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By Senator Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment
23 October 1996
Mr John Hannagan (Alcoa Australia), Mr Brian Scarsbrick (Landcare Australia), and members of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, thank you for inviting me here today to address you at the launch of this program to encourage continued corporate sector support for Landcare.
It's a credit to the commitment displayed by Australian people and industry that Landcare has grown to be Australia's largest grass roots community movement giving practical expression to the concept of Ecologically Sustainable Development.
I am aware of the keen interest and commitment to Landcare which your members have shown, in particular the sponsors for today's lunch, Alcoa Australia. Alcoa's role in supporting the Landcare movement and their own environmental management program, especially in the Jarrah forests of Western Australia, are an excellent example of corporate sector leadership in achieving practical environmental action.
Up to 1994, the Alcoa Landcare Project had provided more than 2 million seedlings for community and farmer planting projects, directly sown over 4 million trees from seed, treated nearly 5,000 hectares of salt and erosion affected land, established more than 700 specific Alcoa Landcare sites in WA and Victoria, assisted more than 60 Graduate Diplomas in Land Rehabilitation through Ballarat University, established Landcare Education Centres in WA and Victoria and established seedbanks at Portland and Melbourne.
The Alcoa Landcare project provides corporate knowledge, planning and expertise to assist in the reversal of Australia's greatest environmental problem - land degradation. The Booklet which I am launching today provides an excellent summary of Alcoa's involvement and achievements in partnership with the community and government organisations.
In congratulating Alcoa, I also want to congratulate other corporate sponsors of Landcare Australia and the Landcare Founding including Ansett Airlines of Australia, BP Australia, Ford Australia, Fuji Xerox Australasia Pty Ltd, Gerard Industries Pty Ltd, Hanimex Australia Pty Ltd, Monsanto, North Limited, Placer Pacific Limited, Telstra Corporation, The BHP Company Limited and the Uncle Tobys Company. It is my hope that many more Australian companies will support Landcare and other community based programs such as Coastcare and Waterwatch, to help 'reclaim our future'.
I wanted to mention a series of seminars and workshops over the next few months, hosted by Landcare Australia and Alcoa to introduce new members of corporate Australia to a successful model for corporate involvement in Landcare. The workshops will introduce key stakeholders within the Landcare movement and will include tours of successful Landcare projects. Alcoa will explain their corporate Landcare philosophy and the company's reasons for establishing a Landcare project that is integral to the core business of Australia's largest alumina producer.
The expertise of corporate Australia in managing business, in managing change and in managing the environment provides invaluable assistance and encouragement to the Australian regional and rural sector through the Landcare movement.
It is appropriate to reflect upon what has already been achieved through the Decade of Landcare, and to recognise strengths upon which we can build.
Since its beginning in 1988, Landcare has grown to have over 3,000 Landcare community groups across Australia - with over 30,000 people currently members of a Landcare group. A remarkable achievement for a voluntary program.
Landcare has generated profound increases in awareness, widespread changes of attitude and strengthening of community resolve. The issues we are tackling are long term and intractable, not amenable to quick fixes or magic bullets. Success will come only with patience and sustained effort.
We firmly believe that the people who live in a community, a catchment or a region, and this includes business - are central to efforts to improve management of natural resources. The philosophy of Landcare recognises that they are key to the solution.
I am told that there is no equivalent to the Landcare movement in other advanced industrialised economies.
We have become accustomed to community-based farm and catchment planning, to community involvement through programs such as Waterwatch, and to allowing direct community inputs into how funding is allocated.
You may regard this as unremarkable, but in international arenas it is seen as extremely innovative.
The success of Landcare in getting people involved, and in starting the process of understanding problems and planning solutions, has been remarkable. That one in three farm families is involved in a Landcare group provides a great foundation for strategic investment.
If Landcare is to grow further, it must broaden its vision to tackle the key threats to land, water and vegetation management and biodiversity conservation. A key finding of the recent review of the National Decade of Landcare Plan was that a strategic approach is required to integrate the management of soil, water and biological resources and that improved mechanisms are required to encourage retention of remnant native vegetation.
We should remember that over the long term, ecological constraints are as binding on agricultural systems as are the disciplines of the market. The view that environmental best-practice and long-term profits are competing goals is wrong, as many of you involved in the industrial and mining sectors have realised long ago.
The recently released 1996 State of the Environment report, highlights the importance of Australia's unique biodiversity and that the loss of this biodiversity that has occurred from excess clearing, inappropriate use of streams and waterways and other losses of habitat.
In a non technical way, biodiversity is the variety of all life forms: the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, their genes and the ecosystems of which they are a part.
Biodiversity underpins the natural resource base of our agricultural systems and the value-added service industries which it supports. It is vital to these industries that through the Landcare program greater attention is given to protecting the core ecological assets.
The long term viability of Australia's natural resource based industries is, therefore, dependent on the effective management of biodiversity - a critical but poorly understood concept.
The Australian Financial Review of 26 July reported that there is a wave sweeping through world economies which is seeing business and environmental interests converge for commercial gain.
A classic example, being used by a number of industries, is the 'clean and green' image. Several states, notably Tasmania, are using it as a slogan to attract international customers, particularly to their agricultural outputs.
This means that environment protection must become an everyday part of industries 'quality assurance'. For agriculture based industries, like food processing, this means, among other things, protecting the natural resources of land through programs like Landcare.
"Clean and Green", if it is to work for us, must be much more than a slogan. It must be a guiding principle in everything we do in natural resource management, from research to downstream processing and marketing.
Australia's clean and green image will be judged through actions on a wide variety of environmental issues, including the protection of our natural resources, but more importantly on our efforts in relation to the protection of our native plant and animal species, the health of the rivers, coasts and oceans and the protection of old-growth forest and wilderness.
Even corporate accountants are now appreciating the benefits to industry from improved environmental outcomes. And there are sound economic reasons for better environmental behaviour. Take the River Murray - high salt - the result of poor environmental practices destroys the natural heritage but in my State, South Australia, it also degrades industrial boilers and other machinery - resulting in higher maintenance costs.
The banking industry is also seeing the light when it comes to Landcare. Banks are encouraging farmers to complete a Property Management Plan, in which they detail the holistic management of their properties, both financially and environmentally.
The banks realise that these plans show how farmers are going to manage their property over the long term and draw an income from their natural capital rather than draw on the capital itself. Otherwise the life systems which support that income will be ultimately exhausted.
Successful Landcare action is good for business. An example is the Shepparton Irrigation Region in northern Victoria where, in 1991 an action plan was completed to combat rising water tables and salinity which were expected to impact on the region's economy, 37,000 hectares have been protected by drainage and over 1 million trees planted. The investment by governments and the community in these activities have reassured investors of the long term sustainability of the region and resulted in $420 million of private investment in the food industry from 19 companies over the last three years.
Strategic tree planting also reduces greenhouse and we are working with Landcare Australia to see if we can develop programs which Corporate Australia might support which will produce timber for industry and carbon sinks and to give some benefit during transitional phase to reduced emissions.
The Government is keen to work with industry and groups such as Landcare Australia and Greening Australia to consider a scheme which enhances greenhouse sinks and provides credit to companies investing in appropriate vegetation programs as well as providing all these other environmental benefits.
Landcare will be supported by Government through the Natural Heritage Trust.
Because Australia is trying to develop export-oriented, internationally competitive, resource-based industries within a small, deregulated, open economy, on some of the oldest and most impoverished soils on the planet.
We realise environmental problems will increasingly affect our productivity, our trade and our international standing.
The Government's proposed Natural Heritage Trust is the next big step in the awesome task of turning around land and environmental degradation and the ecological benefits which flow from the Trust will make a real contribution to national wealth.
Through the Natural Heritage Trust we will be able to strengthen Landcare. We will have to target our money wisely. We will do this by to developing strategically focussed management plans which will draw all interests in an area together.
In the future, projects will have an integrated focus - incorporating management of water quality and quantity, vegetation protection and re-establishment, soil protection, erosion prevention and providing strategic networks for biodiversity.
Land degradation affects all Australians and Landcare provides a vehicle for all Australians to come together and address those problems. When the Government supports Landcare it supports a community movement. When you support Landcare you do likewise.
In launching this initiative for corporate involvement in Landcare I commend it to you as a means of bringing Australians together, to build the Australia we want.
The support of corporate Australia is vital in ensuring the continuing effectiveness and growth of Landcare.
Landcare is good for business - and business is good for Landcare, as we have seen by the example of Alcoa and others.
I hope that we will continue to see increasing investment in the environment by Australian industry. I can assure you that its a win/win investment. Good for business and good for the environment.
Let me conclude by congratulating Landcare Australia for its leadership, thank those companies who have supported the movement and thank the volunteers of the Foundation for their fundraising efforts.