House debates

Monday, 10 September 2012

Private Members' Business

National Landcare week

7:38 pm

Photo of John CobbJohn Cobb (Calare, National Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the extraordinarily important issue of land care. I applaud the member for Gippsland for bringing the motion before the House. The member has long been a strong advocate for the local community and is well respected for his drive and passion for supporting his region, perhaps exemplified by his time as leader of the Champions of the Bush. This motion recognises Landcare Week and highlights the extraordinary contribution of volunteers and Australian farmers in enhancing the environment on public and private land.

Landcare is a community based approach and has played a major role in raising awareness and improving farming and land management practices and, in doing so, delivering environmental outcomes across Australian landscapes. Caring for the land includes a range of activities such as soil conservation, management of erosion and salinity, sustainable farm practices, restoration of native habitats, revegetation, control of weeds and pests, and the development of local natural resource management skills and knowledge.

As stated on the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website:

We all have a role in looking after 'our patch' to ensure the land and water we use for agriculture and our natural environment is healthy and sustainable.

While a key element of Landcare is a voluntary network of more than 6,000 groups across Australia, there are many, many farmers and landholders who undertake this important work but are not affiliated with any particular Landcare group.

Labor will trumpet their involvement in Landcare, and certainly the Hawke government played an important role, providing funding for this burgeoning community movement. But unfortunately the current Gillard government is a far cry from the Hawke government and not only has it slashed funding since the 2008-09 budget year but now less than half the funding is going to community Landcare groups and farmers. In fact, in 2010, the federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Joe Ludwig, announced 116 grants worth $31.3 million for Landcare, sustainable agriculture and feral pests and weed management. But according to an investigation by the Canberra Times, more than 50 per cent of the funds went to state government departments, government agencies, statutory authorities and federal and state grants administration partnerships.

A few weeks ago I was in WA with the member for O'Connor. Farmers told me there was very little opportunity to get funding for saltbush and other worthwhile projects that would really be valuable in tackling region-wide salinity issues. This sentiment is repeated right across the country, on the east as well. So much money is going to bureaucrats and less is getting on the ground where it is needed. As a result many farmers have become disillusioned with the so-called government support for Landcare. That is a terrible pity, because farmers over the years have got behind Landcare, to their own surprise in a lot of cases. I know because I deal with them all the time. They have got behind it, but in recent times that has come crashing down because the money seems to be being pushed towards areas of population rather than areas of need, and without the flexibility that used to exist. I have been talking to the shadow minister for the environment and we agree the current funding arrangements need to be reinvigorated with more of the available money ending up on the ground where it can lead to better outcomes for sustainable land management by the whole community.

But despite this government, Landcare has been an outstanding and resilient program that helps the community help themselves. This government is obsessed with wasting millions of taxpayers dollars on environmental regulation and compliance and using the big-stick approach to environmental management while Landcare is an example of how government can encourage through community engagement better outcomes. This is a model we will be looking to duplicate if we have the good fortune to be given the responsibility of government. I congratulate every volunteer, every farmer, every community member that has enthusiastically engaged in this program to enhance their region for the future. I commend this motion to the House and encourage everyone to get behind this motion and support this important issue.


No comments