Tony Gleeson, Synapse Research & Consulting
Alex Dalley, Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Dili, East Timor
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
To recap, the purpose of this commentary is to identify and discuss the implications of the data on trends in the condition of the land resource, the pressures on the land resource and the efficacy of responses to those pressures.
The commentary has focused on the land resource in the Intensive Landuse Zone (ILZ) and, within that zone, on the pressures arising from agriculture, the dominant user of the land resource.
The limited available national trend data point to continued deterioration in the condition of the land resource. The extent of woody vegetative cover in the ILZ is still decreasing and many ecosystems are threatened. Soil erosion is occurring at rates that threaten the health and productive capacity of ecosystems. The problems of soil salinity and acidity are widespread and unabated.
National-scale data do not identify the positive and negative changes that occur at lower spatial levels. Conversely, property level perspectives do not, by themselves, capture the significance of pressures and responses occurring further up the spatial scale.
There are considerable pressures on the land resource in the ILZ from agriculture. This reflects agriculture’s high levels of access to land and water resources in the ILZ and continuing pressures to increase the volume of agricultural production.
Whilst it can be argued that it is neither desirable nor realistic to ‘fix’ ecosystems at a particular point in time, it can also be argued that it is unwise to accelerate changes in particular directions as now occurs, especially when the consequences are not and cannot be fully known and when many may not be reversible.
Responses to agricultural pressures focus primarily on the impacts of the pressures. Consequently policy and programme analysts and land managers face an uphill battle against the strong economic and cultural forces supporting greater extraction of agricultural product from the ecosystems in the ILZ. If the national will is to maintain or improve the condition of land then new and additional effort will be required.
Widespread institutional paralysis and complacency is the most significant threat to the land resource. This condition festers behind misunderstandings of the current contribution of agriculture to the economy and to the social fabric of rural and urban Australia. The resultant shrouding of Australian mindscapes prevents new ways of visioning rural landscapes and of our places in those landscapes.
Tinkering at the edges of failed policies and production practices will not restore or protect the land resource. Rather there is a need to release the motivation and the creativity necessary to find new pathways to new destinations.
These things are possible.
Australia has motivated, experienced and capable land managers and support personnel who have a passion to improve land condition. These men and women need to be enabled.
We need to remove the shackles of externally established goals and targets. We need to remove the shackles of excessive project fragmentation and short-term scheduling. We need to move from punitive command and control approaches to ones that challenge and reward exploration of pathways that lead to more sustained outcomes. We need to support those explorations with the considerable informational, skill, financial, and technology resources available in the public and private sectors. In short, we need enabling leadership.