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Senator Robert Hill,
Minister for the Environment
One of the great virtues of the Landcare movement is that it has helped us to see the obvious - that people and the land are inseparable. If the land suffers, so too, eventually, do the people, and likewise if the people suffer so will the land. A prosperous and stable landscape will support and sustain vital livelihoods and communities.
In this sense, Landcare has taught us much - about our country, and about ourselves.
It has done so because it has empowered people - individuals, groups, landholders and whole communities - to be a positive part of the conservation equation.
Who would have believed just ten years ago that about one-third of all families in rural Australia would today be actively involved in a voluntary conservation group? This is the gift that Landcare has given us.
Quite rightly, Landcare has become an issue which unites the entire community. It is something for all of us - for all governments, for our corporations and agribusinesses, for the conservation movement, for rural and urban communities, for scientists and laymen and women and finally for the land itself.
Land degradation is now very firmly on the political agenda. The links that we have created between grassroots action, government support, and corporate involvement demonstrate that we no longer need be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
Our job as the national government is to endorse and actively support these changes which are sweeping across rural Australia. In fact, despite our past mistakes, we now have our best chance of "finding our place" in this country by recognising its limits and our reliance on the systems of land, water, air and biodiversity.
Landcare has helped us understand that nature conservation can begin where we live and work. Landcare has encouraged us to see the link between people, rural production and the environment.
The Commonwealth Government has demonstrated that it recognises the close links between conservation of our natural resources and sustainable production.
In 1982, the Fraser Government established the National Tree Program to reverse tree decline throughout Australia.
That program provided the foundation for many of the programs which the Commonwealth supports today including some of those which the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, within my portfolio, has responsibility for as part of the government's overall landcare efforts.
I am sure that most of you are, in particular, familiar with the Save the Bush Program - which seeks to assist in the protection and management of remnant native vegetation - and the One Billion Trees Program which involves the community in strategically re-establishing and maintaining Australia's cover of native trees and associated vegetation.
They are complimented by a number of other vegetation programs which the Department of Environment has been involved in implementing, including the National Corridors of Green Program, the Grasslands Ecology Program and the Urban Forests Program.
We have 20 billion fewer trees than we had in 1788 caused by excessive clearing of land over time. Of course, Australia has benefited greatly from the economic development made possible by the growth of our rural sector - a growth which obviously necessitated some land clearing.
But the situation is now critical. That is why, as most of you are aware, we announced the we will be establishing a major National Vegetation Initiative which will be provided with $318 million over five years. This initiative will build on existing programs such as one billion trees, save the bush and national corridors of green and has two key parts:
We will work to achieve the long term objective of ensuring that, for the first time since european settlement, the rate of vegetation establishment will exceed the rate of vegetation clearance.
The National Vegetation Initiative is one of the most important commitments to the environment made by a national government this century.
This government intends to nurture and support Landcare in a very real way, so that it is relevant to all Australians in every catchment of this continent, even our big cities.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure now to present the first Landcare Foundation Travel Scholarship. The scholarship has been made possible through a royalty on the sale of what is now regarded as the definitive textbook on Landcare in Australia (which by the way was funded by the National Landcare Program). This book was written by Andrew Campbell with case studies by Greg Siepen and $2 from the sale of each book went to the Landcare Foundation to provide a $2,000 scholarship to a practising landcarer.
The scholarship is intended to provide opportunities for people involved in Landcare to broaden their horizons in taking up opportunities to travel and learn about issues relating to their work in Landcare.
The award attracted some outstanding applications and I understand that the judges faced a formidable task and choosing a winner. However, I have great pleasure in announcing that the judges have awarded this inaugural scholarship to Biz and Lindsay Nicolson from Tasmania.
Biz and Lindsay Nicolson have been leaders in Landcare for many years and have made an enormous contribution.
I understand that with this award Biz and Lindsay intend to visit the mainland to investigate research into rural tree decline, examine management issues and the commercial possibilities relating to native grasses and native softwoods and also to attempt to organise a national community network of native plant growers among relevant organisations.
The knowledge they will gain and the contacts they will make will, i hope, act as a catalyst for on going initiatives.
I would ask you to join me in congratulating Biz and Lindsay Nicolson and invite them to receive their award.