Gascoyne Muster

In Western Australia, there are about 548 pastoral leases covering some 870,000 square kilometres of rangelands – more than one third of the State’s landmass.

The Issue

In Western Australia, there are about 548 pastoral leases covering some 870,000 square kilometres of rangelands – more than one third of the State’s landmass.

Since the current structure of pastoral leases was established in 1933, new demands for rangeland use have been generated by resource development, the growth of tourism and other recreational pursuits, and increased recognition of indigenous and conservation interests.

Pastoral leases in Western Australia expire in 2015.

Many issues and challenges are currently facing the pastoral industry. These include:

  • Future pastoral land tenure options, which is a primary issue for pastoralists.
  • Exclusions from pastoral leases in 2015 for public purposes.
  • Concentration of ownership of pastoral lands.
  • Foreign ownership.
  • Public access to pastoral leases, which is becoming an increasingly controversial issue. The community at large has reasonable expectations regarding access to remote areas of interest, whether it be for camping, fishing or passage through the land. The denial of entry or charging of substantial fees has attracted increasing comment.
  • Aboriginal access to pastoral leases for social, ceremonial and economic purposes.
  • Tourism activities by lessees and non-lessees, in particular how we ensure fair access and competition.
  • Multiple use and diversification on pastoral leases.
  • Pastoral lease rents and local government authority rates over pastoral leases.

The Government required that the interests of all Western Australians be considered before pastoral leases covered under the Land Administration Act 1997 were renewed. To ensure a broad consultation with all stakeholders the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure hosted a Pastoral Forum, The Gascoyne Muster, held over two days in May 2002 in Carnarvon.

The issues were highly emotive and the overwhelming press given to the forthcoming event was negative.

The Methodology

Consensus Forum
The Consensus Forum is a method of engaging all key stakeholders in the development of policy and input to the decision making process. The key issues are explored using ‘open book’ information. Opportunities are given to understand different viewpoints and to deliberate in small groups. The focus is on the search for common ground. The findings become integral to the decision making process. The key stakeholders are integral to process of developing policy.

1st Muster

350 participants attended the two day forum, often driving many hundreds of kilometres to attend. The first day was limited to the broad range of representatives from the pastoral industry, including indigenous groups, local and state government. Anyone with an interest in pastoral lease access and multiple use issues, eg tourism, mining industry and aboriginal groups, were welcome to attend on the second day.

Participants sat at tables of 10. Each table was provided with a scribe. Participant groups were mixed to provide a broad range of interests and views at each table.

The Minister was present throughout the proceedings and, unlike many other participatory democracy initiatives, played a key role throughout the two days in responding to issues.

To provide opportunities for participants to have their say in forging the future policies for the management of pastoral lands in Western Australia.

The first day focused on pastoral lease management and associated issues. The second day considered public access, tourism and multiple use of pastoral leases.

Day 1 commenced with the Minister outlining the purpose and potential influence of the Gascoyne Muster process, and introducing other Ministers and Members of Parliament. Participants then introduced themselves to their table colleagues.

To encourage informed deliberation, papers were presented, followed by panel responses to participant questions.

Presentations included:

  • Profile of the Pastoral Industry: Who owns what and what the Act says about concentration of ownership;
  • Viability and Amalgamation of Pastoral Leases.

Following these sessions, tables deliberated on the issues of ownership, viability, lease fees and rates and any other associated issue. Each participant was asked to fill out their thoughts on an individual form under three headings:

  • describe issue (what),
  • reason for issue (why)
  • suggested resolution (how).

Individuals’ issues were then discussed by their small group to determine the table’s key issues, reasons and suggested resolutions. A joint table submission was then written on a similar form. If any individuals felt their issues had not been documented to their satisfaction in the joint submission, they could also submit their individual forms.

In a plenary session, some of the key issues, reasons and resolutions were outlined.

This process was repeated in the afternoon with a presentation followed by panel discussion on:

  • Lease Fees and Rates: Pastoral Lease Rents and Local Government Authority Rates.

As in the morning, small group discussion was then held on future land tenure, exclusions and other associated issues. Once again, individuals filled out their forms. The issues were discussed as a small group and a joint submission was developed by each table. Both joint submissions and on request, individual submissions, were collected to provide a full record of the thinking in the room.

At the evening plenary session, some of room’s key issues, reasons and resolutions were outlined.

On day 2, the process was repeated. Few people left, more attended. Participants were asked to join different tables. Following the table introductions, once again there were presentations followed by panel discussion on:

  • Public Access to Pastoral Leases;
  • Multiple Use and Diversification on Pastoral Leases;
  • Tourism Activities by Lessees and Non-Lessees.

Individuals had the opportunity to write their issues, reasons and potential resolutions on forms. These were discussed during small group discussions to determine the key themes. Once again, the table forms were submitted as were any requested individual forms.

In the afternoon, there were the final presentations and panels:

  • Aboriginal Access to Pastoral Leases;
  • Mining and Prospecting on Pastoral Leases.

The small group discussion process was repeated for the last time.

At the final plenary, not only were the key themes outlined, but also any remaining issues of contention. The Minister outlined the continuing process as follows:

  • All the individual and table forms submitted during the two days as well as the outline of the presentations would be written into a report which would be distributed to all participants;
  • Working Groups of all the key stakeholders would use the Muster report to develop policy and recommendations which would be submitted to the Pastoral Lands Board and the Minister;
  • Government response to the submitted final report would be published.

The feedback was very positive. Participants had thought the Muster would be little more than a ‘brawl’. Instead, it was a productive discussion of issues where everyone felt their views had been heard. In particular, the Minister was commended for being willing to respond on the spot to the extraordinarily broad range of issues that were raised. To the surprise of many, the Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association published a very complimentary press release on the positive nature of the Gascoyne Muster and its outcomes.

Post 1st Muster
All participants were sent a complete report of the 1st Muster Forum.

Following the Forum, five working groups were established to report on and recommend workable solutions for the key issues confronting Western Australia’s pastoral industry. The working groups brought pastoralists together with representatives of other rangeland stakeholders, including indigenous communities; mining; recreational and tourism interests; conservationists; and local and State government.

Broad issues affecting the pastoral industry were examined including sustainability, access, economic monitoring and tenure. Three of these groups prepared interim reports to aid the determination of land for exclusion from the 2015 renewal of pastoral leases.

The Access to Pastoral Land Working Group investigated and reported on potential solutions to issues associated with access to pastoral lands. These issues included mining, prospecting, recreation, and tourism access, public access routes, camping, pastoralists’ public liability and fees for access. Aboriginal access was allocated a dedicated working group.

By June 2003, all five groups submitted their final reports to the Department of Land Administration, which together with the Pastoral Lands Board’s comments, were forwarded to the Minister.

All Forum participants were sent a copy of the five working group final reports. This was followed by a call for public submissions. The submissions process was widely promoted via advertising in regional and local newspapers. Copies of the final reports were disseminated broadly. All pastoral lessees were forwarded submission forms and a copy of all the work produced to date.

The recommendations from the working group reports were considered at a second Forum that was held in September 2003.

2nd Muster

Muster II was open to all interested persons. Just over 200 people attended, representing the pastoral industry; key government agencies; local authorities; indigenous interests; mining interests; and tourism interests.

The final reports of the working groups were discussed in small groups and then in plenary sessions – recommendation by recommendation.

A Final Report was prepared that combined the outcomes of Muster II as well as the public submissions. This Report has been submitted to Government for their response.


When the issues are broad, complex and emotive, with varied and strong stakeholder views on how the issues should be resolved, the Consensus Forum is a valuable technique. Holders of differing viewpoints are engaged in small group dialogue that is grounded on open information, willingness to listen to other’s perspectives and to deliberate issue by issue. This offers the opportunity to forge new understandings and new ground.

This was made patently clear when the extraordinarily high level cynicism that had been expressed by participants before the first Muster was turned into good will, hope and improved trust at its conclusion.

Inclusive processes such as this tend to take longer than estimated (years rather than months), and to cost more than the usual community consultation processes (eg advisory groups or one-off workshops). However, the policy and recommendations that eventuate are more likely to be ‘owned’ by the community, hence implementation is facilitated. In the long run, deliberative, inclusive processes could well be the less costly option.