Australian Actions to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation

National Report by Australia on Measures Taken to Support Implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Commonwealth Intergovernmental Working Group for the UNCCD, April 2002

Domestic Initiatives to Combat Desertification (continued)

Indigenous Issues

Indigenous peoples have a special relationship with the rangelands and are substantial stakeholders within the region, managing approximately 18 percent of the total land area. Indigenous peoples can have concepts of conservation and land use which differ from those of other rangeland users. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, owned by the region's traditional Aboriginal custodians and managed jointly with Department of the Environment and Water Resources, provides an example of how indigenous knowledge is being used in rangeland management.

Case Study - Indigenous Land Management Facilitators

1. Problem

Indigenous Land Management

Until recently there has been a lack of practical two-way links between Indigenous land managers and other individuals and agencies involved in sustainable land management and nature conservation activities. Consequently there was often a lack of awareness between indigenous communities and Commonwealth Government policy makers with regard to particular land management issues and initiatives within regions.

2. Location/landscapes/landuses

All regions of Australia.

3. Social information

The Federal Government recognises that Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Australians are a major stakeholder in the management and protection of Australia's natural and cultural resources.

4. What was done

To help Indigenous Australians address their land management needs, contribute to national objectives and to gain access to the $1.5 billion Natural Heritage Trust funding, the Federal Government has established a national network of 13 Indigenous Land Management Facilitators. The Facilitators provide assistance to Indigenous people involved in land management. They are funded through the Bushcare and National Landcare Programs, and are employed through regionally based host agencies covering all regions.

The role of the Indigenous Land Management Facilitator is to:

  • Act as a link between Indigenous land managers and other individuals and organisations involved in promoting sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation;
  • Ensure that Indigenous communities within a region are aware of the land management issues and initiatives in their region;
  • Provide information to the Indigenous community about the Natural Heritage Trust and other programs of support available;
  • Provide feedback to Commonwealth Government policy makers on land management issues of concern to Indigenous communities; and
  • Raise awareness by Government agencies and non-Indigenous communities of Indigenous values, aspirations and capacity in land management.

5. Who was involved

Indigenous land manager facilitators, indigenous and non-indigenous communities, and government policy makers.

6. Value of outcomes for ecologically sustainable natural resource management

The goal of the Indigenous Land Management Facilitators Program project is to encourage Indigenous communities to participate in Natural Heritage Trust projects on land under their care, or in which they have an interest.

The facilitators provide information to Indigenous communities about the types of support and technical advice that is available to assist them with the land management issues on their lands. The facilitators also provide feedback to Commonwealth Government policy-makers on land management issues that are of concern to Indigenous communities, and help to raise awareness within Government agencies and the non-Indigenous communities of Indigenous values, aspirations and capacity in land management.

Land management projects involving Indigenous communities include:

  • establishing nurseries for revegetation with native plants;
  • rabbit and weed control;
  • reducing the extent and effect of seasonal wild fires;
  • fencing out stock from ecologically sensitive areas such as river banks; and
  • developing interpretation trails to inform the broader community about Indigenous land management practices and the benefits of protecting cultural sites.

Through the Natural Heritage Trust, funding has been provided for a support network of Aboriginal land management facilitators. Duties of the facilitators include: raising awareness and providing information on land and nature conservation issues; facilitating the formation of group activity appropriate to Aboriginal people; assisting groups to plan and implement enterprise development and landcare activities; and assisting in the development of linkages between community groups, government agencies, non-Aboriginal landholders and private enterprise.

The Trust has also provided funding for indigenous groups to improve the management of land under their control. Activities funded include: improving fire management, revegetation for dust suppression in semi-arid communities, fencing to exclude feral animals from water sources, and planting of species suitable as native bush food sources.

Case Study - RiskHerd

RISKHerd: taxation policy instruments and grazing management in the rangelands

Principal investigator: Mark Stafford Smith, CSIRO Centre for Arid Zone Research, Alice Springs, NT 0871.
(funded by Land and Water Australia's Climate Variability in Agriculture Research & Development Program with CSIRO).

1. Problem

The RISKHerd project evolved out of concerns expressed by producers and policy stakeholders that federal government taxation-policy instruments designed to assist farmers and graziers in managing production risks were actually undermining efforts for sustainable resource management within the pastoral industry.

2. Location/landscapes/landuses

The project looked explicitly at 6 regions of the rangelands of Australia, including sheep and cattle enterprises on vegetation systems with different degrees of resilience, with different levels of climatic variability and different access to markets.

3. Social information

The project sought to link policy-makers at a national level with regional farmer groups in a way that permitted some two-way flow of information and understanding.

4. What was done

The project had 3 interwoven strands - policy consultation, producer consultation, and modelling - operating at national and regional levels. The involvement of a national policy steering group guided preliminary analyses based on existing data and thereafter provided direction to the remainder of the project. Consultation with producers in six main regions around the rangelands involved surveying their use of tax instruments then discussing these in more detail with a subset of people in each region.

From this information (and other sources), we constructed models of typical enterprises in each region and analysed the implications of using different tax instruments on these, looking at a stochastic analysis of thousands of realistic climatic sequences coupled with sensible probability distributions of prices and other financial and biophysical drivers. The models were coupled models of pasture production and condition, animal production and farmer level management decision-making, with farm-level economics and a taxation module which accounted for the policy options. Error propagation between model modules was managed with great care!

The regional surveys and discussion provide a rich source of understanding about why different instruments may or may not be popular in different regions, thereby helping us to interpret the modelling results. These have been finalised in 7 major reports but are still being summarised into a 16-page policy-maker communications document and on to a CD-ROM.

5. Who was involved

Innovatively, the project engaged federal policy-makers and lobbyists as well as individual farmers in regions with different production characteristics around the rangelands. The federal steering group included senior participants from the National Farmers Federation (the national farmers' lobby group), Agriculture Forestry Fisheries Australia (the national department of agriculture), the Department of Treasury, the Australian Taxation Office (federal agency responsible for collecting tax within Treasury's policy guidelines) and NSW Agriculture (a state department of agriculture). Some 150 pastoralists were surveyed across the continent, and about 30 of these interviewed in detail to provide data for modelling. Where possible, pastoralist groups were involved to broaden the involvement. Tax issues turned out to be close to the heart of many.

6. Value of outcomes for ecologically sustainable natural resource management

The findings showed that there are some notable opportunities to consider changes that could reduce tax-related public investment in the grazing industries, whilst benefiting the long-term future of the industry and its natural resource management. An eventual move towards a more market-oriented herd valuation system could permit the removal of livestock elections and even re-consideration of income averaging, thus dramatically changing three major current tax instruments. Benefits could include better signals in relation to sustainable resource management, a better ability to respond to emerging technologies that assist with self-reliance, and a reduction of cost to the public purse.

The retention of farm management deposits (another tax-related instrument) would help with some issues not covered by these changes. Such a change would be at a short term financial cost to pastoralists which can be argued to be comparable to the long-term financial implications of the resource changes promoted by low valuations, at least in the regions where we have been able to formally assess these. However, there are major transition costs, which industry would not be likely to accept in their entirety. The project showed why this is so and why it might still be in the public interest to consider such a transition.

The study focused on grazing management in the more remote and lightly settled parts of the continent. Obviously changing the system would have implications for agriculture in other regions, and the findings do not necessarily apply equally to these. Because of this it was not expected that there would be instant policy changes as a result of the project, especially given the contentious transition issues. However, the study has added to the increasing weight of evidence in favour of some policy changes in this area, and the abbreviated policy-maker summary is expected to stay on the shelves of the participating agencies towards the day when the political environment allows a new review of taxation policy to occur. The study has also highlighted how the implementation of some other investments in self-reliance for agricultural industries is being blocked by out-of-date taxation conditions.

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