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Speech by Senator the Hon Robert Hill,
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
25 September 1996
This year in Australia, we are celebrating an anniversary of great significance. In 1986, a handful of people in the tiny community of Winjallok in the Victorian Wimmera formed the first Landcare group.
Looking at the bare and eroded hills of that district, a handful of trailblazers decided that they could do something to halt the decline of their farms and the landscape.
I suspect that those people had no idea their determination and vision would so quickly inspire and unite a nation.
As we stand here today, Landcare is an unquestioned part of the fabric of our society. It provides us with a model and an ethic which is showing us the way forward.
How remarkable it is then that the word 'Landcare' had not even been coined more that ten years ago.
When the decade of Landcare was embraced and launched nationally in July 1989, we as a nation set ourselves the target of establishing 2,000 Landcare groups by the year 2000.
That target was passed in late 1994, and now more than 325,000 people are actively involved in Landcare in Australia.
That is an enormous reservoir of energy and goodwill. I know that I am talking to practitioners here today, the people who get their hands dirty doing the real work. And I know that as you wrestle with dense infestations of weeds such as St. John's Wort, or African Lovegrass or Willow trees choking creek lines, you must despair that there are not enough hands to do the job required.
That may be true at the moment, but we must not forget what we have achieved in the last 10 years, as we consider what we may be able to do in the next ten.
There is certainly now a widespread and clear recognition of our problem. And it is essentially one problem - one problem with a variety of symptoms. The 1996 State of the Environment Report tells us quite bluntly that the underlying material wealth of Australia, our natural resources are depreciating.
We hear comment often enough that the time for talk is over, that we need to move beyond awareness raising and planning, and start putting plans into action on the ground.
This is a key objective of the Natural Heritage Trust that we intend to create.
The key principles which will underpin administration of the trust include a strong emphasis on community participation in priority setting and implementation, a focus on causes rather than symptoms, and integrated delivery of programs at a catchment or regional level.
I am delighted to say that these are all principles or lessons that we have learnt from Landcare - and particularly the Community Grants component of the National Landcare Program.
With relatively little funding, the Save the Bush and One Billion Trees Community Grants Programs have made a tangible difference. They have helped communities deliver projects on the ground.
As a Government, we have said that we want to re-focus the NLP toward the practical action and outcomes which have already been achieved by these community based programs.
An indication of the high regard in which we hold these programs is demonstrated in this year's Budget. Funding for the Community Grants programs has been maintained at 1995-96 levels.
In 1996-97, 146 community groups will receive one and a half million dollars ($1.5m.) in Save the Bush funding.
Another 145 groups will receive one million dollars ($1m.) from the One Billion Trees program.
I won't try to kid you about the enormity of the job that those community groups are grappling with. That is why, simply, we need even more money.
As you know, we are in something of a holding pattern at the moment until the establishment of the Natural Heritage Trust, which is dependent on the one-third sale of Telstra.
The Government has made a commitment to provide an extra $164 million over five years for the National Landcare Program, an additional $318 million for the National Vegetation Initiative and another $85 million for a National Reserve Initiative as part of the Natural Heritage Trust package.
It is real money. It will - as I am sure those of you here today will be aware - make a real difference.
Of course, throwing money at a problem does not necessarily make it go away.
We have not allowed for or invested adequately in repairs and maintenance for this great old continent, which has provided for us so abundantly.
True conservation is based on understanding that environmental protection is an investment in natural capital. Conservation is neither an alternative land use nor an opportunity cost. It is the fundamental protection of our natural resources which underwrite our material wealth. That is why we called our Budget Environment Statement this year 'Investing in our Natural Heritage'.
Realising that it is time to put something back is the fundamental lesson that that very first Landcare group at Winjallok knew and acted upon. It has been perhaps best explained by one of the founding fathers of the Australian Landcare movement, Brian Roberts who said in 1984:
"Nature has sent us a final notice - payment is due, and we need to decide HOW we shall pay, not WHETHER we shall pay."
Save the Bush and One Billion Trees Programs have demonstrated many times over that they are part of the way we can make this payment. They deliver value for money because they are community initiatives with a multiplier effect. Communities define these projects, and want to be involved. Clearly, this is the way to tackle the problem.
As a Government, we may fund these projects, but we do not own them or initiate them. We are part of the partnership, but the credit is largely due elsewhere.
These projects are owned by the people. They know the problems on the ground, they know what needs to be done.
We want to see even greater devolution of funding and decision making under the NLP to the lowest practical level, involving the community as much as possible.
As usual, we have had to talk much about money and budgets today. But one of the important things Landcare has reminded us of is that money isn't everything. I spoke earlier about the ethic, or values, behind Landcare. Those values are based on a world view that the American naturalist and philosopher Aldo Leopold has referred to so eloquently:
"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise. That the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts ... the land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, water, plants, animals, or collectively, the land."
A recent survey found that the Olympic symbol - the five interlocking blue, yellow, black, green and red rings - are recognised around the world by 92% of people. That is very impressive, but the modern Olympic movement has had 100 years to build that level of recognition for its product and the ideals on which it is built.
I put it to you that we have achieved an overwhelming recognition and acceptance for Landcare and the ideals which drive it in a fraction of the time.
Let me now go back to my opening point about this year being the anniversary of the formation of the first Landcare group. Back then 1986 may have seemed like any other year. But future generations of Australians will see it as a turning point. Those future Australians will thank you many times over. They will know that the work you are doing and the commitment that you have made represents the best of what we are capable of as individuals and as a society. They will be grateful to you for seeing so clearly the job that we must all do.
Congratulations to the four ACT Community Landcare groups here today. It is my pleasure to present you with letters offering Save the Bush and One Billion Trees funding which will make your huge task just that little bit easier: