Monday, 10 September 2012
Private Members' Business
National Landcare week
I thank my friend the member for Gippsland for recognising the importance and role of a Labor initiative, namely Landcare. Like the members for Gippsland and New England, I live in a beautiful place—a place that has rugged coastlines, beautiful beaches, rolling hills, free-running freshwater rivers, mountains, farmland, forests and so on.
As a nation, we value our landscapes and indeed our environment, as the member for Gippsland alluded to, probably slowly at first but more so lately. In 1989, this was recognised by the Hawke Labor government and Landcare as a movement was initiated. This influence has been recently recognised in the naming of a medal for encouraging Australians to adopt sustainable and productive agricultural practices, the newly named Hawke medal.
In fact, I will be meeting the inaugural Hawke medallist, Lynne Strong, a dairy farmer in New South Wales from Clover Hill Dairies at Jamberoo and advocate for sustainable food production. Lynne is a past winner of the Primary Producer Award, runs the Art4Agriculture program in schools, which includes the Archibull Prize and Young Farming Champions, and works as a mentor to young food producers. Lynne was also the runner-up in the 2011 Rabobank Farm Industry Leader of the Year award and a Eureka Prize finalist. Whilst I am recognising Lynne, I would also like to acknowledge and congratulate the Young Eco Champion, Megan Rowlatt, who is the 2012 National Young Landcarer of the Year.
What is Landcare? When you look at it, Landcare means different things to different people, as the member for Gippsland suggested. For some people it is about being part of a community group volunteering their time to clean up, protect and improve the condition of our coasts, bush, rivers and land. Around Australia there are about 6,000 of these organisations, such as my local Landcare group, which recently cleaned up our local waterways. To others it is about an ethos to care for the land. This ethos crosses boundaries, from farmers, as the member for Gippsland rightly pointed out, to land managers, volunteers and Indigenous Australians. You could be from a city, a regional town, a farm or, indeed, the outback. But I think it goes deeper than just an ethos or just taking part. It is about all of these things—government, non-government, communities and business—pulling together to make sure our decisions, plans and actions are made with a view of the current and future health and prosperity of Australia.
We can show that Landcare has become part of Australia. According to a recent survey by the National Landcare Facilitator, over 70 per cent of farmers identified as being part of Landcare, over 90 per cent identified that they practice Landcare on their farms and 30 per cent of farmers identified as being part of a Landcare group. Surveys like this show how Landcare is one of the most enduring and recognisable community movements in Australia. The Australian Landcare movement, ethic or whatever we would like to call it has also spread to other parts of the world, with community groups now operating in over 20 countries.
During National Landcare Week last week, many groups celebrated by attending things such as the National Landcare Conference to share and learn, the National Landcare Awards to celebrate the achievements and contributions of many individuals and groups, such as Lynne Strong, and working bees in local areas, as I mentioned earlier in relation to my own vicinity.
One way the government is supporting Landcare is by funding Landcare facilitators and coordinators in natural resource management regions. Community volunteers and farmers often mention the importance of having regional facilitators that provide assistance, information and, importantly, linkages. The Commonwealth government has provided $33.6 million in funding for a Regional Landcare Facilitator position in each of the 56 natural resource management regions across Australia for four years until June 2013. These Regional Landcare Facilitators assist Landcare and production groups to achieve their strategic goals by helping them plan projects, apply for funding and coordinate training.
Labor has always been a key supporter of Landcare. Our history demonstrates this. Labor recognises the vital role played by the Landcare community in the delivery of on-ground outcomes, the sharing of best practices and the promotion of the Landcare ethic. Since 2008, the government has funded 1,196 competitive grants worth over $119 million through Landcare. This includes the 784 community action grants worth $14 million. Through the first phase of Caring for our Country, the government has provided over $178 million over five years to support Landcare activities. This funding has supported Landcare by raising awareness, encouraging community engagement and providing grants for community groups and farmers. The second phase of Caring for our Country will continue to support Landcare, with over $200 million over five years dedicated to Landcare related activities. This will be drawn from the $702 million that has been allocated for the sustainable agriculture stream of Caring for our Country.
The government recently conducted widespread consultation processes to allow community input into the future program. Consultation sessions were held in all capital cities and several major regional locations. Written feedback was received from over 130 contributors. This feedback is now being incorporated into the design of the new program.
In my region of north-west Tasmania, including the West Coast and King Island, the Landcare movement has had some really good outcomes. One example is the Kindred Landcare Group, which is just up the road from my village of Forth, which started in 1990 as an extension of the Kindred community hall committee. That is a little bit like a lot of Landcare groups, which grew out of community based organisations that were concentrating on enhancing their communities. They have been very successful in raising the awareness of erosion, for example, in vegetable cropping in their area. You might know that the area I live in is very much related to vegetable growing. The group of mainly farmers—again, highlighted by the member for Gippsland—researched and devised ways to limit erosion by managing paddocks differently than they had in the past. These ideas and practices have developed over time from trying to divert water off the paddocks to trying to infiltrate rainfall into the paddocks instead of letting it just run off. The message also spread to the greater region.
What we have now is a new machine called a 'ripper mulcher' which operates across farms. It rips the ground across the paddock's slope with a tine and then fills the ripline with straw to help intercept water and stop channels developing, thereby lessening erosion. It is simple and effective but, again, it would not happen without the practical application and interest of local farmers and the community.
There is another local regional Landcare group from Wynyard which over many years has revegetated and fenced the banks of the beautiful Inglis and Flowerdale rivers, thus improving habitat for native creatures including the endangered giant freshwater crayfish found only in freshwater streams flowing into Bass Strait. Caring for our Country, including Landcare, seeks to achieve:
… an environment that is healthy, better protected, well-managed and resilient and provides essential ecosystem services in a changing climate.
Since 2008 under Caring for our Country the Cradle Coast region, which covers the electorate of Braddon, has been allocated almost $9.5 million. Funding of $490,000 over four years since 2009-10 has been provided for the employment of a regional Landcare facilitator to support Landcare and other community groups across the Cradle Coast region. In addition $1.3 million of competitive grants over five years has been provided for a bunch of community groups. Projects have included eradicating weeds, protecting platypus, shorebirds, penguin habitats et cetera, improving riparian vegetation, stabilising dunes, improving remnant vegetation and improving farm sustainability. The total for all projects over five years is $11.2 million. Of this $900,000 is funded from the Landcare operation.
Despite a campaign by some opposite in the lead-up to the last budget, Labor will continue to invest in this area. The second phase of Caring for our Country with more than $2.2 billion over the five years of 2013-18 to achieve a real and measurable difference to Australia's environment is a commitment by this government to both Caring for our Country and Landcare. I thank all of those that involve themselves in this wonderful movement and I thank the member for Gippsland for introducing this really important topic.
I take issue with the member for Braddon, the parliamentary secretary. It was Labor in the 2010 budget that cut $11 million out of the budget for Landcare. So this side of politics is very supportive of Landcare and of all the good work it does. It was that side of politics which wanted to cut the money out of the budget most unfairly. Landcare is a very important issue, and I am sure it has bipartisan support, but sometimes the bipartisan support is not as forthcoming from that side of politics as it is from this.
Last week was National Landcare Week, a commemoration of the extraordinary contribution by volunteers to practical environmental projects throughout Australia. Landcare Australia was formed by the federal government in 1989 to manage public awareness and run a sponsorship campaign for the Decade of Landcare. 'From the farm to the city, landcare is for everyone' was the motto for Landcare Week—and a motto Landcare Australia works towards achieving. The phrase 'landcare is for everyone' has been turned into a specific campaign known as LIFE. It utilises three-dimensional animation to illustrate the diversity of Landcare and explain the different ways people can get involved to preserve the environment. This is an organisation which works to connect people, communities, business and industry to work together to protect the environment using practical measures.
In 2010-11 Landcare Australia provided funding for 850 on-ground projects throughout the country in addition to supporting awareness initiatives and recognising the work of farmers and volunteers. Mr Acting Deputy Speaker you know and I know just how much farmers need support and protection in this great nation of ours. Unfortunately, some of those people on the other side of politics need to be constantly reminded of the job that farmers do, and that is to grow the food that feeds our nation. I think sometimes they just forget that important fact.
Murrumbidgee Landcare covers my electorate of Riverina as well as neighbouring electorates. There are 15 Landcare networks within the Murrumbidgee catchment, with 140 Landcare groups with about 2,000 volunteers. What an amazing statistic! Murrumbidgee Landcare stretches from the high rainfall environments of the Murrumbidgee River's headwaters in the Snowy Mountains to where it joins the Murray River near Balranald, covering a total of 84,000 square kilometres. Land uses in this area range from grazing to dairying, from broadacre cropping to irrigation, intensive agriculture and horticulture, small area holdings and urban land holdings. There is no more important food bowl area in the nation. My colleague here from Western Australia might disagree—and she does not even know what I am going to say—but the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area grows the food that helps feed our nation and other nations. Indeed, it contributes $5 billion worth of exports to our balance of payments. That is a tremendous statistic, and we should always pay great respect to the MIA in the Riverina.
The Riverina has a range of environmental challenges, stretching from the effects of several years of drought through to recent flooding events. Murrumbidgee Landcare works to incorporate the sharing of knowledge about sustainable agriculture, revegetating the local reserve, maintaining the primary school nursery, collectively addressing the feral pest problem, dealing with erosion, remediating wetlands and monitoring waterways. With the number of volunteers that the organisation has, if government had to pay for all of this work it just would not get done. The fact that Landcare is happily getting in and doing the job with commitment and dedication speaks volumes for what that organisation means and represents to this great nation.
The Landcare groups also emphasise the importance of the land and the local environment which support and sustain their communities and in which the community has a whole investment—an investment which reaches beyond property boundaries. This importance has been particularly apparent during the Murray-Darling Basin Plan meetings which I have attended in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, which falls within the Murrumbidgee catchment. People in these communities have a great appreciation and respect for the environment. There are no better stewards of the environment than farmers. They have a true understanding of how the land provides for the community. That is why it is so critical to have a Murray-Darling Basin Plan which incorporates a triple bottom line which will maintain a healthy, sustainable river system into the future whilst also protecting the livelihood of the people in these important regional communities.
Landcare organisations are not only limited to adult volunteers. In Wagga Wagga, students at Wagga Wagga Public School have formed their own Landcare group and have begun water bug monitoring in the Wollundry Lagoon near the school. What a marvellous initiative—kids getting involved in a practical way in the environment under the banner and auspices of Landcare. It is a fantastic initiative to teach children about the importance of the environment and what they can do to help protect the environment for their future.
I recently met with Mr Peter Beal, the secretary of the Narrandera Landcare group, to discuss the group's Rocky Water Holes bridge project.
This is a community driven, collaborative project to construct a pedestrian-and-bicycle-only bridge over the main canal in the Lake Talbot precinct at Narrandera. The bridge will link and enhance the usage of existing walking tracks as part of the Narrandera Shire Council's strategic plan to develop the potential of tourism and healthy living in Narrandera and the Riverina at large. The bridge will also provide access to the koala reserve—there is a colony of koalas that has been protected and monitored near Narrandera—as well as Lake Talbot, the Murrumbidgee River and the nearby Narrandera Wetlands, another Narrandera Landcare Group initiative.
The bridge is also significant as it is to be constructed from an old, rare 1943 Australian Army panel bridge. It is a great initiative of Landcare volunteers working with the local council to make the local environment more accessible for the community and visitors to the area. I look forward to visiting the bridge when it is constructed and open for use.
The Wagga Wagga Urban Landcare Group is also extremely active in the community. It holds regular tree-planting days, which often involve other community groups, the Wagga Wagga City Council and many school children. These plantings are priorities for the lower discharge areas and high recharge areas. The Landcare group also worked in collaboration with Wagga Wagga City Council on a $3 million urban salinity program. Members of the group are often called upon to lead tours of urban salinity sites, and have created an extensive web based salt-tour guide of Wagga Wagga, which people can download for their own use.
There was a lot of concern about urban salinity in an near the Wagga Wagga showground—so much so that there was great fear for the showground and the suburban houses around it. But Landcare, in conjunction with the council, were able to assess the situation and put proactive measures in place. Now that situation has eased, much to the gratitude of nearby residents, who obviously have a lot of investment in their homes, and of the Wagga Wagga Show Society, one of the city's most important institutions, which has been there for decades.
Landcare Australia, and all the individual groups across Australia, play an important role in managing our country's environmental and natural resources sustainably. I commend them on the great work that they do and also acknowledge the many, many hours—the innumerable hours—and the effort put in by volunteers in every community, including the Riverina, to help those communities in Australia be sustainable today, and for future generations.
Finally, I urge continued bipartisan support for Landcare and its ongoing inclusion in future budgets.
I rise to speak and totally support the motion of the honourable member for Gippsland on Landcare. I, too, share the passion and commitment to Australia's unique Landcare movement. It is like a lot of volunteer movements in Australia—they are unique and they provide so much for our community. The volunteers provide a lot of work and a lot of hours and actually effect change in our community. But it is not the first time that the honourable member for Gippsland and I have come together to speak in unison. Previously, it was on the member's private members motion on wetlands and wetland care.
There are over 6,000 Landcare groups across Australia, and in my seat of Page I have counted about 69. That is a rough estimate based on the estimated 450 groups in the broader area from Taree to the Tweed. No-one knows for sure how many Landcare groups we have. That frustrates a few, particularly the people who need to count—and it is important—but that is symbolic of the grassroots nature of Landcare. It is a grassroots movement, and a lot of Landcare groups spring up where a few locals get together and see a need to do something for the land.
I have here with me the newsletter of the newly established Evans River and Coastal Landcare group. It was formed in 2012. The newsletter itself demonstrates the grassroots nature of Landcare. I will read a few things from it. First of all it says the president is Ian Drinkwater and the secretary is Lyn Thomson, and then it has a photo with a whole group of locals sitting around at a table, with lots of activity. I recognise them as locals not only involved in Landcare but also involved in a whole range of other areas. One of them I recognised is Donella Kinnish. She has just finished her term as a councillor at Richmond Valley Council and she is very active in the community. I quote from the newsletter where it says:
The Evans River & Coastal Landcare group was formed in 2012. Our workdays are the first Sunday of each month at various sites around Evans Head.
We have undertaken tree plantings on the Sand Dunes south of the Evans Head Surf Club; happily we have had great success. Many of the trees were surrounded with protective wire and have done so well that we are now removing the wire, liberating their branches.
It goes on to say:
We are also working on the Bushland Reserve located on Ocean Drive Evans Head. Here we are removing weeds, lots of weeds and allowing the natural vegetation to come through. We are planning to upgrade the walkway which traverses the reserve from Sunderland Street to Ocean Drive.
Then it talks about members having taken part in workshops on weed and plant identification, and they are planning to hold more workshops on various aspects of natural resource management this year. It lists the days that this will happen. It asks to contact them for locations.
The local Landcare groups do wonderful work everywhere but particularly those in my area of Page. I try to get to know them all. They are all volunteers. Like a lot of voluntary work, volunteers give both precious time and money. Even though they volunteer, they are often out of pocket. They are passionate about their work and their care of their land.
I would like to read onto the public record as part of my contribution what the National Farmers Federation said in last week's e-newsletter—last week being Landcare Week from 3 to 9 September—a matter noted in the motion we are speaking to tonight. The heading said 'Farmers by another name: environmental stewards'. I could not agree more. There are four paragraphs and they speak so well about farmers and their role in Landcare. It says:
Farmers are best known for growing crops and raising animals to provide the food and fibre needs for Australian families, but this week, it’s all about the work they do on farm to look after the environment.
This week marks Landcare Week, an opportunity to recognise the role Australian farmers’ play as environmental stewards and land managers …
Wasn't that seen as groundbreaking at the time! A lot of people claim ownership of Landcare starting, but they were definitely very involved. It goes on to say:
… with positive outcomes for both the environment and agriculture …
"Today … Landcare has grown into an environmental movement.
“Farmers are Australia’s frontline environmentalists, looking after 61 percent of Australia’s valuable land resources …
“Farmers know that good environmental outcomes and increased agricultural production go hand in hand, which is why …
94 percent of farmers undertake some form of natural resource management—
on their farms.
The Land newspaper on 6 September gave extensive coverage of a survey undertaken by National Landcare Facilitator, Brett de Hayr, that involved about 550 Landcare and associated groups and about 1,000 producers, trying to get a picture, in the words so aptly put in the newspaper, of 'a movement that is firmly embedded in the culture of Australian farming'. The key findings are telling but not surprising. Ninety-three per cent said they practise land care; 73 per cent said they felt part of a land care movement; 95 per cent said no to the question, 'Has Landcare reached its use-by date?'; and 85 per cent said they would still be active in two to three years.
Other key findings or observations, perhaps already known but borne out and affirmed in the survey are the following: the Landcare model could have a substantial role in addressing some of the issues facing agriculture; Landcare could help tackle issues such as food security, the environment and climate adaptation; and Landcare could build a stronger relationship between the city and the bush. Even more telling is the sustained belief in Landcare's ability to build the social capacity of rural communities. The Land article went on to say that the people component of Landcare is an often overlooked benefit of Landcare. I could not agree more.
I want to turn to what I call the socialisation part of Landcare. These are things I know and understand, having been around when Landcare began, and being involved in various ways over the past decades, when it became more formalised. It was embraced by the federal government, when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister. He was a champion of it and it is appropriate that the national award was named after him.
Landcare now has many owners, having been so wholly embraced by the community. It was exciting in those days, and it is still exciting to visit a Landcare group to look at the great work they do to see their projects, hear about their projects and give them support.
When I was elected, in 2007, I started a conversation with the then ministers for the environment and for agriculture, Ministers Garrett and Burke, about the value of Landcare, the need for it to be supported, the importance of regional Landcare coordinators, the importance of community action grants and a new or revamped national body—and also to get things really shaking. I remember over the years some of the farmers talking and rumours starting every now and then that the word 'Landcare' was going to disappear. I always reassure them that it is never going to disappear, because Landcare is a brand and it embodies values of the community, of landholders and of the farming community. Nobody would ever touch it. I stressed to the ministers the people power component of Landcare. I told them that that is critical to effect change, and that Landcare by its very nature does that. I stayed engaged in that conversation for a few years. Also in that conversation was Jack Lake, known to many in agriculture, who was then the Prime Minister's agriculture adviser.
In the survey from the National Landcare Facilitator that I talked about, it was found that the ability to sustain community engagement and funding were two main areas of concern. But Landcare was also figuring out how to evolve to tackle new challenges. I know that Landcare is up to that. It needs our support and I will continue to give it my wholehearted support.
I want to focus on the contribution of farmers to Landcare. Landcare in Australia has a long and successful history. Our farmers know that they manage their land in trust for future generations. The farmers I know and work with, and have worked with for a lot of years, have an absolute commitment to protecting and improving their soils, water resources and air quality. On a daily basis they are frontline environmental stewards. They are the private landholders who manage 61 per cent of Australia's land, 21 per cent of which is held under freehold title and 42 per cent of which is leasehold. This is a total of nearly five million square kilometres. The care of that land is under the management of private Australian citizens, most of it by farmers and pastoralists. We underestimate the size of the job they do. Australian farmers know that land has to be cared for if it is to maintain or improve its productivity. They have a vested interest in protecting it. They also have to earn their livelihood from it, so they understand the need for sustainability.
According to the state Department of Agriculture and Food, agriculture, forestry and fishing contribute $40.7 billion, or three per cent, to Australia's GDP. Moreover, it makes up 10 per cent of Australian exports, and it was the sector that kept us out of technical recession during the global financial crisis.
This vital industry knows that, to remain productive, healthy soils are paramount—and the cost of failing is dramatic on your property. Land and water degradation in Australia, excluding weeds and pests, is estimated to already cost our nation up to $3.5 billion a year. Weed and pest costs are estimated to be at least as much again. A failure to act on land protection will see these impacts get totally out of control.
In the May 2003 budget the Howard government announced $122.2 million over three years for the National Landcare Program, and a review of Landcare funding that reported later that year. That review found the Australian government funding under the National Landcare Program, and the Landcare component of the Natural Heritage Trust, had 'served as a catalyst for major community investment on sustainable production and natural resource management'. Most importantly, Landcare funding has been able to leverage significant private investment in caring for our precious natural resources. The review found that, for every Australian government dollar spent on Landcare projects under the program, private parties have made a corresponding investment of at least $2.60—great leveraging.
In 1999 an ABS survey indicated that landholders in Australia were 'voluntarily investing' $220 million a year in natural resource management and activities on their properties. That is completely overlooked. That voluntary investment continues to increase. The ABS has identified that 94.3 per cent of Australian agricultural businesses reported undertaking NRM activities to prevent or manage weeds and pests and land and soils. Undertaking these activities cost almost $3 billion, or $21,094 per agricultural business, or $7,522 for each 1,000 hectares under management.
Farmers plant extensive amounts of trees. They fence off rivers. They restore wetlands. They are constantly focusing on water use and productivity efficiencies—even on water use efficiencies. Now, without a doubt, the government's investment in Landcare is substantially influencing landholders' investments on their properties. Landcare participants are more likely to invest their own funds on Landcare related practices, including managing and controlling animal pests and weeds; and fencing and tree and shrub establishment—and 75 per cent of broadacre and dairy farmers, and 50 per cent of all farmers, use Landcare groups as a source of information on farm management.
I want to acknowledge, in the time that is left to me, the extensive work that is carried out by farmers, and also the wonderful volunteers who help with the Landcare movement. We see them out on a regular basis doing everything from planting trees to managing the riffles in the waterways. They do an amazing job, and I think this country would be much poorer without them. We live in one of the driest and sparsest countries in the world, and the job that the volunteers and farmers do should not be overlooked. But I want to reinforce the private investment made by farmers on a daily basis into Landcare.
It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the motion that acknowledges that Landcare week was from 3 to 9 September. In my contribution to this debate I would like to acknowledge the fine work of Landcare groups within my electorate. Landcare groups attract a large number of volunteers, and I know that amongst my immediate circle of friends there are a number of volunteers who are retired who find being involved in Landcare not only satisfying but it really gives a purpose to their lives, as they transform areas.
There are a couple of Landcare organisations that I would particularly like to mention. The first one is the Galgabba Point Landcare group. Sharon McCarthy is the person who coordinates that group, but it was originally started by Sharon in conjunction with Zoe Russell, a wonderful woman who was totally committed to the environment—a woman I had so much admiration for. They have transformed that area. There are a large number of volunteers working there; there are people involved in mutual obligation programs. I think offenders programs are involved in it. Also a number of training programs are involved.
The Galgabba Landcare Group has created a special place on the foreshore of Lake Macquarie. Initially, I remember going out there when the group first started. It was Clean Up Australia Day and we spent the whole morning pulling tyres and rubbish out of this denuded area that was full of weeds. To go there now, it is a very tranquil, special place. People come from all over just to look at the bird life. There is a bushwalk that goes through it, and it is a credit to every single person that has been involved in that Landcare group.
Last year in National Volunteers Week they were awarded my National Volunteer Group of the Year along with the Budgewoi Birdie Beach Dunecare group which links into Landcare. Phil Heaton who coordinates that is a similar person to Sharon and has a massive vision about regenerating and looking after that area. They work closely together—it is a little different with the dune care.
I have close association with a number of Landcare groups in my area. The Green Point Landcare Group has continued the work that was undertaken when Green Point was handed back to the people of Lake Macquarie after a deal between Lake Macquarie Council and a local developer. Belmont Wetlands is the most beautiful place that you could ever visit. It was an area that was denuded by mining, by BHP, and it is gradually being regenerated by these wonderful volunteers that are involved in reclaiming, revegetating and bringing the area back to life.
I failed to mention when I was talking about Galgabba that they have just been awarded a $6,880 grant under the Caring for Our Country Program. As I was saying, Friends of Belmont Wetlands are a wonderful group. The Pelican Blacksmiths Landcare Group is another group that has brought an area back to life. The Lake Haven Gorokan Landcare Groups, the Summerland Point-Gwandalan Tidy Town and Landcare Committee are wonderful. They are always finalists in the Tidy Towns. My good friend Sandy Freeman is involved with the Allambee Gardens Bushcare Group at Valentine and the Warners Bay Landcare Group—I know so many people that are involved in that group that have transformed the area. I had a family day in the park at Bunya Park and they took people for a tour of the area.
The Flaggy Creek Landcare Group—once again, they have transformed an area and made it wonderful and accessible. I am a member of the Lake Macquarie Landcare Network and I take my membership very seriously. I congratulate each and every Landcare group in Lake Macquarie and all the volunteers involved.
I also rise to speak on the motion introduced to this House by the member for Gippsland. I note that the member for Gippsland is one of the true champions of environmental issues in this place and he comes from a practical background rather than some sort of philosophical position.
It is important to note that the Landcare groups across Australia, especially the ones in the electorate of Parkes, are the real environmentalists in this country. They are the people who get their hands in the dirt. They put their own money, their own investment and their own time to work together to improve the overall environmental health of the environments in which they live. It is important to note that the environment of Western New South Wales, the environment in the Parkes electorate, is in a healthier, more sustainable position than it was 40 or 50 years ago. The people in the Parkes electorate have done a wonderful job in caring for the environment in which they live.
There are many Landcare groups in the Parkes electorate and they play a very important part. I will mention a couple. The Central West Catchment Management Authority covers an area of approximately 83,000 square kilometres and includes a number of individual Landcare groups. The Little River Landcare Group are probably the most famous of those. They are very well known for the innovative way in which they have undertaken natural resource management across their region. The group are committed to the vision of 'vibrant communities and healthy landscapes' and the subsequent mission to work with the community to converse and manage the catchment's natural resources. In order to achieve this vision the Central West CMA strongly advocates the value of increasing the community's capacity to engage in natural resource management activities. To work towards this mission the CMA has carried out four major themes: land, water, biodiversity, and people and communities. Time does not permit me to go into all the individual programs that the CMA has in the Central West area. Needless to say, they are very well regarded. They are finding it increasingly difficult with the restrictions that this government has placed upon them with the reduction in funding but are battling on regardless.
Another of my Landcare groups is the Buckwaroon Catchment Landcare Group in the Cobar region. They have come up with a very innovative model for which they are now trying to get funding. This model works in conjunction with the property management under the property vegetation plans where, under strict guidelines, the farmers clear the understorey, the woody reeds and the regrowth across their properties, leaving just the larger trees and restoring what is basically a woody wasteland into a productive and healthy environment. One of the problems with this was that the vegetation that was removed was just burned, with no real benefit to anyone. They have a proposal to use this biomass—and the tonnage is significant—to generate electricity in small, individual, freestanding generation plants. Here this waste is chipped and fed into the plant using a system of pyrolysis to generate heat and electricity. This would be ideal to work in conjunction with the mining activities that are happening in the far west of New South Wales where they are a long way from the grid and might be on the end of a delivery line—this model would deliver quite a substantial amount of electricity onsite. It would have not only economic benefits but also the environmental benefit of using that biomass that comes from regenerating the grasslands in that western region.
I conclude by endorsing the work that the member for Gippsland has done in introducing this motion into the House, and I wholeheartedly support it.
I, too, am very pleased to rise to speak on this motion which notes the great importance of National Landcare Week, from 3 to 9 September, as well as the extraordinary contribution by volunteers to practical environmental projects throughout Australia. It is also an opportunity to highlight the great contribution that our farmers and others in our rural and regional areas make to enhance the environment, and to congratulate them on that great work that they do. I also note the government's commitment to deliver funding to ensure the success of so many projects that we see right throughout our rural communities. We certainly have a very proud record of delivering to assist people in those situations.
It is also a good opportunity to acknowledge the more than 6,000 community groups that are volunteering their time to protect and improve the condition of our coast, bushland, rivers and land right throughout Australia. It is great to see all those groups working so closely with our farmers and with the government to keep protecting our wonderful environment. I am very privileged to have many of those fantastic groups in my electorate on the North Coast of New South Wales, and I am always pleased to see the outstanding work that they do.
We know that Landcare is one of the most enduring and recognisable community movements throughout Australia. Indeed the Landcare ethic has also spread to other parts of the world, which is great, with similar groups now operating in over 20 countries. It was wonderful to see their conferences held last week, which was a good opportunity to discuss policy and research developments and to have a robust discussion on things that really matter to the Landcare movement: caring for the environment, sustainable production, future generations, maintaining communities—all these very important issues. Of course, they also had the Landcare awards as well and I am very pleased to have heard the great news that at that ceremony some of the councils in my local area were successful. There was a joint project between the Tweed and Byron Shire councils and they were announced winners in the Local Government and Landcare Partnership category. The partnership between the neighbouring councils and community Landcare groups has resulted in extensive bush regeneration. The program is to restore urban bushland at over 50 sites, covering more than 225 hectares of bushland right throughout the shires. So I congratulate them and the remarkable work that they do.
The Australian government recognises the vital role played by the Landcare community in delivering some of these outcomes on the ground. That is why we continue to keep supporting it through investments like Caring for our Country, and we will continue to invest in the second phase of Caring for our Country, with more than $2.2 billion over five years, to achieve a real and measurable difference to Australia's environment.
Of course, there are a number of opportunities for Landcare groups to access funding through Australian government programs. Under Caring for our Country, as I mentioned, there are Community Action Grants available, and I have certainly seen many of those in my electorate being very successful. They are specifically for Landcare and other local community groups. Grants are also available through the Biodiversity Fund and Action on the Ground, both components of the Land Sector package under the government's Securing a Clean Energy Future plan. The Biodiversity Fund will invest over $946 million over the next six years to help land managers store carbon, enhance biodiversity and build greater environmental resilience across the Australian landscape. We also see great projects through Action on the Ground, as well.
As I said, in my electorate I see many different examples all the time of Landcare groups and Dunecare groups. We have seen over 20 community action grants as well, some of them large and some of them small, making a huge difference. There is one at Burringbar and Mooball Catchment Landcare Incorporated. They have conducted a riparian restoration project, which is fantastic. We see Dunecare groups doing remarkable work all the time. Recently the Cabarita Beach Dunecare project received funding to restore a significant coastal habitat at Cabarita on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales. It is a very important habitat for threatened species.
We have some great large organisations, the Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare Group and the Caldera Environment Centre. They have also received funding to continue their great work. It was very sad to hear recently that the coordinator of the Caldera Environment Centre recently passed away, a man by the name of Paul 'Hoppy' Hopkins. He was known as Hoppy and was the coordinator. He was very much involved in the Caldera Environment Centre and a great environmental warrior for many years on the North Coast of Australia. We are all very sad to hear of his passing last week. He made a great commitment to the environment.
Under Caring for our Country, we have seen some major funding right across the Northern Rivers, which has made a real difference to many programs. What we see from National Landcare projects is a demonstration of the community's commitment to the future of our country by caring for it right across the board, whether it is in the rural areas, the coast or right across the community. I would like to thank all the volunteers who give so much of their time to improve our future and the future of our country. We are very proud on the North Coast of New South Wales to have such a strong commitment to our pristine environment. It is, of course, the most beautiful environment in all of Australia and we work very closely together to maintain it and ensure that it continues.
As in the case of my other colleagues, I rise to speak tonight on a motion by the member for Gippsland with regard to National Landcare Week. I would like to take the opportunity at the outset to thank all the Australians involved for protecting and enhancing our environment through practical, on-the-ground initiatives. There are organisations like the Logan and Albert Rivers Catchment Association, WetlandCare Australia with the work at Carbrook Wetlands and the North-East Albert Landcare and Catchment Management Group, which is the group I would like to recognise and focus on tonight.
North-East Albert Landcare and Catchment Management Group have been active in the revegetation of the Pimpama River Catchment area since the early 1990s. Members of the group, who come from a diverse range of backgrounds whether it be cane farmers or those living in suburbia, all share an interest and passion for improving the overall health of the Pimpama River Catchment and our local environment.
North-East Albert Landcare and Catchment Management Group has a long-term goal of revegetating and regenerating the riparian areas and corridors of the Pimpama River, to provide a continuous wildlife corridor from the Darlington Range to the bay and to protect the biodiversity of the area, including the rare and endangered species of flora and fauna in addition to koalas. These projects are supported by the local community, including the local councils, local schools and local businesses. Partnerships have also been formed between the Rural Fire Brigade and other not-for-profit organisations such as Conservation Volunteers Australia. One of the biggest industries in the area, the quarry industry, has also been quite helpful in that regard.
Another fantastic partnership was with Twin Rivers and their reskilling for employment program, where a number of local job seekers formed a green army working under experienced Landcare members. The green army undertook activities including propagating local native plant species at the local Landcare nursery, in addition to clearing large areas of overgrowth and weeds in order to make areas accessible for revegetation and restoration. I would also like to thank the Ormeau Progress Association for making their property available for that nursery. I met a number of the participants from this program at a morning tea in celebration of the program's completion last year. All the men and women involved seemed to have enjoyed their experience, and some have even secured jobs within a related field.
It is hard yakka for the volunteers taking part in restoration projects. For those acquainted with removing weeds from gardens, these volunteers are required to remove some of the most heavily invasive weed species in order to make the area accessible for restoration. It is important to recognise the extraordinary efforts of these people and it is important that we continue to support community organisations involved in practical, on-the-ground environmental initiatives.
The coalition recognises the value of establishing environmental workforces in an effort to improve our environment. As part of our platform, we seek to establish a green army with a standing environmental workforce of some 1,500 individuals. The green army would be available on an ongoing basis, supplemented by volunteers, to tackle local and regional environmental priorities that most urgently need assistance for projects like creek and riverbank restoration.
I have seen firsthand the activities of my mother and her group of Landcare and green army people on Mount Tamborine and the magnificent work they have done in restoring properties, restoring rain forests, revegetation and restoring habitats for local animals and also for the general wellbeing of the local community. These are just some examples of the many on-the-ground initiatives which are occurring in our electorate of Forde that are designed to protect our environment for future generations. I look forward to continuing to work with these community groups in my electorate and to ensure ongoing support for the people involved in Landcare and other environmental groups.
It is a pleasure as a Lyons to be appearing before the member for Lyons. I rise tonight to support the motion from the member for Gippsland in recognising the vital and important contribution that Landcare volunteers around Australia make. With last week being National Landcare Week, it is a fitting time to reflect upon the terrific work that our hardworking volunteers do for environmental projects right around Australia. Landcare volunteers undertake countless hours of work each week to improve their local environment. As the member for Gippsland mentioned, this includes our Australian farmers. Many Australian farmers are taking a holistic approach to their farming practices to ensure that they are farming in a manner that is sustainable not only for their own businesses but also for the environment.
It is particularly fitting to speak on this motion, as a local primary school in my own electorate of Bass, Youngtown Primary School—which you would drive past many times, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams—was awarded the People's Choice Award at the National Landcare Awards in Sydney last week. Youngtown Primary School was one of 88 finalists in the awards, which aim to celebrate the achievements of individuals and groups who make a valuable contribution to the land.
The school's environmental program has seen students working alongside adult mentors to learn a range of environmental skills including planting, plant handling and soil preparation. The students have also built and planted trial swan-nesting boxes and are undergoing habitat revegetation incorporating a study into macroinvertebrates including frog habitats and identification. The students have shown strong commitment to and passion for the local environment—terrific qualities, especially for primary school students. They are learning in a practical and meaningful way which is teaching them important skills and knowledge. This project is being undertaken at Glenara Lakes, a village for seniors in my community. This intergenerational project has formed strong partnerships between the students and senior citizens which has furthered the students learning and developed and enhanced these terrific projects.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Youngtown Primary School's current principal, Troy Roberts, and past principal, Shireen Thomas, and all the staff and students involved in the terrific project on this national award. I would also like to congratulate residents of Glenara Lakes on their commitment to assisting the younger generation with their commitment to the school's project. It is pleasing to see that an intergenerational project such as this has become so successful. Landcare plays a major role in raising awareness of farming and land management practices and delivering environmental outcomes that go towards ensuring the sustainability and preservation of our natural resources.
The Australian government recognises the important role that Landcare and thousands of volunteers around Australia play. From 2008 to 2013 the Australian government has committed over $180 million to Landcare through the NRM program. The government continues to support the Landcare movement and recently announced the extension of Caring for our Country, with $2.2 billion over the next five years. There are over 4,000 Landcare groups around Australia. These groups of dedicated volunteers are undertaking invaluable work in our local communities. Their work is often quiet and unrecognised, but it is very greatly appreciated.
In concluding, National Landcare Week provides us all with a chance to reflect upon and truly appreciate the extraordinary work that our Landcare volunteers, including our farmers and land managers, undertake to ensure the sustainability and preservation of our wonderful natural environment. I would again like to congratulate the national award winners, Youngtown Primary School and the residents of Glenara Lakes, for their terrific project and for their commitment to the environment. Finally, I would like to urge everyone to become involved with a local Landcare group to further this terrific work and to ensure that our environment is kept sustainable and preserved for generations to come.
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.
I am delighted to speak in support of the member for Gippsland's motion in relation to Landcare and the contribution of our farmers and Landcare groups right around this country to practical measures to improve our environment, to reduce salinity, to restore riparian areas and to restore other forms of riverbank and coastal areas in need of protection. I want to deal with this motion in there simple stages: firstly, to look at the issue of Landcare; secondly, to look at our reforms; and thirdly, to acknowledge the contributions.
In terms of Landcare, this is a great program, a great part of Australia. The national Landcare symbol of the caring hands is understood and recognised widely. On that front there are three different arms that come together. Firstly, we have Landcare Australia which is the custodian of the intellectual property and the organisation. I have met with them and they do a tremendous job in being an advocate, a promoter, a source of education and training within the Landcare network. Secondly, there is the Landcare Advisory Council assisting the minister and the government. Again, they do good work, but sadly many of their recommendations have been ignored or avoided by the government. Thirdly, the Landcare networks represent the local Landcare groups. This is the heart of Landcare in the Australian model.
These groups operate right around the country. I have been with farmers in the Otway ranges, on the Mornington Peninsula and in Gippsland. I have been with Landcare groups up and down the coast of New South Wales, Queensland and, in particular, inland in both of those states. Similarly, I have seen the contribution of these groups in South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
They are the frontline of the Landcare movement. They operate on the smell of an oily rag on many occasions. They operate as volunteers and wherever possible they get some assistance.
That brings me to the reforms that these groups have talked about. There are three reforms to Landcare which, as a coalition, we would undertake. The first is simplification. The simplification of Landcare is essential. What Landcare coordinators and Landcare volunteers have complained about to me is very clear. They have said that they are becoming bureaucrats. They want to be on the ground doing practical work to implement Landcare programs. They are finding that they are overwhelmed with paperwork and with layers of bureaucracy which are making it almost impossible for them to do their job. Our approach will be very clear. We will radically simplify the Landcare bureaucracy. We want to make it short, simple and something which is only required on an intermittent basis, not on a permanent, heavy, grinding basis. Our pledge and our commitment to the Landcare groups and the Landcare networks of Australia is that we will radically simplify the paperwork.
The second of the reforms we want to make is all about local funding. We will make the overwhelming bulk of funding directed through the NRMs to local groups. We do not want to see a massive bureaucratic network where the money is ripped away and sent to state organisations and bureaucracies. As the previous coalition speaker mentioned, according to an investigation by the Canberra Times, more than 50 per cent of the funds announced by the federal agricultural minister, Joe Ludwig, in 2010, went to state government departments, government agencies, statutory authorities and federal and state government grant administration partnerships. We want to make it simple and we want to make it local.
The third thing we want to do is make it long term. We will make long-term agreements with landholders whether it is three, four or five years.
That then brings me to my final comment. All of this is about allowing Landcare networks and Landcare groups to do what they do best and that is improve the land, care for the country, make the changes, and we will allow them to do that.
I am very pleased to join with so many colleagues to speak in this debate which marks, very importantly, National Landcare Week. There are not too many private members' motions that attract the number of speakers that this motion has tonight. I think that, in itself, is a very clear tribute to the Landcare movement and to the many thousands of volunteers who work so hard within their various Landcare groups. It is a testament to the way that Landcare has become a national institution. It is something that is instantly recognisable and it is something that is widely appreciated and celebrated throughout our country. Of course, there is no better time to do that than in National Landcare Week.
I want to make the point about the beginnings of Landcare. It is now in its third decade and continues to grow from strength to strength. It was kicked off in 1989 officially when Rick Farley of the National Farmers' Federation and Phillip Toyne of the Australian Conservation Foundation lobbied the Hawke Labor government to begin the Landcare program. They did it in a big way by announcing the Decade of Landcare Plan back in 1989. I mention that because Rick Farley was a much loved son of Capricornia. I am not sure if he actually grew up there but he spent many years working with the honourable Doug Everingham, who was in those days the member for Capricornia. Rick Farley and his contribution to agriculture and to our nation is very fondly remembered in Capricornia and, of course, right across Australia.
I also want to make mention of a terrific new innovation or initiative that we have in Capricornia. I have spoken in here many times about the Fitzroy Basin Association, which is the natural resource management body in Capricornia, looking after, as it does, the largest catchment on the east coast of Australia. The Fitzroy Basin Association coordinates lots of Landcare activities, but, very importantly, it has opened up an education centre called FLOW, which is right in the heart of Rockhampton's CBD. The idea of FLOW is really to get that message of land care, environmental management and stewardship to the broader community. I am sure we have heard throughout the debate how important natural resource management is considered to be by our farmers. They have the most direct involvement in it and have so much to bring to the job of protecting our natural environment here in Australia.
But, of course, it is not just farmers who should be taking up that message and that burden. The idea of FLOW, the education centre right there in East Street run by the Fitzroy Basin Association, is all about getting that message out. They tell me that, in just the few months they have been open, they have experienced enormous success in attracting many school groups and business groups into the centre. They tell me they have had 2,653 visitors already since the opening in March this year and they are expecting a great deal more interest during the school holidays, when they put on school holiday activities. This is all about getting the next generation of land carers to understand the role that we can all play in looking after our natural environment.
I mentioned FLOW because I have agreed to be a referee for the organisation in their nomination for the Regional Achievement and Community Awards being run in conjunction with the Queensland government and WIN, one of our local TV stations. I wish FLOW all the best as they seek the recognition they deserve in that award event. I wish the Landcare groups in my electorate all the best. I congratulate them on the work that they do and will continue to work with them to attract the funding that they need to run these very important projects.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker Grierson, for taking the chair early to enable me to speak to this motion. The National Landcare Network is thousands of locally based community groups who care for the natural resources of our country and do a magnificent job. Australia is proud to boast more than 4,000 community Landcare groups, 2,000 Coastcare groups and many thousands of volunteers across the country. Through Australia's people and communities, the Landcare movement is making a big difference in caring for our country and has done so for many, many years. All around Australia Landcare volunteers are proving that together we can repair, revitalise and manage our precious natural resources.
This unique partnership between communities, government and organisations is achieving many great things, including improving our farmlands. Many primary producers are active participants in Landcare, and many in my electorate of Lyons are very active and have done lots of work over many, many years. They make significant contributions in combating soil salinity and erosion through very sound land management practices and sustainable productivity. More and more people are seeing the importance of the economic benefit to be gained from doing things in a sustainable, scientific way.
More than 40 per cent of farmers are involved in Landcare and many more practice Landcare farming. Groups involved in breathing new life into our waterways work to conserve, rehabilitate and better manage our creeks, rivers, river systems, and wetlands, and there are a lot in my electorate of Lyons, which takes up about 50 per cent of the land mass of Tasmania. Groups work to conserve all those waterways in a great way, and I have seen the benefits that are achieved by people working on their weekends and holidays, putting things back together as they should be in a natural way. Around our coasts, Coastcare groups are active in improving local coastal and maritime environments, and there are many of those groups around the great amount of coastline that makes up the Lyons electorate—the whole east coast, basically, of Tasmania and some of the northern and southern coasts as well. Every year, Landcare plants many millions of native trees, shrubs and grasses for a range of benefits, including improved soil and water quality and, of course, to stop bare land being there and blowing away or being eroded. They restore bushland and conserve sensitive areas on both public and private land.
So today I would like to recognise Landcare Week, which ran from 3 to 9 September, and to give recognition to the thousands of volunteers who work all year round to keep our land and waterways clear of weeds and erosion and restore them to good health. Using the words from their website, 'From the farm to the city, Landcare is for everyone.' Landcare connects community groups, farmers, governments, business, industry, scientists, researchers, schools and youth groups to work together to protect our land and coast for future generations.
I think it was Joan Kirner in Victoria who actually started a pilot program of Landcare, and we should give some recognition to how that occurred. I think my colleague who preceded me, the member for Capricornia, brought in what occurred later on in the Hawke government, who took it on and made a commitment for 10 years. Since then, the coalition governments have taken it on, because these are good projects. They certainly unite people to do good work in their communities and restore natural vegetation and natural processes. This is very good, and of course most of it is done in a great voluntary way in that great Australian process of all getting in, getting your hands dirty and achieving good results. I congratulate all those involved as volunteers.