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Reimbursing the future: an evaluation of motivational, voluntary, price-based, property-right, and regulatory incentives for the conservation of biodiversity

Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 9
M.D. Young, N. Gunningham, J. Elix, J. Lambert, B. Howard, P. Grabosky and E. McCrone
CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology, the Australian Centre for Environmental Law, and Community Solutions
Biodiversity Unit, Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 642 24429 4

Appendix 3.1: Consultation report

Introduction

While government decision-makers set policy frameworks, it is in local communities and on individual properties that actions will take place to protect biodiversity. As the international action plan for attaining integration of environment and development (Agenda 21, UN, 1992) notes, 'the participation and support of local communities are elements essential to the success of such an approach [conserving biodiversity],' a recognition that is reflected throughout the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.

The project team recognised from the outset the need to listen to the views of people throughout the community who have direct responsibility for the management of species and ecosystems across the landscape of the continent. This will lead to the development of incentives and mechanisms which are most likely to succeed in promoting the conservation of Australia's rich biological diversity, and in ensuring that its use is ecologically sustainable.

Clearly, local communities involve a wide range of people and organisations from farmers and graziers owning and managing vast tracts of the country, through resource industries including forestry, fisheries and mining to those people living in small and large regional centres. Local communities themselves interact with all three levels of government. At the same time urban dwellers make lifestyle demands which impact both directly and indirectly on the conservation of biodiversity.

The project team, through Community Solutions, consulted with a sample of these interests. The diversity of interests, the distances involved and the resultant costs, as well as the time available, all set boundaries on the consultation processes. The views canvassed are neither comprehensive nor representative of views across the whole of Australia. This report provides 'snapshots' of views in different sectors of the community, both rural and urban, and reflects views from some of the diversity of land managers in Australia.

Methodology

Information provided by an extensive review of both Australian and international literature (see Chapter 1 and Appendix 1), and from two round-table forums with relevant scientific and sectoral interests held in Canberra was used as a basis for developing an information kit focused on four key themes relating to the conservation of biodiversity:

The kit, which defined economic and other terms used in the project, provided a brief overview of each theme and posed questions designed as discussion starters.

Extensive efforts were then made to identify and contact key interest groups and individuals in each of the 12 locations selected for community consultation. Relevant State and Commonwealth government departments and agencies, local governments, relevant scientists, community groups including conservation groups, Landcare, Catchment Management and other groups were all contacted, as were peak groups representing local governments, industry sectors and environmentalists. Efforts were also made to recruit participants who held responsibility for land management, but were not part of any organised group. Ten forums were conducted to address incentives and mechanisms for the maintenance of biodiversity across all sectors of the community, while a further three forums focused on the relationships between nature-based and ecotourism and the conservation of biodiversity. The latter were conducted in Cairns, Darwin and Kingscote, Kangaroo Island.

A mailing list of more than 600 people and organisations was established, with both initial information and invitations to register being mailed to these people across the 12 locations. Registrants (see Appendix 3.2) were provided with a copy of the information kit prior to each workshop.

Initially a rough time-line was developed for all the planned forums within itinerary constraints. When developing the time-line, consideration was given to regional characteristics such as climate, peak social and industry periods (eg harvest times, community events calendar) and the daily routines of residents. Key people related to each forum were then contacted to test the suitability of the proposed date, and in some cases the proposed town or region. These contacts were gleaned from a Community Solutions general contact list and from personal contacts. A general mailout describing the project and the role of the forums within it was sent to appropriate heads of government departments, industry groups and non-government organisations.

In response to the information received through this initial contact, adjustments were made to the time-line to accommodate any significant regional events or requirements. Where possible, an attempt was made to cooperate with or otherwise utilise related events and resources (eg Landcare meetings, 'in-town' days for remote centres).

The next phase of contact focused on liaising with interested industry group representatives, government officers and non-government organisations. The aim at this stage was to detail and promote the forums and to seek assistance in developing a mailing list for each forum. Where possible and appropriate, contact was made on a national, state and regional level. By this stage the dates for particular forums were firmed up. However, it was always possible to make necessary adjustments to the date until the invitations were printed in the next stage. This was only necessary for two Queensland forums but the flexibility was useful to have in the liaison process. Advice was also sought from these contacts about suitable venues and any local politics or regional idiosyncrasies which may impact upon the reception of the project and the organisational logistics.

Selection of venue and preferred time was based on advice from the above contacts, from local government function officers, from a scan of the NRMA 'Accommodation Directory' and regional telephone books. A final round of direct telephone contact was made from a list refined from the above resources. An effort was made to select a venue deemed 'neutral,' non-intimidating and appropriate to the region and project focus.

When developing mailing lists there was always an attempt to go beyond the formal and easily accessed lists such as those provided by Landcare or industry groups. Inquiries were made of contacts with excellent and varied local knowledge in an effort to pick up appropriate individuals who may not appear on any of these lists. Whilst yield for effort in this process was quite low numerically, often the individuals identified by this method were valuable contributors at the forums or provided another level of contacts to pursue.

After collecting mailing lists, a selection process followed according to criteria such as noted interests and expertise, geographic proximity to forums and maintaining a reasonable balance between and within industry, non-government organisations, government departments and other interests. A specific effort was made to invite representatives of smaller industries which are often overlooked but have significant impact and local knowledge on biodiversity issues (eg beekeepers, native seed and flower collectors). Many of these industries are less organised and not as familiar with the public consultation process and so are more difficult to contact. Finally, a broad sweep was made of the local telephone books, including the Yellow Pages. Invitations were mailed out to give people a minimum of three weeks notice of a forum. There was no significant difference in numbers attending forums related to differences in notification time. That is, longer notice did not necessarily yield higher attendance rates. Leeway was always given to advertise the forum in local media should registration levels or balance be considered unsatisfactory. A decision to advertise was made in only one case, in Western Australia.

Some difficulty was encountered when confidentiality of mailing lists was a concern to groups or government departments. To overcome this dilemma, some batches of invitations with stamped envelopes were sometimes mailed out to organisations for distribution through their own mailout system. The effectiveness of this strategy depended upon the efficiency and resources of the particular organisation and the postal turn-around times of particular regions. Partial loss of control of the recruitment process in this manner led to some minor dilemmas which were usually overcome with the use of fax and express post services to provide pre-forum material before the forum date.

The invitations gave an RSVP date with a one-week cut-off before each forum. This system proved very useful in finalising details for catering, conference room seating and related details. However, late registrations were always accepted. The criteria for possible rejection was not time of registration but the goal of achieving a balance of interests and organisations. No person was refused registration as a reasonable balance was achieved at all forums given regional constraints. A special effort was made to encourage interested South Australians to attend the Bendigo forum, the forum closest to South Australia. In all cases where people were unable to attend a forum but were keen to contribute to the project they were encouraged to prepare a written submission. They were placed on a mailing list to receive further information on the project if that was their wish.

The telephone contact as a registration point was a useful means of gathering local information which might assist the facilitation of the forums. It also provided a means for the public to obtain further details about the project and the consultation process itself. Anyone seeking more specific details about the project or case studies was referred to project team leader Mike Young. Feedback from some Western Australian contacts suggested that the cost of telephoning Sydney from Western Australia may have been a registration constraint. In response, an advertisement encouraging the use of the reverse charges service was placed in local newspapers. Invitations to subsequent forums incorporated the choice of using the reverse charges service.

Itinerary permitting, separate meetings were organised outside the forum hours to enable consultation with organisations or sector representatives when they were either unable to attend a forum, or the forum was considered an inappropriate or inadequate meeting point for gathering detailed information.

Separate files have been compiled of those people who registered formally for the forums and of those people who actually attended the forums. Any comments or requests for more information have been noted and responded to when appropriate. At times this process has involved interested persons who were unable to register but offered useful information or made a reasonable request to be kept informed of the project.

The first point of contact for ecotourism forums was with industry groups. Contacts were provided by the Commonwealth Department of Tourism through a list of nature-based and indigenous tourism organisations. The 'biodiversity' aspect of the forums was emphasised to an industry which is indicating signs of being 'workshopped-out.'

The choice of locations in which to conduct community forums was based upon their proximity to the Case Studies areas (see Chapter 4 and Appendices 2.1 to 2.7), and sought to involve a broad spectrum of relevant interests, in metropolitan centres, in regional centres and in rural areas.

General workshops were held in:

A forum involving public servants, industry umbrella bodies and selected conservation representatives was also organised by staff at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Melbourne.

Community forums were designed to provide all participants with a common starting point, taking account of the varying levels of expertise and interests of the participants. Each took the form of an opening plenary session after which participants in workshop groups provided their views on threats to biodiversity, desired outcomes and mechanisms most relevant in achieving those outcomes. A hypothetical catchment scenario involving the major land use sectors provided a focus for each workshop.

At the conclusion of each four-hour forum, a facilitated plenary session was used to draw out key themes arising from the workshop.

Qualitative outcomes of the community workshops were recorded on standardised reporting forms. All community forum participants were also asked to complete and return a short questionnaire on issues relating to economic, social and regulatory mechanisms and incentives for conserving biodiversity.

Participants in the community consultations

There were 311 participants in the general workshops, with a further 57 people participating in the ecotourism forums. The response rate of those who completed the questionnaire was 84%, with the number of questionnaires received at each forum shown in the table below.

Eighty three percent of those responding to the questionnaire represented a group or organisation.

Whilst metropolitan forums generally had a higher attendance by people associated with the environmental sector, those in rural areas varied. In Charleville, Rockhampton, Coffs Harbour and Jerramungup, representation of the agriculture sector was higher, while in Dubbo and Bendigo, environmental sector representatives were present in greater numbers. The sectoral representation in the various forums is shown in Table 3.1.2.

The responses to each question were analysed across all respondents, and then a number of comparisons were made between the different sectoral representatives. In particular, the general forum responses of those representing agricultural and pastoral industries (called agriculture) were compared with those representing environmental interests. No distinction was made between scientists, government officers, community group representatives and private individuals representing a particular sector, since each was judged to bring expertise as to the sector within which they worked. Responses from ecotourism forums were also compared with those from general forums in an attempt to discern differences in importance of various incentives and mechanisms between the highly biodiversity dependent tourism sector and other parts of the community.

Table 3.1.1: Forum participants and sectoral representation of respondents
Location Forums participant Questionnaires received Sector representation (%)
Agricultural Environmental Tourism
Bendigo 47 38 24 55 3
Charleville 19 18 72 28 0
Coffs Harbour 27 24 54 9 0
Darwin 21 20 20 30 10
Dubbo 36 28 25 54 0
Hobart 33 31 26 55 0
Jerramungup 22 19 53 37 0
Perth 40 33 24 45 0
Rockhampton 22 21 66 5 10
Sydney 44 41 10 61 2
Cairns (eco) 17 16 13 13 25
Darwin (eco) 14 14 14 21 50
Kangaroo Island (eco) 26 24 21 29 38
Table 3.1.2: The sectoral representation of those who completed a questionnaire at either general or ecotourism forums
Sector represented % General respondents (N=273) % Ecotourism respondents (N=54)
Environment 43 22
Agriculture7 33 17
Local government 4 5
Forestry 4 2
Fisheries 3 2
Mining 3 0
n.a. 2 0
Tourism - operator &/or accommodation 2 28
Tourism - other tourist services - 9
Water resources 1 0
Museum 1 0
Power and water 1 0
Public land use decision making 1 0
Research 0 6
Roads/transport infrastructure 1 2
Student 1 0
Beekeeping 1 0
Catchment management 0 4
Coordinated management 0 2
Planning 0 0
Education/training 0 2

Outcomes of the community consultations

Some key directions for action emerged from the various community forums. Although there were both regional and sectoral differences in priorities, these were not as large as might have been predicted based on common perceptions of urban/rural and conservation/resource use divisions. Across all sectors of the community the nature of the threat to biodiversity being addressed (87%), the economic circumstances of those most in a position to protect biodiversity (76%) and the attitudes and values of those involved (87%) were all seen as important in determining the precise mix of incentives most likely to facilitate the conservation of biodiversity.

The key directions for action identified by those consulted fell into four broad categories as follows:

Among questionnaire respondents lack of knowledge and understanding of the value of biodiversity was consistently seen as the major reason why voluntary measures have, until now, failed to adequately protect biodiversity. As seen in Table 3.1.3, opinion as to the extent to which other factors contributed to continuing loss of biodiversity varied between those participating in general forums and those in ecotourism forums.

Table 3.1.3: Primary factors contributing to the failure of voluntary measures to protect biodiversity
  Response (%)
General forum Ecotourism
Agriculture Conservation Mean Mean
Lack of knowledge/understanding 42 41 41 37
Failure to benefit the individual 16 19 17 19
Economic constraints 19 10 15 13
Local attitudes/values 10 18 14 24
Other - - 15 7

Enhancement of community understanding and appreciation of biodiversity

Increasing levels of research, survey and information flow regarding biodiversity

A lack of information about biodiversity and the processes required to protect it was repeatedly identified as a major constraint. Landholders said 'tell us what to do in a meaningful way and we'll do it if we can afford to.'

Deficiencies in information on biodiversity were perceived to occur at a variety of levels. This was summarised in the Perth forum as 'needing to know what we've got, what we need, and the options for alternative actions, taking account of the precautionary principle.'

Scientists both in community consultation for this project and elsewhere agree that knowledge of Australia's biodiversity is far from complete. Not only are the baseline data inadequate, but people in the various communities consulted highlighted inadequacies in the way in which both scientists and government agencies make information available to them. It was a recurring observation by forum participants that scientific experimentation should be locally focused – projects being developed with local community input so that the information generated has local relevance. Charleville participants expressed the view that 'research and information which are locally relevant are important. The quality of the information is critical – it must be scientifically based, with local involvement in its collection.' Participants in the Bendigo forum expressed a need for integration of various aspects of biodiversity conservation including 'research and monitoring at the local level,' and in Dubbo the view was put that 'comprehensive biodiversity inventories reaching across all agencies and organisations are needed, with the information available at the local and regional level.'

Concerns were also raised, at least in both Perth and Charleville, that much of the current research which provides information on biodiversity is production oriented and lacks an independent biodiversity focus.

Participation in programs directed to biodiversity conservation is also important in changing social perspectives and values. In both the Hobart and Sydney workshops, education and information which seek to change community attitudes and values were seen as an important factor in achieving biodiversity conservation. In both cases attitudes to clearing of native vegetation was cited as an example in this area.

Education and provision of information were seen as the major mechanisms in achieving biodiversity conservation across all community forums. Both generalised community education and methods targeted to the needs of various sectors of the community were widely seen to have a role to play in community education. Eighty per cent of questionnaire respondents in the general forums felt that Landcare, Coastcare and similar programs provide valuable information, whereas only 41 per cent of those in the ecotourism forums felt that information from tourist associations played a valuable role. Seventy per cent of forum respondents saw advice from government extension and information officers as important in reversing loss of biodiversity, this source being favoured by those in the general forums (72%) to a greater extent than those in the ecotourism forums (61%). Only 61% of respondents felt that community networks provided such information, although they were seen as useful more by the ecotourism participants (74%) than by those in the general forums (59%).

In discussing how to make information locally relevant, most forums expressed a need for action learning. The use of written information was seen as less valuable than learning by extension, 'best practice' demonstration and participation in biodiversity conservation programs. Local governments were identified as an appropriate provider of information on biodiversity and its conservation; the employment of biodiversity officers within local governments was seen as an option. However, participants in the Melbourne forum indicated that this may not be sustainable in the current climate in which local governments are focused on 'core business.'

Increasing the perceived value of biodiversity

In all of the community forums, participants emphasised the need to increase community understanding of the values of biodiversity including the contribution that biodiversity conservation makes to both economic profitability and aesthetic 'quality of life.'

This increase in community valuing of biodiversity was seen to be particularly important when decisions need to be made between land uses or between mechanisms for conserving biodiversity.

Participants in several of the workshops identified a need to link biodiversity conservation more closely with economic viability, especially on rural properties. Questionnaire respondents commented that 'giving economic value to diverse environments, plants and animals' and finding 'a commercial value for protection of our biological assets' were important strategies for increasing biodiversity's value in the minds of landholders and managers, and their responses are discussed in more detail later in this section.

Whether biodiversity's economic value should relate to the costs of protecting it, to the longer term costs of not protecting it, or to some other value, was considered without resolution in various forums. While participants in several of the forums discussed the need for environmental, social and economic values to be attached to biodiversity, there were differing views as to the ability of economic systems to adequately cope with biodiversity valuation. Participants in the forum in Melbourne stressed the need to integrate economic, social and environmental considerations, but also acknowledged that the relative importance of these various values will be influenced by who is responsible for valuing them.

Increasing the community perception of the value of biodiversity (including, as one Darwin participant commented, 'unrealised values') was seen to be a major communication and education exercise. How such an exercise should be undertaken was debated vigorously in all forums. Using mainstream media, one-to-one education programs, educating school children, and existing extension and landcare programs were all seen to be useful approaches. One questionnaire respondent from Rockhampton commented that 'people must be educated to realise that they are part of biodiversity.'

Identification of who needs to take action and how

The role of local communities

A recurring theme throughout the forums was the need for the whole process of biodiversity conservation to be driven by local/regional community groups having a common local interest. The forums provided a strong directive that communities must be involved, and must have a level of control over any initiatives designed to protect biodiversity. In a number of workshops, particularly Charleville and Rockhampton, participants expressed resentment at the perception that they, and the agricultural sector generally, were being blamed for biodiversity threats, and were not given credit for the protective work they were undertaking.

Graziers at Charleville stated that 'landholders have to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem.' Jerramungup workshop participants identified 'a need to get local people involved and for them to make plans which extend their thinking, then to move up so that people 'at the top' join in. This involves people in the community in government processes.'

The need for community involvement and 'ownership' of biodiversity conservation had several facets. There was an overall agreement among questionnaire respondents that lack of knowledge and understanding of biodiversity was the main problem leading to failures of voluntary efforts. Participants in several workshops identified a need for research and survey work to be planned locally in order both that it might have local relevance, and that such work might take advantage of local knowledge. Other participants stressed the need to bring differing interests in the community together to achieve the common goal of conserving biodiversity.

Views on the mechanisms for ensuring community involvement varied. Participants in several of the forums expressed the view that community committees which encouraged broad community input and were flexible in their approaches to community involvement should have primary responsibility for planning across local regions. For instance the Bendigo forum expressed a need for "democratically elected stakeholder Boards to coordinate across each catchment, using a 'bottom up' approach and accepting that community groups have an important role to play".

In many cases catchments were identified as the most appropriate delineating features identifying the region. Landcare programs and Total or Integrated Catchment Management programs met with mixed appraisal in different forums. However, there was widespread agreement that existing structures should be used where possible and adapted to include greater emphasis on biodiversity conservation, rather than creating new structures on top of those which already exist. The need to involve local governments to a greater extent and to include biodiversity requirements in local government planning was supported in various workshops.

In some workshops, especially those in rural New South Wales, participants saw the community groups as providing a 'watchdog' role, collecting information about the biodiversity present in the local area and monitoring the extent of its protection.

Encouraging individuals to undertake action for biodiversity conservation

In considering the mechanisms for encouraging the conservation of biodiversity, workshop participants placed greater emphasis on education and information provision than on economic instruments. In questionnaire responses, there was far greater agreement on the importance of education as part of the suite of social/community mechanisms that could work to protect biodiversity, than there was on the directions that should be taken as part of a financial framework.

There was a general recognition among workshop participants that voluntary mechanisms had not to date adequately protected biodiversity. In questionnaire responses, there was a divergence of views among sectors as to why. Those respondents from rural centres where the workshops had a high representation from the agricultural sector (Charleville, Rockhampton, Coffs Harbour, Jerramungup) were more likely to see financial constraints as being a cause than respondents from metropolitan areas or rural centres where the environmental sector representation was higher. Interestingly, respondents from those rural centres with higher environmental representation (Dubbo, Bendigo) were more likely to see local attitudes and values as being a problem than either metropolitan respondents or smaller rural centres. Neither conservation nor agriculture sectors dominated in number in the Darwin forum. Overall, however, lack of information about the value of biodiversity was seen to be the most significant problem (chosen by 39% of all questionnaire respondents).

Prizes and awards are frequently promoted as a way of encouraging participation in conservation activities and 'leading by example'. In questionnaire responses, prizes and awards were consistently given a very low level of support as a social/community mechanism for encouraging biodiversity protection (1-3% of overall respondents saw them as the key mechanism). In discussion, such mechanisms were seen to have limited use as an adjunct to other mechanisms.

In general, financial incentives were seen as useful, not so much to bring about action, as to enable actions already contemplated to take place. When presented with questionnaire options for financial incentives to address a range of biodiversity threats, tax deductions and tax credits received the highest support (approximately 35% of respondents) from agriculture representatives. In discussion, landholders and land managers generally placed less emphasis on the provision of tax concessions, particularly since many in the rural community have little if any taxable income. Of far greater significance to those rural landholders was the need to remove perceived anomalies in Taxation Act provisions, such as the tax paid by rural landholders but not by governments on farm vehicles.

While some workshop participants identified tax credits transferable over time as an option to assist in maintaining biodiversity, many had doubts about the complexity of such a scheme.

Simplicity and ease of administration of funding were seen as important both by rural landholders and by government officials who might administer relevant programs. In forum discussion, direct grant funding for biodiversity conservation was therefore favoured over mechanisms associated with taxation provisions, although participants in several of the workshops recognised a need for ongoing monitoring of funded projects to ensure accountability for the funds invested.

In discussion, views on the extent to which grants should be conditional upon other activities such as participation in whole farm, regional or catchment planning varied widely. Tied grants to prevent decline in vegetation habitat were considered an important mechanism by only a small proportion (16%) of questionnaire respondents.

The questionnaire asked participants about financial incentives which would lead to reduced loss of genetic diversity. The most popular strategy among respondents representing the agricultural sector was the development of commercial markets (40%), although across all respondents this was not favoured over the provision of grants or compensation (35%). Environment sector participants tended to view the development of such markets as leading to even greater threats to biodiversity, and the highest proportion of this sector favoured the use of direct grants to reduce loss (44%).

Questionnaire respondents were asked whether the development of ecotourism industries dependent on native species and/or habitats would alleviate biodiversity threats resulting from economic pressures. Seventy three per cent of questionnaire respondents in the general forums saw this as being likely. The questionnaire also asked whether the commercial use of plants or wildlife would lead to the lifting of economic pressures on biodiversity. Sixty-two per cent of general forum respondents saw this to be a viable option, but the responses varied significantly between environmental representatives (56%) and agricultural representatives (70%).

Views on the extent to which compensation should be paid for loss of productive capacity as a result of activities to conserve biodiversity also varied. In several of the workshops, the need to build biodiversity conservation into the land valuation system was considered, and in several cases it was suggested that the Commonwealth government should subsidise local governments to recoup the revenue lost through rate rebates for such conservation measures. In responses to the questionnaire, local rate reduction was the preferred mechanism in preventing loss of vegetation/habitat for less than 20% of respondents.

Rural landholders across many of the forums stressed the need for landholders to maintain a viable income in order to have the capacity to take actions to conserve biodiversity. Participants in the Charleville forum summed this up by saying that 'debt restructuring must happen first if landholders are to be able to protect biodiversity. It's hard to be green when you are in the red.' The pressures generated by bank and other financial institutions were identified by some as a significant factor in this, with some workshop participants identifying a need to include them in the processes of biodiversity conservation.

Improved government responses

The question of government regulation for biodiversity protection was debated in all of the forums. Participants tended to see regulation as a fall back – to be resorted to only if other mechanisms failed. Those representatives who were actually engaged in land management activities generally saw regulation as only useful to stop the few recalcitrant practitioners who were deliberately engaging in activities which would threaten biodiversity. Many forum participants pointed to the wide suite of legislative protection mechanisms currently available to governments for land protection, and saw government unwillingness and lack of resources to enforce these mechanisms as an indication of the intrinsic weakness of such mechanisms.

In responding to the questionnaire, there was quite a divergence of views about regulatory mechanisms between representatives from the general forums and those participating in the ecotourism forums. Within the general sector, those representing the agricultural sector differed in their views from those from environment organisations (see Table 3.1.4 below).

Table 3.1.4: Responses to the question 'Where economic and voluntary/social measures are not adequately protecting biodiversity, which of the following regulatory mechanisms do you think are likely to be effective in providing added protection? (Answer yes or no).'
  Overall "Yes" responses by sector (%)
Agricultural Conservation Ecotourism
Legislation to protect habitat 79 62 90 89
Zoning laws to control use 77 61 87 87
Contractual management agreements 78 80 77 76
Fines for failure to protect biodiversity 54 42 67 67
Loss of existing land/water use rights 59 52 68 52

The questionnaire also asked respondents in the general forums to chose one regulatory option for the range of biodiversity threats. Legislative protection was the clear preference for preventing loss of vegetation/habitat over licence conditions and fines. Contractual management agreements and easements and/or covenants were also preferred for preventing vegetation/habitat decline. Laws for control of ferals and weeds were marginally favoured in the overall responses over contractual management agreements for reducing direct attacks on species. Permits to harvest pests were favoured over bans on harvesting native species in reducing the loss of genetic diversity, although there was a significant difference in the proportions of agricultural (52%) and environmental (33%) respondents favouring this approach, and the proportion of environmental respondents who favoured bans was higher (27% compared to 16%).

Most of the workshops also raised concerns about a perceived lack of coordinated activity both across levels of government and between agencies within one level of government, which led to the inhibition of biodiversity conservation.

The Coffs Harbour forum highlighted the fact that the charters of various government agencies place differing demands on them. This means that they provide both differing information and differing expectations of action to conserve biodiversity. Conflicts between National Parks and State Forests, and the management requirements of each, were cited as an example.

This lack of coordination has other implications for landholders and land managers, Some feel that they receive too much confusing information. Integrated programs built around the national biodiversity strategy were seen as important, with some suggesting that all government programs should contain a biodiversity element.

Just as government information provision was seen to require greater coordination, so too were government programs providing funding which might assist in biodiversity conservation. Participants in several of the workshops suggested that government programs not specifically directed to biodiversity conservation should nevertheless contain a biodiversity aspect. For instance, participants in Perth suggested that "Landcare and other similar funding should be subject to cross-compliance which requires biodiversity conservation." By cross-compliance participants meant the restriction of Landcare program funds to those groups or individuals who conserve biodiversity.

The role of local government and its relationship with the local community were stressed repeatedly. The Integrated Local Area Planning process developed by the Commonwealth government was identified by the workshop in Melbourne as providing a useful model through which better coordination at the local level might occur.

In discussing how improved coordination might best occur, participants in various locations expressed a need for a central department or agency within each level of government to have responsibility for biodiversity conservation.

Increasing funding for biodiversity conservation

Increasing the level of funding available to protect biodiversity was put forward as an urgent need in each forum. When asked how this should happen, participants most often identified a need for a redistribution of consolidated revenue. For instance, participants in the Sydney forum proposed that a mix of funding mechanisms is necessary including:

Although real costs pricing for products deriving from or impacting on natural species and ecosystems is not easily defined, some effort in this direction was indicated as a need by some of the participants.

Participants in Jerramungup expressed a view that 'the Commonwealth government should provide funds commensurate with the size of the biodiversity problem,' while those in Sydney suggested that 'the Commonwealth government must demonstrate its commitment to the national biodiversity strategy through its own actions and should also assist other levels of government in achieving biodiversity conservation.'

Who should pay for biodiversity conservation and how?

There was a widely held view that since the whole community benefits from biodiversity conservation, everybody should pay for its conservation. Seventy-eight per cent of questionnaire respondents in general forums believed that 'the Australian community as a whole' should pay for conservation of biodiversity, while in ecotourism forums this fell to 61%. Only 12% of general forum respondents saw this as the responsibility of those who most directly cause the threats to biodiversity, compared with 24% of those in ecotourism forums.

An environmental levy on taxpayers was not strongly favoured by forum participants. Only 25% questionnaire respondents overall considered it as a useful mechanism for preventing loss of vegetation/ habitat although it is worth noting that those from the environment sector (32%) and those in the ecotourism forums (30%) more often saw environmental levies as useful than did those from the agriculture sector (12%). Representatives of environmental interests perceived this to be the most effective of the mechanisms canvassed to achieve this objective. In discussion, many participants held doubts as to the extent to which an environmental levy would be used by governments directly to fund biodiversity conservation, rather than for other more general purposes. Others, especially in the rural community, felt that they are already paying the costs and should not be required to provide additional financial input to a responsibility that belongs to the whole community.

Participants in several of the forums proposed that funding for biodiversity conservation should flow directly into local communities. Participants in the Jerramungup forum stated that 'the Commonwealth government should feed directly into local communities, giving them both recognition of work done and funding incentives.' Participants in Rockhampton indicated that a mix of funding should be made available 'for individuals and for community groups in an area of common interest. This should not be politically allocated, but rather should be available to all catchments.'

The mechanisms seen by forum participants as being most appropriate to the conservation of biodiversity are summarised in Table 3.1.5.

Table 3.1.5: Summary of views about the mechanisms seen by questionnaire respondents as being most appropriate to the conservation of biodiversity
    Forum responses %
Overall General forums Ecotourism
Mean Mean Agriculture Environment Mean
Preventing habitat loss
Best social mechanism
Education/extension 63 63 - - 63
Voluntary management agreements 24 20 - - 20
Accreditation schemes 7 5 - - 7
Prizes & awards 2 2 - - 2
Best regulatory mechanism
Legislated protection 63 64 - - 59
Licence conditions 12 11 - - 20
Fines 7 5 - - 13
Best financial mechanism
Tax deductions 33 32 34 28 39
Environmental levies 25 24 12 32 30
Local rate reductions 16 16 19 22 15
Preventing habitat decline
Best social mechanism
Community dev. of regional plans 38 37 - - 41
Education/extension 30 32 - - 24
Landcare schemes 22 21 - - 26
Prizes and awards 1 1 - - -
Best regulatory mechanism
Contract management agreements 33 34 - - 31
Easements &/or covenants 22 22 - - 22
Lease conditions - 17 - - -
Licence conditions 6 9 - - 5
Fines 4 4 - - 6
Best financial mechanism
Tax credits 31 31 33 30 33
Environmental fees/levies 21 19 17 22 31
Tied grants 16 16 13 21 17
Tradeable rights 11 11 12 8 9
Reducing direct species attacks
Best social mechanism
Education and/or extension 55 55 54 55 57
Biological controls 31 30 29 27 31
Prizes & awards 1 1 0 3 2
Best regulatory mechanism
Laws to control ferals & weeds 33 32 - - 37
Contractual management agreements 29 29 - - 28
Laws regulating taking of species 24 24 - - 24
Best financial mechanism
Grants 32 34 - - 24
Commercialisation of pest species 29 26 - - 44
Bounties 12 11 - - 17
Reducing genetic loss
Best social mechanism
Education and/or extension 89 89 - - 89
Prizes and awards 2 2 - - 2
Best regulatory mechanism
Permits to harvest pests 44 41 52 33 59
Bans on harvesting native species 23 25 17 26 19
Best financial mechanism
Development of commercial markets 35 32 40 23 44
Grants or compensation 35 35 28 44 35
Payment for 'prospecting' 6 7 10 8 2

Overview of ecotourism consultations

In addition to the ten general consultation forums held to discuss biodiversity conservation, three additional consultations focused on nature-based and ecotourism. Fifty-seven people attended these forums which were held in Cairns, Darwin, and Kangaroo Island. Fifty-four questionnaires were completed for forum participants, representing a variety of sectoral interests (see Table 3.1.1).

Outcomes of the ecotourism community consultations

Many of the issues raised in these three workshops were common to both sets of consultations. There were however some differences in the responses to questions about mechanisms to protect biodiversity.

In particular, the responses of ecotourism consultation participants to the question about the effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms showed some differences from the responses in the general consultations.

There seemed to be a tendency for the respondents from the ecotourism consultations to favour regulatory measures more than those from the general consultations.

Comparing the responses to specific mechanisms to address biodiversity threats, there are very few differences between the overall responses of the ecotourism forum participants and those in the general forums. The only difference of any significance is that a higher proportion of ecotourism respondents favoured the introduction of 'permits to harvest species' (59%) than from the general forums (44%).

There was some difference in the questionnaire responses of participants in the ecotourism forums from the general forums over the question of who should pay for biodiversity conservation. Only 61% of ecotourism forum respondents considered that the Australian community as a whole should pay (compared with 78% in the general forums.) The ecotourism forum respondents were twice as likely as the general respondents to consider that those who most directly cause the threats to biodiversity should pay for it (24% compared with 12%).

Some additional key directions for action arose from the ecotourism consultations as follows:

Table 3.1.6: Responses to the question 'Where economic and voluntary/social measures are not adequately protecting biodiversity, which of the following regulatory mechanisms do you think are likely to be effective in providing added protection? (Answer yes or no)'
  Overall "yes" responses (%)
Ecotourism consultations General consultations
Legislation to protect habitat 89 79
Zoning laws to control use 87 77
Contractual management agreements 76 78
Fines for failure to protect biodiversity 67 54
Loss of existing land/water use rights 52 54

Identification of ecotourism as an "ethic" rather than a sector of the industry

Across each of the ecotourism forums, participants stressed the need to consider 'ecotourism' as an ethic extending beyond the small, nature-based operators to all those in the tourism industry who use the natural environment. Those in the Darwin forum stressed that the ecotourism sector is small and unable to bring about change to protect biodiversity while acting alone, and that it is the larger mainstream tourism operations which generally impact more heavily on biodiversity. This view was reinforced on Kangaroo Island, where local community representatives have major concerns about the likely biodiversity impacts of recent major expansions in the transport facilities to the island.

In both Cairns and Kangaroo Island, forum participants stressed the need for tourism industry Codes of Practice to include a significant biodiversity protection component. On Kangaroo Island it was stressed that 'Best Practice requires that the tourism resort or operation should be changed to suit the environment, rather than the environment being changed to suit the resort,' while in Cairns, participants stressed that 'management priorities should be defined to assist biodiversity.'

Introduction and enhancement of appropriate tourism promotion strategies

Throughout the ecotourism forums, participants discussed the way that tourism promotion benefits from Australia's rich diversity of natural environments and species, and the fact that promotion strategies should work towards protection of those values. Those in Cairns suggested that 'the industry should ensure that there is truth in advertising and promotion of the environment, so that false expectations are removed and that visitors have appropriate expectations. Participants in Darwin identified a need to 'change the focus of promotion from game fishing and other similar activities to ecology.' Forty six per cent of questionnaire respondents considered that increased community awareness was the major contribution that ecotourism can make to biodiversity conservation, with provision of lower impact sources of income (26%) and raising revenue for conservation of biodiversity (19%) being less important. The length of stay, type of tour offered and the size of visiting groups were all seen as important in ensuring that tourism does not impact adversely on the natural environment upon which it depends.

Eighty five per cent of respondents believed that increased visitor numbers leading to degradation was a major threat to biodiversity. Seventy four per cent saw overdevelopment of natural areas to be a major risk, but only 52% considered changed animal behaviour to be in the same category. Regulation to control pets, accreditation and the use of approved logos on promotional material, and improved networking to promote Best Practice operators were identified as mechanisms to improve promotion practices for biodiversity protection.

Integration of biodiversity protection into tourism and development planning

The need for integrated planning, based on defined visitor carrying capacity for an area, and linked with zoning to enable a range of tourism experiences was an underlying focus of the ecotourism forums.

In the Cairns forum, participants stressed the need for 'regional surveys to gather information about biodiversity and a cataloguing of that biodiversity [as] the basis for determining carrying capacity of the various regions.' The draft Far North Queensland 2010 report released recently was seen as a starting point for such work. Kangaroo Island participants suggested that the island might provide an ideal location for a Commonwealth funded pilot study involving the local community and outside experts in determining the carrying capacity of the island as a basis for future planning. In Darwin it was suggested that governments should 'incorporate biodiversity needs directly into the planning processes, and link these with regulation of development.' Darwin participants stated that 'there is a need to adopt appropriate management, developed and implemented through planning processes, which must avoid the insidious creep of development.'

Issues as diverse as the maintenance of remnant vegetation, retention of native vegetation and control of weeds and feral animals, as well as fire management regimes based on the best available scientific knowledge were seen as part of the planning process.

In both Cairns and Kangaroo Island, proposals for Commonwealth funded pilot programs driven by the local community and involving local tourism operators were promoted as important 'on ground' demonstrations of how carrying capacities might be defined for various regions then used in planning for tourism which provides a range of visitor experiences compatible with local community expectations.

Enhancement of the understanding of biodiversity by tour operators and visitors

Like the respondents from the general consultations, the largest percentage (37%) of respondents saw 'lack of knowledge/understanding of biodiversity' as being the reason that voluntary approaches to biodiversity have not functioned adequately. In each of the ecotourism forums, participants cited 'uneducated tourists and tour operators' to be threats to biodiversity. Methods for overcoming this problem were discussed at length. In both Cairns and Darwin, opportunities were identified to use existing environmental management activities for educational purposes, such as sewerage treatment works for bird watching. The need for 'sacrificial populations' of fish and other species to bring tourists into closer contact with native species as educational tools was also recognised.

Questionnaire respondents were asked about strategies for encouraging tourist operators to become more involved in taking action to conserve biodiversity. The highest percentage (83%) agreed on 'provision of taxation advantages for tourist operators who introduce environmentally sensitive practices.' Other responses are presented in the Table 3.1.7.

Table 3.1.7: Responses to Question 6. Which of the following would encourage tourist operators to become more involved in taking action in conserving biodiversity?
  % 'yes' responses
Taxation advantages for tourist operators who introduce environmentally sensitive practices 83
Provision of information about biodiversity conservation 70
Education about ecotourism opportunities 69
More opportunities for cooperative or coordinated marketing 54
Government assistance with marketing ecotourism 52

Mechanisms discussed within the workshops for ensuring that tour operators adopt a greater responsibility for visitor management and the protection of biodiversity were seen to include licensing provisions, provision of 'honorary ranger' status to suitably qualified tour operators, and the use of permit systems to enable graded levels of access based on responsibility to the environment.

Kangaroo Island participants indicated that 'industry bodies should be used to educate tour operators, who should then familiarise visitors with the environment before they arrive.' In Darwin, the need to 'reverse the cycle in which travel agents visit ecotour operators free of charge and without financial commitment to sell small ecotours' was identified as a priority. Participants expressed a view that travel agents, rather than the small nature-based and ecotour operators, should bear the cost of such promotions. Participants in Cairns suggested that 'customer expectations should be used to raise operator standards, which will then flow on to local landholders.'

In cases where lack of information/education contributes to loss of biodiversity, a high proportion of respondents (74%) saw the work done by community networks such as the National Threatened Species Network and the Marine and Coastal Community Network as being valuable, whereas a much lower proportion considered information from tourist associations valuable. This is rather different from the responses of participants in the general consultations who were less likely to see community network information as being valuable.

Allocating responsibility to government, stakeholders and providing appropriate support

Throughout the various community forums, emphasis was placed on the extent to which each sector of the community should have primary responsibility for various aspects of biodiversity conservation.

Local communities

Almost without exception, forum participants identified a need for local communities to have greater involvement in defining and implementing the mechanisms for conserving biodiversity. Opportunities for the local community to be involved and to make input were seen as a minimum requirement. Several forums proposed that the setting of local biodiversity objectives, research and monitoring, planning and implementation all be initiated by the local community.

The building of links between rural and urban communities so that each better understands the role of the other in conserving biodiversity was promoted in various forums.

Across all of the ecotourism forums there was a strong view that governments should facilitate the determination of biodiversity values, both scientific and economic, in each region then work with local communities to ensure that planning, both for tourism and for development more generally, is based on the maintenance of biodiversity values. Outside expertise was seen as important in guiding research and monitoring work and in structuring it in ways which are readily adopted by local communities.

It was also proposed that outside expertise might be introduced to provide independent avenues for dispute resolution. It was suggested in Melbourne that such conflict resolution might best be done through an independent professional mediator, and in Rockhampton a neutral outsider such as an environmental ombudsman was proposed.

Local governments

Local government is the level of government most directly involved with the local community and has the greatest influence over land use planning. Local governments were seen by most workshop participants as having a central role to play in implementing mechanisms for the conservation of biodiversity. The Dubbo forum participants indicated that in providing a public focus within a defined region 'local governments must be involved, since they are the ones who provide planning approvals.' Similarly, in discussing the role of all levels of government to ensure biodiversity is conserved, participants in the forum at Coffs Harbour indicated that 'local government planning processes need a biodiversity component.'

State governments

State governments were seen by some as having a responsibility for greater coordination with both Commonwealth and local governments in ensuring that programs and strategies for the conservation of biodiversity are integrated with other land use activities. Government agencies were also seen to have responsibilities to ensure greater coordination of the activities of their various departments and agencies and to ensure that the charter of various agencies includes biodiversity considerations.

Participants in the Hobart forum suggested that State governments should 'oversee and provide the tools and resources' with which local communities implement activities designed to conserve biodiversity. State governments were also identified as the level at which broad regulatory mechanisms such as Environmental Planning Programs should be introduced. For instance, participants in Dubbo suggested that a State Environmental Planning Program (SEPP) should be introduced to maintain remnant native vegetation, while others suggested that strict clearing controls, and the policing of quotas and other regulatory mechanisms are most appropriately done at the state level. In a more general sense, Bendigo workshop participants expressed a view that the State government has a key role to play in providing a legislative framework in which to work.

The primary responsibilities of State governments were seen to be adequate resourcing and staffing of National Parks and other areas providing a focus for nature-based tourism, and provision of biodiversity information at a scale appropriate to local and regional planning. Whilst the Commonwealth government was identified as having primary responsibility for the funding of incentives and mechanisms to conserve biodiversity, State governments were seen to have a responsibility to fund National Parks to a level at which they are properly managed for the conservation of biodiversity and to ensure that weeds, feral animals and other impacts of reserve management do not impact adversely on adjoining properties.

Commonwealth government

Throughout the various forums, the Commonwealth government was identified as having primary responsibility to provide resources for the conservation of biodiversity, to define national priorities and to lead by example.

While local governments have primary responsibility for planning and the provision of 'on ground' support for local community planning groups, the Commonwealth government was seen as having a role to play in encouraging states to participate in biodiversity conservation. Both user generated funds established through targeted levies, and Commonwealth government funding, were seen as necessary to the maintenance of biodiversity. However, in both Cairns and Kangaroo Island some participants expressed a strong view that such funds should go directly to local communities 'rather than filtering down through the various levels of government and thus being absorbed.'

In several other forums, participants indicated that Commonwealth funding should be channelled directly to local communities and possibly also to individual landholders to develop and implement regional and local planning which takes account of biodiversity conservation needs.

Governments at both state and Commonwealth level were seen to have responsibilities both to adequately resource community members to participate in biodiversity conservation activities, and to recognise and acknowledge the considerable effort which many in the community are already putting in to such activities.

The Commonwealth government was also seen to have a role to play in shifting the emphasis in tourism away from mass visitor promotions to more ecologically based experiences consistent with the protection of Australia's natural environment. Included in this process were both the provision of tax and fee concessions and grants to assist small operators, and the removal of tax disincentives such as those that apply to smaller transport vehicles as compared with the vehicles used by larger operators. A change in the targeting of the government's own tourism promotions was also seen as necessary, as was the linking of 'ecotourism' opportunities with other Commonwealth government programs such as Landcare and DEET on-farm employment programs.

The relationships between the three levels of government in conserving biodiversity were summed up in the Perth forum which proposed that the Commonwealth should develop a national vision, based on grassroots input, with the states providing strategies and resources to local governments, who would then work with local communities to develop implementation mechanisms to be carried out in the local community. Throughout the process, there should be two-way information flow.

Corporate sector

Throughout the various workshops little attention was focused on the corporate sector, except as it was represented through the various resource use industries present in the community consultation process. The financial sector was seen to have a responsibility to increase awareness among its employees of the pressures which rural debt places on biodiversity conservation. Limited mention was made of the ways in which the corporate sector might contribute to prizes and awards for biodiversity conservation, although the latter were generally perceived to be of limited value except to the extent that media coverage of them promotes 'best practice' examples of conservation initiatives.

Participant feedback

The participants in the general consultations were not directly asked to give feedback on the consultation forums. A number, however, did make comments. These ranged from concerns over the questionnaire, which some participants felt to be confusing, leading, or providing no reflection of the complexities of the issues under consideration, to many concerns about the shortness of the workshop – 'this subject requires more than a four-hour workshop.' The participants in the ecotourism consultations were invited to provide feedback. A considerable number considered there to be 'satisfactory outcomes' and 'well conducted.' Others felt that the emphasis on ecotourism was unwarranted, and that 'mass tourism [is] inherently destructive' and should have been more of a focus. Some participants were disappointed that few large scale tourist operators were present, and a few participants felt the meeting was too structured. A significant number of participants expressed a hope that outcomes would be forthcoming based on their input.

The Aboriginal perspective

Throughout the community consultations relating to incentives and mechanisms for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, the project team sought to involve Aboriginal people in the various forums. It was, however, recognised from the outset that the format and location of the consultations were not necessarily consistent with the needs of many indigenous Australians, particularly those living traditional lifestyles. This expectation was borne out by the very few Aboriginal people who attended the various forums.

Given that the time and budget constraints of the project did not permit extensive travel to remote areas to meet and talk with Aboriginal communities on their own terms, nor to bring them in to regional forums, other efforts were made to gather information about Aboriginal perspectives. This issue is considered carefully in the Top End case study (see Chapter 4 and Appendix 2.7).

The Aboriginal way – Galtha Rom workshops: Yirrkala Community

Philosopher Dr Helen Verran from Melbourne University's Department of History and Philosophy of Science met with Community Solutions and provided both research publications and a briefing on the Galtha Rom program being run by the Yirrkala Community School in eastern Arnhem Land as a central part of teaching for children throughout the 20 homeland centres of the Yolngu.

The workshops, which are an approved part of the education curriculum, seek to provide children between the ages of 5 and 18 with an understanding of their history and culture through what might be described in European terms as 'maths and science.' Through a conceptual understanding of their history and culture, Yolngu people develop an intense knowledge of their land and relationships with all aspects of it. They have, for instance, used their knowledge to identify 'vegetation mapping' which would have provided more appropriate local revegetation programs than those that have been practised by the local mining company as part of their mining activities at Nhulunbuy.

Arising out of the 10 years of the Galtha Rom program is a series of publications 'Imagining nature,' the latest of which in its Preface states that:

Underlying all of the books in the series is the conviction that the great nature-culture divide is an illusion, one might almost say, a figment of the Western imagination. In attempting to define our place in the world of nature, we deal not with nature on the one hand and culture on the other but rather with many and various cultural constructions of the natural world... Understanding nature in this larger and more intrinsic sense, involves close knowledge of relevant cultural traditions. This way of knowing nature, then, relies not only on the microscope and dissecting knife, applied to natural artefacts, but also on the conceptual tools of many academic disciplines, applied to the natural wisdom of many peoples. Most importantly, this approach implies accepting other peoples as equal participants in research (p.vi).

As Helen Verran made clear, the Yirrkala program provides opportunities to 'export' the methodology to other communities. This is beginning through a conference involving other Aboriginal communities in East Arnhem Land, and through teaching at Batchelor College.

Lack of continuity of funding, limited resources for transport and other needs in remote areas, the impacts of non-Aboriginal intrusions on the community and its work, and a failure of non-Aboriginal interests (such as mining companies) to involve and respect Aboriginal expertise, were all identified as barriers to the contribution which this program might make to biodiversity conservation.

Aboriginal initiated programs within a European setting

While in Charleville, Community Solutions met with representatives from the Bidjara Aboriginal Corporation, who presented an overview of their plans for the development of a cultural centre and wildlife park on Aboriginal land on the town perimeter.

The 700-800 acres of land, which is held under leasehold, will be fenced using a $100,000 grant from ATSIC, and will be set up as a commercial tourist venture through which wildlife used traditionally to provide Aboriginal food is bred in captivity and is on exhibition in relatively natural surroundings. An Aboriginal cultural centre, providing both information and craft products, will form a focal point of the property. It is anticipated that the property will:

In discussing the project, members of the Bidjara Corporation stressed that the decision to establish a wildlife park had been taken by the community in preference to other alternatives such as the establishment of a commercial emu farm, because the latter is reliant for success on extensive slaughter of animals, beyond the community's food needs. A wildlife park was identified by the community as being more closely in tune with the Aboriginal land ethic.

The European system – opportunities for conservation partnerships with indigenous landholders

Dr Dermot Smyth and Ms Johanna Sutherland are conducting a consultancy for the Australian Nature Conservation Agency 'investigating conservation partnerships with indigenous landholders.' The initial aspect of that consultancy is a report on legislative options and constraints to such partnerships.

The report identifies ample opportunities within conservation and land management legislation in most States and Territories and at Commonwealth level for cooperative management arrangements between government agencies and indigenous landholders. Whilst such arrangements are at present rare, Smyth and Sutherland identify that conditions exist for the establishment of protected areas on indigenous owned land as part of a national representative protected area system. They are of the view that such establishments should be subject to the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait landholders.

A national workshop of indigenous organisations and government agencies to discuss the findings of the report by Smyth and Sutherland is planned to be held in Central Australia in June 1995. The outcomes of that workshop will have important implications for decision making as to the desired role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the conservation of biodiversity in Australia.

Discussion and conclusions

The community consultation forums provided a valuable opportunity for participants interested and involved in biodiversity conservation and use to express their views on mechanisms and processes which would enhance biodiversity protection. The range of participants in both the general and ecotourism forums was broad, with agricultural, conservation and ecotourism sectors being most strongly represented. However, the 368 participants in the 13 forums held in 12 different locations provide but a 'snapshot' of views on the protection of Australia's biodiversity. Key among the recurring themes arising out of the forums were the needs to:

Local involvement

Ownership of initiatives for the protection of biodiversity by those primarily responsible for that protection was the most consistent theme emerging from both the general and ecotourism streams of community consultation. Resistance to imposed solutions was strong, and participants challenged any suggestion that governments might hold the answers to biodiversity conservation. There was strong cynicism expressed about government actions on biodiversity, and a resentment towards government policies introduced without due recognition of the particular circumstances facing communities and local ecosystems.

However, it is important to consider how well equipped local communities might be to take on the local control sought. As observed earlier in this report, much of Australia's rich diversity of species and ecosystems is found in rural and remote areas. Not only do those communities have less access to scientific research than do metropolitan communities, but in many instances they are less well equipped to play a controlling role in planning, decision-making and implementing biodiversity conservation.

In recent years the rural sector has experienced a serious economic downturn which has placed severe social and economic pressures on individuals and communities alike. As highlighted by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee (December, 1994), 'the Australian farm sector has been suffering relatively low incomes for the past four years. This has been the result of low world prices for some major agricultural commodities, particularly wool, and severe drought conditions in Queensland and parts of New South Wales' (p.79). That same Committee set total rural debt in Australia at 30 June 1993 at $17.323 billion, this having risen steadily between 1978-79 and 1986-87. The reasons for rural debt are numerous and the social consequences extensive. Declining standards of living, stress-related impacts on physical, mental and emotional health and fragmentation of rural communities were all identified by the Senate Committee as being of major significance. So too was a decline in ability to educate children in rural families. In this climate, the Committee identified that 'while profit margins remain low, the pressure will be on producers to cut costs and boost productivity. Accordingly, producers will postpone or cancel important landcare programs' (p.87).

If these people are to take responsibility for the conservation of biodiversity, then they will require the resources, infrastructure and technical support to enable them to do so. Capacity building which is occurring in other areas, such as through the Commonwealth's regional development program, should also occur in relation to the conservation of biodiversity.

An additional issue of concern to the project team has been the lack of scientific evidence that will justify the major proposals put forward by those consulted. The key proposal is that development of local ownership of programs to protect biodiversity is necessary to bring about the changes needed to conserve biodiversity throughout Australia. Little objective research has been carried out in this area, either in Australia or overseas. One of the ongoing criticisms of the national Landcare program, for example, has been its inability to provide evidence that it is actually bringing about improvements to the ecological integrity of landscapes and ecosystems.

Inherent in discussing this problem is the fact that it is individuals and communities with which we are dealing, and as such, their intentions and actions are not quantifiable in the normal sense of the word. However, it is fair to say that if the strong messages gained during the community consultation process are ignored then the desired outcomes will not be achieved because the expressed views of resource users and land managers themselves will be directly contradicted. In other parts of this report, economic arguments that go a long way towards justifying this approach are proposed. An essential component of any programs which move towards increasing local ownership and resourcing must be the development of performance indicators and accountability mechanisms which measure both on the ground change and levels of community and individual activity.

Education and information

There are, of course, several aspects to the provision of information to assist in the conservation of biodiversity. As is made clear in the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, 'major research initiatives are required in the areas of compilation and assessment of existing knowledge, conservation biology, rapid assessment and inventory, long-term monitoring, and ethnobiology' (p.47).

Participants in the various forums generally recognised that land uses, such as agriculture and mainstream tourism, do have impacts on biodiversity. Coupled with this was a concern that information is currently not available to enable us to measure the impacts of various activities on a day-to-day basis. The nature of disturbance to ecosystems is such that day-to-day measures may not be possible. Many of the impacts of human activity on species and ecosystems are cumulative and become apparent only after prolonged periods. Where this is the case, landholders and land users need to know this and to be part of the ongoing process of monitoring and adjusting management practices. As was made clear in a Land and Water Resources R&D Corporation review of remnant vegetation in the rural landscape (Sept, 1993), much existing research is seen to lack accessibility to those charged with on the ground management and many landholders and Landcare groups are seen to embark on projects without adequate scientific input.

As the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy observes:

The media, educational institutions, government agencies and various societies and groups have all been effective in increasing public awareness of the importance of biological diversity conservation. Nevertheless it is necessary to ensure the continued availability of accurate and persuasive information about the benefits, costs and means of biological diversity conservation. The meaning of biological diversity and the consequences of its decline should be communicated in locally relevant terms (p.53).

Creative strategies for community education at this level were in short supply throughout the consultations, although it was generally considered that the question of resourcing for education programs was pivotal. So too was the need for information to come from those most in tune with the needs of those to whom it is being delivered.

Scientists, educators, landholders and the urban community need to be brought closer together in their knowledge and understanding of the issues surrounding biodiversity conservation.

Better resourcing of biodiversity conservation

Protection of biodiversity was seen to be ultimately the responsibility of the Australian community as a whole, and as such it was generally agreed that the community should pay for actions necessary to conserve it.

A somewhat unexpected outcome of the consultation process was the lack of emphasis placed by forum participants on the pros and cons of individual mechanisms. Participants were more concerned about the overall level of resourcing provided to biodiversity conservation, rather than the methods of delivery of those resources.

Whilst the provision of economic incentives was considered to be an important signal from government that biodiversity protection is being taken seriously, greater emphasis was placed on the need for a redistribution of consolidated revenue, given the pivotal position which biodiversity conservation occupies in attaining ecologically sustainable development. Recent increases in State and Commonwealth government funding of biodiversity initiatives was seen as a positive first step, but resources available were not seen to anywhere near match the economic, social and aesthetic significance of the problems.

In providing increased funding for the conservation of biodiversity, greatest returns were perceived to come from the channelling of funds and information directly to those actually involved in land management. Again, no real evidence was cited to back up the claims put forward, participants pointing to the fact that so-called 'top down' mechanisms had not worked in the past, and were generally inefficient. No single mechanism was favoured in providing such economic support, although mechanisms involving use of the tax system received most attention. This was particularly so in encouraging greater industry activity to conserve biodiversity, and was of less relevance to the majority of rural landholders, many of whom are asset rich but dollar poor.

Whether through the use of grants, tax concessions or credits or by other means, the provision of funding support directly to local communities and individuals, reporting and accountability mechanisms will be essential in ensuring that such funds are used wisely.

Creating 'ownership' of biodiversity initiatives by those who are primarily responsible for its protection and management is the most consistent theme emerging from both the general and ecotourism forums. There is a clear expectation that the Commonwealth government should play a leadership role in setting the framework for national action and for resourcing biodiversity conservation. However, that framework, decision making and implementation of actions for the conservation of biodiversity must all be achieved through partnerships involving those directly responsible for land use and management, together with scientists and others in the community.

Nowhere in the forums were striking and innovative mechanisms identified to achieve those partnerships, nor were there clearly defined ways for bringing together Aboriginal perspectives of land stewardship and non-Aboriginal perspectives.

Footnote:

7. Agriculture includes both grazing and intensive agriculture interests. For the purposes of sectoral comparisons, Landcare representatives who indicated that they represented both agriculture and conservation interests, have been included under the agricultural sector. Where possible, government employees and scientists were classified according to the sector in which they worked.