The Australian National Landcare Programme

8 February 2018 Christopher Johns, Research Manager, Northern Australia and Land Care Research Programme Download PDF

Key Points

  • The National Landcare Programme and the Landcare Network are a key part of the Australian Government’s commitment to natural resource management, having invested over $1 billion since 2014.
  • The National Stream of the Programme supports many important initiatives that will protect and restore the environment and make agriculture more sustainable and productive. These initiatives will be directly funded by the Australian Government.
  • The Regional Stream of the Programme supports Australia’s 56 regional natural resource management organisations in providing local and regional initiatives to help protect their local environment and deliver more sustainable agriculture.
  • The Programme, through the Indigenous Natural Resource Management organisations, supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to draw on their significant and unique knowledge, skills and responsibilities.
  • OceanWatch Australia has been recognised as the natural resource management group for Australia’s marine environment with responsibility for the delivery of the Government’s marine natural resource management related programmes

Summary

The Commonwealth Government of Australia, through the National Heritage Trust, has been providing funding for a wide range of environmental and sustainable agriculture initiatives for over thirty years. The National Landcare Programme is the latest iteration of this series of organisations focused on landcare responsibilities. The Programme coordinates several sub-programmes and funding stream components. These components include a National Stream of funding for national projects and for meeting international environmental obligations, a Regional Stream of funding with 56 geographic natural resource management organisations, an Indigenous natural resource management organisation and a Marine natural resource management organisation. In this Strategic Analysis Paper, FDI will describe and discuss the history, structure, objectives and achievements of the National Landcare   in preparation for a more detailed analysis of the various components of the Programme in the future.

Analysis

Soils, water and a diverse range of native plants and animals comprise Australia’s unique environment and natural resources. They facilitate the production of food, fibre, water, medicines and genetic resources; the regulation of climate, water flows, erosion and pollination; and cultural services such as recreation, ecotourism, aesthetic and heritage values.

Agricultural food and fibre production is estimated to have been worth $60 billion in 2016–17; weeds costs farmers $4 billion per year in control and lost production costs; nature-based tourism is valued at more than $41 billion per year; and the ABS has estimated the value of the nation’s environmental assets to be $5.8 billion at 30 June 2015. The condition of our natural resources and the services they deliver remain at risk from a long history of human use and modification including large-scale clearing of vegetation, introduction of pest weeds and animals, changes in water quality and flows, changes to fire regimes and a changing climate.

Australia has obligations under international conventions that relate to the management of our natural resources, including those to protect biodiversity, soil, wetlands, and World Heritage Areas and to address climate change.

In the context of the statements above, the National Landcare Programme is the latest in a series Federal Government programmes, funded primarily by the National Heritage Trust, aimed at supporting environmental and sustainable agriculture outcomes. It is the Australian Government’s primary commitment to natural resource management and has invested $1 billion since 2014. The programme acknowledges that achieving environmental and sustainability objects can be slow and requires long-term on-ground planning, investment and provision. The National Landcare Programme and its predecessors have been structured to achieve this through building knowledge and engaging the community and industry in projects to change those land management practices needed to improve the condition of soil, water and biodiversity. The current programme has set four strategic objectives that recognise and encourage landcare contributions by local communities to assist national and international environmental management and sustainable agriculture obligations. The four strategic objectives of the programme are as follows:

  • Strategic Objective 1: Communities are managing landscapes to sustain long-term economic and social benefits from their environment.
  • Strategic Objective 2: Farmers and fishers are increasing their long term returns through better management of the natural resource base.
  • Strategic Objective 3: Communities are involved in caring for their environment.
  • Strategic Objective 4: Communities are protecting species and natural assets.

The National Landcare Programme comprises multiple components and sub-programmes. These include the National Stream, which supports sub-programmes such as the World Heritage Grants, small grants, the 20 Million Trees project and the Indigenous Protected Areas program. A Regional Stream supports Australia’s 56 regional natural resource management bodies including one organisation dedicated to the marine environment. There is also an Indigenous natural resource management organisation to assist partnership relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities.

History and Achievements

A recent review of the National Landcare Programme and its predecessor programmes assessed that the following outcomes have been achieved:

  • The National Landcare Programme and previous Australian Government natural resource management programmes have achieved significant benefits for agricultural productivity, environmental conservation and community engagement, with flow on economic and social benefits.
  • The investment has contributed to the increased adoption of better land management practices, leading to improved agricultural productivity, a ‘clean and green’ brand that assists access to markets and improved farm-gate returns.
  • The Australian Government’s investment through these programmes into soil health has improved soil acidification, water and wind erosion, and organic carbon depletion in many regions.
  • Current and past programmes have successfully removed pest animals and weeds, which are major threats to both agricultural productivity and threatened plants and animals and developed and extended new control methods.
  • This investment has provided improvements to the condition of natural assets, reduced threats to native plant and animal species and iconic places and contributed to Australia meeting its international obligations.
  • These programmes have helped to protect iconic places, such as the Great Barrier Reef, and to protect threatened native species by extending our system of protected areas and addressing major threats like changes in water quality and flows and altered fire regimes.
  • Australian Government investment in natural resource management has created strong and interconnected local and regional networks and organisations that have integrated conservation, community, farming and government interests.
  • These improvements to the quality of our environment and natural resources have created social and economic benefits, such as increased community well-being and employment streams and training opportunities, including for Indigenous people.
  • The problems that the investment addresses require long-term and sustained action, and continued investment is required to protect the condition of the natural assets and productive systems.

The National Landcare Programme Phase One 2014-2018

The Australian Government invested $1 billion through the National Landcare Programme over four financial years from 2014-15 to 2017-18, including support for the Landcare Networks, 20 Million Trees and Australia’s 56 regional natural resource management (NRM) organisations. This funding helped support local environmental and sustainable agriculture projects including the Reef 2050 implementation and complements funding for the Land Sector Package.

During this phase, the Australian Government supported shared stewardship of the environment through investment of $30 million in a range of locally focused environment programmes that support practical action in urban, rural and regional communities. This included funding for the eradication of the Maldives ants (also known as the yellow crazy ant) in North Queensland, a $5 million Threatened Species Recovery Fund, and continuing support for the National Landcare Network. This funding ensured that on-ground works on important national environmental issues continued with the help of local communities.

The National Landcare Programme Phase Two 2018-2023

The Australian Government has now committed investment of more than $1 billion in the next phase of the National Landcare Program. Much of the investment will be delivered over a period of five years from 2018 to 2023 while some elements of the programme begin during the 2017-18 financial year, including an additional $100 million for existing activities. The investment will primarily be delivered by the Department of the Environment and Energy and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and will continue to include a range of measures to support natural resource management, sustainable agriculture and to protect Australia’s biodiversity.

With this investment in the next phase of the Programme, the Australian Government aims to work in partnership with governments, industry, communities and individuals to protect and conserve Australia’s water, soil, plants, animals and ecosystems, as well as support the productive and sustainable use of these resources.

The National Stream

The National Funding Stream supports a wide range of significant initiatives aimed at protecting and restoring the natural environment and to make agriculture both sustainable and more productive. These initiatives will be directly funded by the Australian Government. As stated previously, they have included a range of commitments such as the 20 Million Trees Program, the Threatened Species Recovery Fund, as well as continuing commitments such as World Heritage and Indigenous Protected Areas.

The Regional Stream

The Regional Stream of the Programme invests funding through 56 geographic natural resource management (NRM) organisations. The stream recognises the important role NRMs play in delivering local and regional objectives. The NRM organisations have also committed at least 20 per cent of their National Landcare Programme funding to help support local organisations, such as local land care groups, to undertake a range of projects that help protect their local environment and deliver more sustainable agriculture.

Regional NRM organisations have a significant role in the Programme’s delivery and have been assigned the following expected outcomes:

  • in collaboration with community, landcare and farming system groups, lead regional NRM planning and prioritisation of NRM activities to support environmental protection and sustainable agricultural practices;
  • deliver nationally important outcomes that assist Australia to meet its national and international obligations;
  • broker partnerships, collaborate with networks and support local stakeholders in delivery of regional NRM activities;
  • build local community and industry engagement, skills and capacity in NRM and sustainable agriculture;
  • support Indigenous participation in delivering NRM outcomes; and
  • report NRM outcomes at a regional level and contribute to Programme reporting at the national level.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Natural Resource Management, The Indigenous NRM

The National Landcare Programme is also investing in projects that build on partnership arrangements with Indigenous people and communities, to facilitate participation in land and sea management and to draw on their significant and unique knowledge, skills and responsibilities.

Indigenous people have cared for and managed this continent for millennia and continue to care for their Country today. The natural resource management sector has strong Indigenous participation and has significant potential to further expand Indigenous involvement and build the capacity of emerging Indigenous natural resource managers.

The National Landcare Programme actively facilitates and promotes the Australian Governments’ commitment to Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage by providing opportunities for stronger Indigenous participation in the planning and delivery of National Landcare Programme investment and outcomes.

The Marine NRM

The OceanWatch Australia organisation, has been involved in the protection of biodiversity and threatened species for the benefit of the Australian marine environment since 1989. It has been a national driving force for the adoption of best practices for fishing and aquaculture, the encouragement of stewardship actions amongst coastal and marine users, and undertaking works to protect, rehabilitate, restore and enhance the marine environment as its core focus. The organisation is now embarking on its new role as Australia’s Marine NRM organisation, responsible for the delivery of the Commonwealth Government’s marine natural resource management related programmes. OceanWatch Australia is the 56th NRM and the only marine based resource management organisation. With a diverse range of stakeholders and relationships within the salt water community spanning over 27 years, OceanWatch believes that the specialist knowledge of the salt water community is vital to regional NRM planning, decisions and activities and that wealth of information can support environmental Programme success.

Conclusion

The National Landcare Programme was the subject of a review, by the National Landcare Advisory Committee, in 2016. The review found that:

‘… thirty years of investment has created a profound legacy. It is the foundation upon which we now farm and manage our natural resources. It has created lasting and real change in the way we manage our natural resources, and how we generate productive economic and social outcomes from this base. It has been described as a movement, a philosophy and an ethos, but it has created much more than that.

It is now widely accepted as being one of the foundations on which we can promote our clean, green credentials to world markets, and is able to support the development of “Brand Australia”, and its underpinning for the competitiveness of Australian agriculture.

It has created deep knowledge and understanding of how natural systems work. It is this understanding that has helped Australian farmers to adapt and manage in volatile and rapidly changing climates and world markets.

It has helped farmers to stay productive and sustain their businesses, families and communities in the face of great global market and climatic changes. It has created a competitive edge for our rural and regional agri-businesses.

It has enabled Australian agribusinesses to stay competitive without the trade protection experienced by farmers in other countries.

Thirty years of investment has also enabled two generations of Australians to play a lead role in protecting and rehabilitating Australia’s environment – our biodiversity, waterways, marine environments and our cultural heritage. This has involved hundreds of thousands of people working across the country on thousands of projects to improve the environment.’

While the outcomes articulated in this glowing statement are fully acknowledged, the programme has been the subject of some considered criticism. Timeliness of delivery, coordination, bureaucratic “red tape” and openness to innovative solutions have been cited as some areas of possible improvement. FDI will analyse these, and other aspect of the National Landcare Programme in future publications.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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