process of subleasing several of its pastoral stations to the Ngarlama people, a move that ensures greater access to traditional owners of the West Pilbara.
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