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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Investing in our Natural Heritage

The Commonwealth's Environment Expenditure 1997-98
Statement by Senator The Honourable Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment
Environment Australia 1997

Chapter 4: Land Resources

Key Points
  • The problem of land degradation is widespread, requiring strategic and integrated approaches to achieve lasting results and sustainable natural resource management. The problems of land and water degradation and loss of biodiversity are related, as are the solutions.
  • Five key initiatives under the Natural Heritage Trust address the problems of land and water degradation and the loss of biodiversity in an integrated and strategic manner. These programmes will receive some $890 million to the year 2001-02. The programmes are the National Vegetation Initiative at $328.6 million, the National Rivercare Initiative at $97 million, Murray-Darling 2001 at $163 million, the National Landcare Programme at $264 million (including $80 million for Landcare tax measures) and the National Land and Water Audit at $37 million.
  • The Commonwealth cannot undertake this task alone: partnerships are being developed with State, Territory and local governments, industry and the community to create a framework for the long term sustainable management of our natural resources.

Australia's land resources form the basis of our unique natural heritage and our agricultural and pastoral industries. The Government has targeted the sustainable management of natural resources as a key priority to be addressed by both existing and new programmes. The Government aims to ensure the sustainable use and management of the natural resource base through a broad package of measures (see Table 4.1). Significant new measures have been introduced in the budget as part of the Natural Heritage Trust. Other important related measures introduced are the National Vegetation Initiative described in Chapter 3, and Murray-Darling 2001 and National Rivercare Initiative which are described in Chapter 5.


Sustainable Management of Natural Resources

Sustainable agriculture cannot be achieved solely by any single agent. The Commonwealth is, therefore, developing partnership agreements through the Trust with Commonwealth, State and Territory and local governments, the community and industry. This approach builds on the existing National Landcare Programme, which has enabled the community to be closely involved in the promotion of sustainable resource management and in protecting and restoring our unique environment and natural resources.

Table 4.1: Land Resources - New Measures and Programme and Tax Expenditure Estimates

Image: Table 4.1: Land Resources - New Measures and Programme and Tax Expenditure Estimates

Programme and tax expenditure estimates include the effect of new measures.

- denotes nil; 0 denotes zero; .. denotes not zero but rounded to zero; na denotes not available

(a) For 2001-02 and six year total expenditure see Table 1.3.

(b) Includes funding for Landcare tax measures.

(c) Includes funds for the NLP and Murray-Darling Basin National Resource Management Strategy (see Ch. 5).

(d) This will receive further funds from the National Vegetation Initiative (see Ch. 3) the amount of which has not been finalised.

(e) This is the total of the figures against indented descriptions below.

The National Landcare Programme

Since 1993-94 the National Landcare Programme (NLP) has been the Commonwealth's primary tool in addressing land degradation and in promoting the sustainable management of the nation's natural resources. The aim of the programme is to develop and implement integrated approaches to natural resource management in Australia which are efficient, sustainable, equitable and consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development. From 1997-98, the NLP will be managed as one of the major components of the Trust, and will receive from the Trust an additional $264 million to the year 2001-02.

The NLP is based on a partnership approach involving the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments and the community. The partnership is formally set out in agreements with the States and Territories containing broad natural resource management strategies which include defined outcomes and milestones. Project assessment has been undertaken through a one stop shop process by regional and state assessment panels with a majority of community representation. The assessment process also ensures that Commonwealth initiatives are integrated with relevant State programmes, such as the New South Wales Total Catchment Management Programme. This approach will continue under the Trust.

The programme supports activities which contribute to the sustainable management of land, water and vegetation resources, in line with regional, state and national strategies. On ground action and adoption of sustainable land management practices are important elements. Emphasis is placed on providing assistance to communities to overcome the impediments to achieving sustainable management. State and Territory agencies, local government, community groups and industry are encouraged to work cooperatively towards the achievement of strategic goals.

The NLP objectives are:

The NLP has pioneered the promotion and adoption by the States and Territories of an integrated regional approach to project development and implementation, in which large scale projects encompassing a range of activities within an overarching strategic framework, are undertaken in a particular region. Examples include: the Mt Lofty Ranges Collaborative Catchment Projects; Eyre Peninsula of South Australia; and the South Coast Regional Initiative in Western Australia.

ATSIC Land Management and Acquisition

The land acquisition and maintenance component of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission's commercial programme includes funding for a range of land management activities such as land rehabilitation, maintenance of properties, and control of feral animals, weeds and pests. The Land Acquisition and Management Programme funds a range of activities that may include environment and conservation, or have environment and conservation as a secondary outcome. The objectives of this programme include:


The Commonwealth Government provides deductions from taxable income for primary producers and rural businesses for capital expenditures for storing and conveying water and for preventing and treating land degradation. The deductions are provided under Sections 75B and 75D of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936:

As part of the Trust, the government is proposing to allow farmers to choose between claiming the Section 75B and 75D deductions and claiming a tax rebate/credit, and has committed $80 million of Trust funding, via the NLP, for this purpose.

International Development Cooperation

Desertification affects nearly 33 per cent of the Earth's land surface and the livelihoods of nearly 20 per cent of the world's population, mainly occurring in developing countries.

As a signatory to the Convention to Combat Desertification, Australia is contributing over $400,000 to assist developing countries and non-government organisations in the negotiation and implementation of the Convention. The Australian Fund for Combating Desertification in Africa, set up in 1995, contributes $970,000 over three years to assist African countries in anti-desertification activities under the Convention. Australia also supports a range of projects that address drought and desertification under its regional and bilateral development assistance programmes in Africa and other regions.

The Commonwealth is providing $4.3 million over the period 1993-97 for the Integrated Pest Management Project (IPMP) run by the Food and Agriculture Organization. This project aims to improve access to integrated pest management information and field management techniques in South East Asian countries. A further $10.2 million has been provided through Australia's bilateral aid programme to Vietnam to help enable Vietnamese farmers to reduce their chemical use by 50-90 per cent.

The National Strategy for Rangeland Management

A National Strategy for Rangeland Management is currently being developed to focus and coordinate processes for adjustment towards sustainable agricultural and ecological systems. Since 1993 the Commonwealth has committed $1 million for public consultation with community groups and stakeholders. The Government released a draft strategy last year. In collaboration with State Governments, the Commonwealth will refine the strategy and develop an action plan for rural adjustment and improvements of natural capital through Trust programmes.

Cost Sharing

The Commonwealth is examining appropriate mechanisms for cost sharing in the development of sustainable agricultural practices and for natural resource management. Given the shared responsibilities for environment protection and natural resource management in Australia, there is a need for equitable arrangements covering contributions towards joint initiatives such as the National Vegetation Initiative.


Plantation and farm forestry will play an expanding role in both timber production and revegetation. The National Forest Policy Statement and the Wood and Paper Industry Strategy detail Government actions to promote continued development of a diverse, internationally competitive industry based on ecologically sustainable management practices. In 1997-98 $6 million will be provided to encourage plantation and farm forestry, accelerate research into value added products and fast grown plantation trees, and promote development of an internationally recognised certification scheme for sustainably produced forest products.

Under the Natural Heritage Trust, an additional $22 million will be provided to the year 2001-02 to expand and enhance the Farm Forestry Programme. A further amount, yet to be decided, will be invested in the programme from the National Vegetation Initiative to provide support for activities in lower rainfall regions, including the development and promotion of wood and non-wood products, especially where these activities address biodiversity and land degradation issues.

The aim of the programme is to encourage the incorporation of commercial tree growing and management into farming systems for the purpose of wood and non-wood production, increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable natural resource management. The Commonwealth is fostering a regional approach by working in partnership with the States, Territory, local government, industry and Landcare and community groups. Funds will be provided to support extension, demonstration, education and training, information gathering and dissemination, planning and coordination, and practical research and development activities aimed at enhancing the uptake of farm forestry.

Box 4.1: Cost Sharing for on Ground Works

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission's recently published discussion paper on cost sharing for on ground works provides a basis for better informed debate on whether paying for sustainable natural resource management is a private, public or shared responsibility among landholders, the community and governments. The paper argues that:

  • The polluter pays principle is appropriate for current point source degradation because it is cost effective to encourage polluters to meet the full cost of their actions.
  • The polluter pays principle is inappropriate for many land and water degradation problems because of the diffuse nature of the causes; practical difficulties in allocating costs arising from historical practices; and because the principle ignores the possibility that on ground works can provide benefits to the whole community in addition to the individuals implementing them.
  • The community generally recognises that all Australians are stakeholders in the health of natural resources and that on ground works can be considered as joint investments by the community and government.

In July 1996, Commonwealth and State Ministers responsible for forests agreed to develop a National Plantations Strategy with the goal of trebling the plantation estate by 2020. The strategy is currently being developed in consultation with industry through the Ministerial Council on Forestry, Fisheries and Aquaculture.


National Land and Water Audit

The Commonwealth is conducting a comprehensive appraisal of the extent of land and water degradation in Australia and its environmental, social and economic costs. Under the Natural Heritage Trust, the Government is establishing a National Land and Water Audit at a cost of $37 million to the year 2001-02. The audit will address the need for a nationwide appraisal of the state of Australia's natural resource base. It will provide an independent, objective assessment of the extent of degradation arising from approximately 20 key land, water and vegetation problems, and an economic analysis of each problem. Funding for the National Forest Inventory of $5 million over five years is included in the total. The audit will also include a National Water Resources Assessment. This assessment will focus on the extent, supply capabilities and demand for water, including environmental needs. The CSIRO has a lead research coordination role and the Cooperative Research Centres for Freshwater Ecology, Catchment Hydrology, Water Quality and Treatment, and Soil and Land Management are also contributing to the audit.

The audit will develop a coherent and integrated national database that will enable changes in the status of Australia's land and water resources to be evaluated periodically. It is proposed that the audit will be managed by an Executive Director reporting to an independent board, including Commonwealth and State departments and research agencies.

Informing Government Decision Making

It is important that the sustainable use, management and conservation of our natural resources is based on the latest information and is underpinned by scientific principles. In addition to the National Land and Water Audit there are a number of other Commonwealth initiatives which inform Government decision making.

Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation

The Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation (LWRRDC) is a statutory body established in 1990, under the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act (PIERD) 1989. The Corporation's primary aim is to identify and fund research and development that will help maintain the natural resource base vital to Australia. Its focus is on the application of the principles of ecologically sustainable development in order to maximise the benefits derived by the community from its land, water and vegetation resources.

In 1997-98, with funding of $10.8 million for that year, the corporation will invest in programmes to improve the productivity and sustainability of land use systems a majority of which will be jointly funded with rural industry groups. Its priority research areas include the sustainable management of land resources (eg prediction, prevention and reversal of dryland salinity), the sustainable management of vegetation resources (eg rehabilitation and management of remnant vegetation) and the sustainable management of water resources, sustainable irrigation systems, integration and adoption of research and development at the catchment scale and sustainable rural industry business systems.


The CSIRO is undertaking a number of projects that will underpin the Government's investment in sustainable natural resource management and the amelioration of land degradation. These activities, which are closely integrated with work on water pollution, water use and water degradation (see Ch. 5), include:

Australian Geological Survey Organisation

The Australian Geological Survey Organisation (AGSO) uses remotely sensed satellite and airborne geographical data to map and model soils. Modelling of groundwater flows is used to assist in the management of river catchments. Research studies are undertaken by AGSO in cooperation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and the LWRRDC.

The objective of AGSO's Land and Water Geoscience Programme, with funding of $6.3 million in 1997-98, is to contribute to the sustainability of Australia's land and groundwater resources. Geoscience information is necessary for natural resource managers to understand and mitigate the effects of land degradation from soil erosion, acidification, structural decline and dryland salinity, and the decline in the quantity and quality of groundwater resources which seriously impact on the viability and sustainability of Australia's pastoral industries.

The land component of the Programme is focused on land degradation and land management. Projects include mapping of degraded catchments and forest surface geology and the management of coastal lands. The water component is focused on groundwater modelling, resources and quality. Projects include hydrogeological studies of the Murray-Darling and Great Artesian Basins, groundwater quality assessment and groundwater resources in Aboriginal lands. An important focus for the programme is the understanding of the interaction of land and water systems.

Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE) provides economic information to decision makers in both the public and private sectors about Australia's agriculture, minerals, energy, forestry and fishing industries. The objective in providing this information is to enhance the economic performance of those industries and, thereby, of Australia as a whole.

ABARE receives $14 million in 1997-98 of its funding from budget appropriation and recovers the remainder through contract research and survey activities. The majority of environmentally related research work is fully cost recovered. However, some budget funded activities are undertaken by ABARE as community service obligations, including data collected through the ABARE Industry Survey Programme which is used, for example, by the National Landcare Programme.

Bureau of Resource Sciences Sustainable Land and Water Resource Programme

The objective of the Sustainable Land and Water Resource programme is to improve policy making on sustainable land and water management issues through the provision of sound, scientifically based information. The Programme has produced a digital data set to quantify the rates of change of vegetation cover of agricultural land (tree clearing and planting) in the intensively used agricultural areas of Australia over the period 1990-1995.

The Cooperative Research Centres Programme

Several of the 27 agriculture and rural based manufacturing and environment Cooperative Research Centres provide information which helps manage and conserve our natural resources.


A National Problem

Land degradation due to dryland salinity is a national problem. The Commonwealth is working with the States and research agencies to address the problem of dryland salinity.

There has been concern for some decades that land and water resources are deteriorating and that losses of agricultural production are increasing through the impact of salinity. Dryland salinity affects about 2.2 million hectares of once productive rural land and costs an estimated $243 million per year in lost agricultural production.

Dryland salinity originates from salt deposited in the landscape over millions of years as a result of marine sedimentation. Widespread land clearing during the past two centuries and the replacement of deep-rooted perennial native vegetation with shallow-rooted annuals have caused water tables to rise, thereby bringing the saline water close to the surface into the root zones of plants. Dryland salinity is an issue that threatens both biodiversity and the productive capacity of land.

The management of salinity involves a number responses. As part of an integrated approach to sustainable land and water management and the conservation of biodiversity, four programmes of the Natural Heritage Trust aim to ameliorate the effect of salinity:


Tree Planting Strategies

One of the problems with addressing salinity is that the salting of soil affects the species that were previously able to grow there. The CSIRO Divisions of Forestry and Forest Products are undertaking several projects aimed at developing tree planting strategies for salt affected land and land where rising water tables will lead to soil salinisation. Research activities include:

The above research may facilitate tree establishment in areas affected by salinity and where wastewater and saline water disposal is a concern. Specific achievements include the publication in 1995 of an authoritative book Trees for Saltland - a guide to selecting native species for Australia.

National Dryland Salinity Research, Development and Extension Programme

The National Dryland Salinity Research, Development and Extension Programme was established jointly by the Commonwealth and State Governments in 1993. Its goal is to generate integrated techniques and approaches for optimal management of dryland salinity in Australia.

The Programme's national coordinated approach is reflected in its key principles. For example:

The programme is funded from a range of sources including:


Best Practice in Mining Activities

Best practice environmental management in the mining industry is being fostered through a cooperative approach between government and industry. For example, Commonwealth and industry are developing guidelines for best practice environmental management in mining. Issues addressed include water management, tailings containment and community consultation.

The Commonwealth is also working with the Australian Centre for Minesite Rehabilitation Research to produce information on best practice environmental management in mining and to encourage strategic research and technology transfer related to mining and the environment. As part of this initiative a database of technical information has been established.

The Commonwealth is providing $820,000 over four years from 1997-98 for the development of national codes of practice to provide uniformity in the development of State legislation and work practice controlling the mining and milling of radioactive ores and the safe disposal of radioactive wastes from mining operations.

There are a number of areas where best practice in protection or minesite remediation is being demonstrated.

Alligator Rivers Region

The Commonwealth is developing standards, practices and procedures to ensure protection of the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region during mining operations and following rehabilitation. Alternative methods are being examined for the treatment of mine waste waters.

Biological monitoring techniques are being developed by which industry can assess the adequacy of their environment protection programmes. Methods are being developed to predict the manner in which the landforms at rehabilitated mine sites will erode over long periods of time. This information will be used to assess options for tailings repositories at the Ranger Uranium Mine.

The Commonwealth is maintaining its commitment to the level of environmental protection achieved over the last seventeen years in relation to uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region. Environmental Performance Reviews of the Ranger and Nabarlek mines occur twice a year. The reviews focus on environmental outcomes, providing feedback on performance and identifying areas for improvement.

Indian Ocean Territories Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands

The Commonwealth is investing $400,000 over four years from 1 July 1996 to address mine site rehabilitation and environmental management in the Indian Ocean Territories.

Christmas Island has to balance the effects of a phosphate mine, resort developments and a national park. Similarly, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a fragile environment with a limited economic base of marine based tourism and infrastructure servicing. The Office of the Supervising Scientist is involved in conducting Environmental Performance Reviews of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands with a view to developing an environmental management plan based on best practice principles. On Christmas Island the Commonwealth is also negotiating a new lease with the phosphate mine and will require an Environmental Management Plan and a Dust Suppression Programme.

Rum Jungle

The Commonwealth is funding a five-year monitoring and maintenance programme on the effectiveness of rehabilitation works at the former Rum Jungle Uranium Mine in the Northern Territory. This programme involves monitoring the impact of the site on contaminant levels in the Finniss River, conducting hydrogeological studies on the waste rock covers and minor maintenance. The $930,000 programme is due for completion in 1997-98.

Managing Mine Waste

Mining and Minerals Managing Mine Wastes Programme

The aim of the $3.5 million funding in 1997-98 for the Mining and Minerals - Managing Mine Wastes Programme is to provide a sound scientific basis for management of mine wastes. This will be achieved through quantitative assessment of the effectiveness of mine waste management options by identifying key parameters, by developing and applying measurement techniques, by developing and applying computational tools, and by ecological risk assessment.

The outcomes of this programme are to demonstrate, at more than one mine site, the achievement of ecologically acceptable levels of contaminants in waters affected by mine waste effluent and quantitative assessments of management options to control pollutant loads in mine waste effluent.

International Development Cooperation

AusAID is supporting a four-year project to assist the China National Non-Ferrous Metals Corporation to overcome environmental problems and land degradation caused by mine waste deposits. The project is examining a number of options including the conversion of tailings sites into agricultural and residential land. The project started in 1993 and the Australian contribution is $7.3 million.

Land Rehabilitation


The former British nuclear test sites at Maralinga are undergoing rehabilitation through a $107 million project over five years from 1994-95. The principal hazard at the test site is plutonium contamination of soil and buried debris. Contaminated soil is being removed and buried in three large trenches. Twenty-one plutonium contaminated debris pits will be treated by an in situ vitrification technique which converts pit contents into intrusion-resistant monoliths using electricity. The rehabilitation is scheduled for completion in 1999-2000.


CSIRO's Minesite rehabilitation programme works with industry in looking at issues such as spoil-pile landform design, tailings pond stabilisation and ecosystem development in former minesites, such as in parts of the Bowen Basin. The CSIRO is also developing environmentally friendly mining and processing technologies.

Contamination of Railway Land

Based on an environmental audit by the Australian National Railways Commission, the Commonwealth allocated $50 million in 1996-97 for the remediation of sites contaminated by railway operation across the nation.

In addition, the Commonwealth will contribute $2 million over two years towards the remediation of contaminated land at the former rail yards at Islington in South Australia, which are currently under Commonwealth control. This will help render these sites suitable for industrial or commercial purposes, after which they will be returned to South Australia.