RMWAH in receivership – failure of the Henbury Cattle Station project

R.M. Williams Agricultural Holdings (RMWAH) has gone into receivership.

No surprise.

What is surprising is that blindingly obvious questions, which I posed in blog posts dating back to the company’s formation, remain unanswered.  Years later.  I hope taxpayers enjoyed kissing their millions goodbye.

I’ve written a number of blog posts mentioning RMWAH; here are several of the main ones:

RMWAH formed out of a partnership with Primary Holdings International (June 2009)

RMWAH & Australian Federal (Labor) Government purchase of Henbury cattle station (July 2011) – with very little public detail provided. For example, who was pocketing the proceeds for the destocking sale of the thousands of cattle?  Major investors in the project – Australian taxpayers; or the minor investors?

RMWAH – carbon trading scheme details lacking (July 2009) – further discussion on the unanswered questions, the lack of detail available and the apparent absence of any sort of clear plan re how this taxpayer-funded conservation/investment project was actually going to benefit the environment in any way.

RMWAH currently owns Northern Territory properties La Belle Downs & Welltree in the marine plains region SW of Darwin, plus Henbury station in Central Australia; and Inglewood Farms and Mirage Plains in Queensland.

Late last year RMWAH Chief Operating Officery Rory Richards said the company wanted cattle returned to Henbury Station:

Mr Richards says he has not raised the possibility of restocking cattle with the Federal Government. “I believe everything is open for dialogue and negotiation,” he said.

“Our agreement is relatively flexible. At this stage we would have to convince the minister that it was beneficial to run cattle.”

That sums it up really.  “Our agreement is relatively flexible (with the Federal Government)”. Taxpayers forked out millions for a scheme that not only wasn’t sorted in detail prior to the money being handed over, it wasn’t sorted out in detail over the following years, either!  “Flexible” is an understatement! It just looks like a massive speculative project, to be figured out as time went by, with investor fashions such as “carbon sequestration” (relating to carbon trading) and “biofuels” featuring on the website…without clear facts and figures explaining how any of it would actually work.  Let alone a budget!

This is a lesson all Australians should take note of because we must think long-term. Conservation – done properly – is very expensive.  That’s why RMWAH would have wanted cattle back on Henbury Station (I doubt it was because they’d suddenly listened to Alan Savory, and discovered that carefully management livestock can be much better for environmental health than removing livestock completely; since he’s been around for years).

The most economically efficient and effective way to help look after and improve the Australian environment is to help natural land managers – family farmers.  They have a natural, long-term vested interest in looking after their country, as the intention is always to hand the land on to the next generation in a better shape than it was in when they took hold of the reins.  Government assistance and private investment is best directed to helping existing farmers spend time and money on practical projects such as capping free-flowing bores, fencing off different land types, controlling feral animals and weeds, and continuing education/training (such as Resource Consulting Services and Alan Savory courses, etc).  Scientific research can be conducted on cattle stations; they don’t need to be called a National Park for research to occur!  Running well-managed herds of cattle keeps people living and working in these areas 24/7 x 52 weeks of the year (employment, social and national security benefits); produces large quantities of good quality food;  and contributes significant export income to the economy – thus helping fund conservation projects.  Best of all, long-term cattle station owners have a vested interest in reinvesting back into their properties and this expenditure is tax deductible from profits made.  It’s a very healthy money cycle.

Why do governments buy up remote cattle stations for conservation reasons?  Because after more than a century of running cattle, they’re still in great shape!  It’s a no-brainer.  So squandering millions on buying these stations then having to fund management costs from the public purse, ad infinitum, is simply crazy.  Conservationists who have this phobia about livestock ruining the environment, need a reality check.  Buying, locking up, destocking and depopulating vast areas of inland Australia is sheer stupidity.  Helping cattle station owners and managers do the best job they can managing their environment is by far the most cost-effective and productive way to get results.

RM William’s Agricultural Holdings (RMWAH) runs separately to R.M. Williams – the boot & clothing manufacturing company; however Ken Cowley is involved in both.  Ken saved R.M. Williams from receivership in 1993 and became sole owner after the death of founder Reginald Murray (RM) Williams in 2003.  Ken sold just under 50% of the R.M. William’s company to a capital equity group in April, but retains the majority share himself. I have my fingers crossed for this iconic Australian company because there are so many tragic examples of group investment schemes ending in the closing of the business purchased.  Angus & Robertson springs to mind.

One last comment on the Henbury Cattle Station debacle.  The hypocrisy of all those researchers, academics, politicians & other hangers-on who squandered copious quantities of taxpayer’s hard-earned money & burned large amounts of fossil fuels flying or driving all the way from the eastern seaboard to Central Australia, make me absolutely sick.  One can only speculate what Reginald Williams would have had to say about such a project, also.

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