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FORGING THE LINKS
QUEENSLAND LANDCARE AND CATCHMENT MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE : OPENING ADDRESS



Cairns
Monday 29th June 1998

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment



Ian Balintyne, our Chairman and isn't it significant that a Landcare Conference is being chaired by the Chief Executive Officer of Queensland Canegrowers. Because cane growing is such a major part of our economy in Queensland, particularly in the north and it's also in areas where we really do care for the land and where Landcare Groups are very active.

So to you Ian, also to Councillor Tom Pyne, the Chairman of Local Shire Council and one who is well known right around the State, not only for his Cairns role but as Chairman of the Local Government Association of Queensland, to my former colleague and friend, Mr Bruce Lloyd, the Chairman of Landcare Australia, a great Australian and one whose done a tremendous job in the short time he has been involved with Landcare Australia in its lead role.

Also to Mr Garth Ilett, the State Chairman of the Landcare and Catchment Management Organisation, who I understand is attending his last Conference in that role today, although who knows what the future might hold, but it's great to have Garth here and to recognise him and the work he's done and also to Dr Joe Baker, and old friend of ours in the north, and currently the Commissioner for the Environment in the ACT. Other distinguished guests, members of local authorities and ladies and gentlemen.

It's a great pleasure for me and I do thank you for the opportunity of opening this inaugural Queensland Landcare and Catchment Management Conference, on behalf of the Federal Government and the Environment Minister, Senator Hill and myself.

Some of you might remember that I shivered with you in the frosts of Roma last year on the first morning of the final Queensland Landcare Conference. So I am delighted that in this year I'm able to welcome you to my own territory in tropical North Queensland for the first meeting of the Queensland Landcare and Catchment Management Conference.

And just to reinforce what Guido and Tom said about the tremendous climate up here, I have to tell you that last night I had the great pleasure of launching a Corridor of Green between two North Queensland icons, Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham - work done by the North Johnson and Lake Eacham Landcare Group. And that's a tremendous project, if you get some chance to go and have a look at that it's worth seeing the Lakes but it's worth seeing the work that that Association has done. Similar to the sorts of work, that all of you do, in your own area.

It was a beautiful evening, I left about 7.00pm but they tell me the Land carers went on until about 10.00 or 11.00pm, so the guys nodding next to you will be those of the North Johnson and Lake Eacham Landcare Group who partied on after the opening of that very significant piece of Landcare work.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the conference theme, Forging the Links, is particularly appropriate. It reflects both the evolution of Landcare in stimulating and embracing the holism of catchment management, and one of the underpinnings of the Natural Heritage Trust.

For the Federal Government, the primary concept in developing the Trust has been that of partnerships. That we are all participants in this ongoing debate on the nature of sustainability. That we are all responsible for ensuring our daily activities do not limit the opportunities available to our neighbours to our community and to our nation.

The partnership between the key Trust portfolios, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Primary Industries and Energy, has revolutionised the delivery of Federal programs. For the first time, a mechanism exists which fully integrates at a Commonwealth level, the management of Australia's soil and water resources, native vegetation, wildlife and the oceans. This now happens through Trust programs such as Bushcare, the National Landcare Program, National Rivercare and Murray Darling 2001.

The formal Partnership Agreements between the Federal Government and the State and Territory Governments have, for the first time, clearly defined the relative roles and responsibilities of the two tiers of government in the management of our shared natural resources.

The Commonwealth is providing the capital base for an unprecedented environmental repair and restoration endeavour.

The States and the Territories on the other hand have a clear constitutional responsibility for providing the legislative framework underpinning natural resource management, and of course they provide the majority of the technical infrastructure and support for the individual land users and community groups, whose every day decisions and practices shape the landscape

The Partnership Agreements also identify the priorities for action. If you have not yet had the opportunity of having a look at the Queensland Partnership Agreement, I would urge you to get copy of that and have a look at it because it's quite an interesting document.

Ladies and Gentlemen the former Queensland Government was committed to the spirit of the partnership and that spirit is important and it's that spirit that is inherent in the Natural Heritage Trust. And they did that by getting cheques out to community projects as soon as these were announced, well before the money had been received from the Commonwealth. I understand in all cases that didn't work but the Queensland Government did try in spirit of the NHT to get the money out even although that hadn't received it from us. Perhaps I can precipitate some questions by saying that we do acknowledge that there were delays in getting the money out, principally from the Commonwealth Department, but it was a new program last year and there were teething problems. But we want to make sure that we overcome those and that there are no delays in getting money out to the community.

And I'm sure and I hope that the new Queensland Government will be the same and that they'll get the money out at the very earliest time and I want you to keep an eye on them for me and if that doesn't happen please get in touch with me. Because if I don't know the problems are happening there's little I can do to help overcome them.

Of course, the most important partnership, that which has always been the foundation of the Landcare movement, and of catchment management, and of the Natural Heritage Trust is the one in which we should all participate in every decision we make as resource managers and resource users - and that of course is every single one of us. Participating in any partnership involves accepting a level of personal responsibility. As members of the community we have a responsibility, in fact an obligation, to understand the needs and aspirations of our community partners, and to make every effort to ensure these are not unduly impinged upon by our decisions, by our actions.

And talking of accepting one's responsibilities, I must acknowledge the efforts of those community members who have taken on the responsibility of assessing the proposals seeking support through the 1998-99 funding round of the Natural Heritage Trust Programs. It's a long, difficult and frequently thankless task, but your expertise, your experience and your commitment is making a vital contribution to the achievement of the Trust's objectives.

We are looking forward to seeing the projects that the Regional and State Assessment Panels have agreed will contribute most to the achievement of Queensland's regional and State natural resource management priorities.

The Landcare movement, that historic partnership between the farming sector and the conservation sector, has been instrumental in raising community awareness of environmental degradation. I know that everyone in this room is fully conversant with the threats to soil erosion, nutrient loss, and soil structural decline and with declining water quality, habitat fragmentation and species loss.

We can no longer hide behind the excuse of lack of knowledge. We know only too well that land and water degradation costs the nation more than $1.5 billion each year in lost production. We know that the last few generations of Australians have overseen the permanent loss, the extinction, of at least one-quarter of our unique mammal species. We know our own and our children's generations are potentially facing a similar rate of extinction among our native bird species.

It's fruitless to attempt to apportion blame for the mistakes of the past, but there is no excuse for not learning from history and for repeating those mistakes.

These are the natural resources, the natural capital, and the natural heritage on which our community has been built and on which we are expecting it to continue to grow.

This is the natural heritage that in 1997 drew 4.3 million overseas tourists to Australia, generating some $16.5 billion in export earnings and directly employing about 700,000 of our neighbours and our children.

Too much of the rest of Australia, Tropical North Queensland must appear to be unfairly over-endowed with natural capital. I might be biased, in fact I am, but I'm convinced that our Reef and our Rainforests are THE drawcard for the majority of overseas tourism into Australia. When one considers our equally buoyant and expanding regional sectors as exemplified by the sugar industry, one could be excused for feeling a little bit complacent up this way.

But unfortunately, alongside these positives, hiding behind this optimism, are many very significant environmental issues and conflicts. You'll be witnessing some of these first hand I understand during your field trips. But no matter where you come from in Queensland or the rest of Australia, I'm sure you'll be facing many of the problems that we face in the north.

I listed some of those earlier but here's a couple more: stream bank erosion, weed invasion, conversion of land of high conservation or production value to other uses, usually residential housing.

This afternoon or this morning I understand Harry Bonanno will be discussing with you one of the most difficult environmental challenges and I know that Dr Ian McPhaill, the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will, later in the conference be talking about these significant environmental challenges to this region. And perhaps the biggest one is how to minimise the impact of the regions largest agricultural sector, that is the sugar industry, on our greatest natural asset, of course the Great Barrier Reef. And I'm depending on Harry and Ian to come to some positive conclusions and let us know the ways we should be proceeding.

When I ponder the problems we face in this region, I'm often tempted to suggest that the rest of Australia owes North Queensland a debt. Despite our best efforts, those international tourists who come to Australia to see the reef and the rainforests are apparently spending a goodly proportion of that $16.5 billion worth of export earnings in other parts of the country. We need the money up here to fix our problems.

But then I see that environmental and socio-economic issues face other regions in Australia as well. In Queensland, the Desert Uplands and the Mulga Lands, the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin, the South Australian Eyre Peninsula, all those places and many others around Australia have their own very significant problems. So I'm forced to accept that in order to achieve it's objectives, the Natural Heritage Trust must be a lot more than an undignified, squabbling competition to snare the most money to my group, my catchment, my region or my State.

The funding MUST be, and has been I hope, targeted but it must be. And I can't help myself but at this point being critical of those in politics, the Labor Party, the Greens and the Democrats, who having violently opposed the Natural Heritage Trust, then set about to promote petty, partisan, politics at its lowest level by illogically and maliciously falsely accusing the Government of political interference in the distribution of the grants.

And it's no wonder that this hypocrisy and pettiness from those political parties is turning many people to groups who appear to have no policy apart from a dislike of current politicians, aborigines and Asians. So we must make sure that funding is targeted and I thank those of you on the assessment panels who do help the Government in finding the right targets.

The priorities at all scales must be clearly identified and appropriately addressed. We have to ensure that the Australian Government's unprecedented investment, through the Natural Heritage Trust, in the ecological sustainability of our nation is not squandered.

And that brings us to the second key theme of the Natural Heritage Trust and that is investment.

The Trust is the result of an historic transfer of publicly owned capital from a technological business in the form of part of Telstra to natural capital in the form of clean air, healthy rivers and oceans, productive land and vegetation, and wiser management of our rich and irreplaceable biodiversity.

And I believe that that was a pretty good trade off. To get Government out of a business, which Governments don't really have much success in running, giving it to business people who run businesses better, the Government then doing what it should, regulating telecommunications to make sure that those in the business look after everybody with community service obligations, and regulations to provide services everywhere, and with the sale of that business using peoples money to invest in peoples assets and that is our natural capital.

Through the last round of Trust funding, the Federal Government invested $31 million towards assisting the Queensland community's efforts to sustain and improve the management of this nation's biodiversity, land, freshwater and oceans.

Its worthwhile taking this opportunity to restate and to consider the five simple questions which Robert Hill, the Minister for the Environment and John Anderson, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, asked of each and every project in deciding where the Government's investment would be directed:

And these questions were:

will this project lead to lasting on ground improvements in securing environmental values and management of natural resources?

Secondly:

is it good value for taxpayer's money?

Thirdly:

is it feasible and technically sound?

Fourthly:

is the Trust investment catalytic - rather than displacing activities which would normally be the "core business" of the proponent?

And finally:

and, are the proponents contributing enough to the project to ensure ownership and long-term commitment to ongoing management?

I'd particularly like to emphasise the last two questions.

I describe the ideal proposal as one which the proponents demonstrate the need for Trust support to overcome a key barrier to the sustainable management of a natural resource issue within a region, and which demonstrates the manner in which the proponent will take the long-term responsibility for that issue. That is what is meant by a catalytic investment.

The proponent contribution and commitment to a project should also be considered. There's a common criticism that the Natural Heritage Trust does not invest in planning. Of course that's not true. Every Trust project can and should include a planning element in the form of an effective monitoring and evaluation component. Every project should be linked to a comprehensive regional plan.

But planning never stops. Projects seeking Trust support for basic planning activities need a well formulated argument before Robert Hill and John Anderson can be convinced that there is commitment to actually getting fairly immediately, tangible results from that plans. Particularly so when many of the plans that have emerged to date appear to have more to do with identifying funding opportunities than with reaching consensus on a regional vision and with establishing the relative roles and responsibilities of all the partners in the process.

The Trust is not about subsidisation of land managers, be they State agencies local governments, community groups or private landowners. We're not about subsidisation in the sustainable management of their natural resources. But the Trust can assist land managers to gain the capacity to achieve sustainable management, but from there on, I'm sorry, it's really your responsibility.

We've only about 18 months to go to the end of the Decade of Landcare. It's appropriate to reflect on the achievements and outcomes of this movement and the achievements and outcomes to which all of you have been committed and have committed so much of your time, energy and hope.

If only for the bipartisan support, which underpins it, community Landcare is a remarkable achievement. But the successes go much deeper. The "caring hands" logo is now one of Australia's most widely recognised symbols. Community participation in Landcare can be measured in the hundreds of thousands, and it is a driving force in the lives of both rural and urban communities. There is wide community awareness of land degradation issues, and of the essential changes in land management practices required to address these.

Landcare has facilitated the establishment of a nation-wide forum for community debate and participation in our explorations of sustainability, while the community grants process, linked to regional assessment, is allowing groups to tackle these issues in a locally relevant way.

However, I have heard it said that an unintended outcome of the community grants process has been that land managers now believe they're responsible only for investments into their own profitability, and that Governments, through programs such as National Landcare and Bushcare is responsible for sustainability. If the grant application process is unsuccessful, nothing happens.

Initially I dismissed these comments as pointless cynicism. But then I remembered the number of times I'd heard someone in a group of farmers recite like a mantra to the glum nodding agreement of all present "You can't be green when you're in the red". And I had the sinking feeling that perhaps the Landcare movement may have failed.

Of course it hasn't. But we must make sure the simple objective of having land managers taking personal responsibility for their local environmental issues is not overlooked.

I know that many of us are all beginning to wonder what lies beyond the Natural Heritage Trust. Beyond 2001, when the financial capital resulting from the sale of one national asset, Telstra, has been fully reinvested in the natural capital of our resource assets. I'll be much more confident about that future when I hear my community partners confidently stating "If you aren't green in the long term, you'll never be in the black".

It's NOT someone else's responsibility, it's ours.

As Australians, we pride ourselves on our resourcefulness and our self-reliance alongside our willingness to help out a mate. Let's demonstrate it. We're facing an enormous task in tackling this nation's environmental problems and in moving towards a sustainable society. The Natural Heritage Trust, through programs like Bushcare, the National Landcare Program and Rivercare can help, but the ultimate responsibility is, was and always will lie with you, the Queensland community.

Don't allow the community participation and commitment initiated by the Landcare movement to be lost. Acknowledge that, just as the strength of the Queensland economy lies in the diversity of its natural resources, the strength of the Queensland community is in the diversity of its people. Let's Forge the Links between that diversity and I'm convinced that we can show the world a truly sustainable society.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you again for allowing me to be with you for this part of your conference, I know you will make a tremendous and significant contribution to the ongoing work of the Landcare and Catchment Management Organisation and your deliberations will help the Queensland Government and the Federal Government in where we go in the future. Good luck to you all, have a good time in this very special part of Queensland and a safe journey home when you go.

Thank you very much.

Questions

Q The Green in the Red and I heard the Senator mention a lot of statistics that his Department had in regards to what is occurring on the Environmental issues. But I'm a young man who has forty years ahead of him in the farming industry and I would like the Senator to look into farmers complaints with regards to our difficulty to be as green as we'd like to be with falling commodity prices, and higher costs, I think statistics are fantastic things they can take us on issues but the problem with statistics they are interpreted by individuals and it's very important that you have the whole range of statistics and an unbiased look at what the statistics are actually showing. I think most farmers are finding it very difficult to stay viable and stay green at the same time. What statistics are there that are showing that farmers are say bringing about land degradation?

A I understand what you're saying and I understand that things are tough, but I mean the statistic that counts most of course is that in the last couple of years and in the next couple of years we are putting $1.25 billion into the environment and matters relating to Landcare that have never been invested before. The question you ask, of course I guess many of you would answer that better than I and Governments around do try to do things to make those less sustainable parts of our primary industries more sustainable but I think most of you would realise that no matter what financial situation you're in, if your land is degraded, if we aren't caring for the land as we now know that we should, then it doesn't matter what happens thereafter in years ahead, you'll fail. Because we can't keep attacking our planet in the way that we have been attacking it in the last one hundred years and still expect to continue. Now some of the things that you're asking of course I suspect go well beyond Landcare and Environmental Management and they're matters that have to be addressed elsewhere, but you do, I think you tell me more than I can tell you, unless you look after your land you're not going to be in the race in any case.

Commonwealth of Australia