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
One of the purposes of this paper is to comment on the responses to the pressures on the land resource.
Although agricultural activity dominates landscapes throughout the ILZ, there are substantial regional differences in the physical manifestations or symptoms of that domination.
For instance, broad scale clearing of woody vegetation has been extensive in southern Australia but less so in northern Australia. This differential in the extent of vegetation clearing has resulted in almost half of the remaining woody vegetation now being located in Queensland.
Irrigated agriculture is a key activity in some regions, for instance in the Murray–Darling Basin. The Basin accounts for some 60 per cent of total national water use with about 80 per cent of the Murray–Darling River annual flows being diverted, 95 per cent of which is diverted for irrigated agriculture (Yencken and Wilkinson 2000). These differences in the physical manifestations or symptoms of agriculture influence the nature of responses as is illustrated, for instance, by the establishment of programmes focused on particular symptoms such as on salinity and deteriorating water quality.
The pressures on the land resource and the responses to those pressures come primarily from land managers and from the public sector, with the community sector playing a minor supportive role.
The importance of the responses from land managers is crucial for several reasons:
- the majority of the investment in land management comes from land owners and managers who have approximately $100 billion invested in farm assets (Gleeson and Piper 2002)
- land managers are in a position to make and implement decisions that can have both immediate and long-lasting impacts on the condition of the land, both positive and negative
- land managers are in a relatively strong position to accumulate knowledge and wisdom that, given the motivation and capability, enable them to deal with the ecological complexity and heterogeneity that pervades the business of land management.
Notwithstanding the importance of the responses of land managers to the condition of land, virtually no data were available for this commentary to enable an assessment of the effects of those responses on the condition of the land, or in fact on the pressures affecting the condition of the land.
Public sector responses have been focused largely on the impacts of the pressures rather than on the pressures themselves. These responses generally take the form of:
- increased regulatory control, such as now applies universally to broadscale clearing and to the use of veterinary and agricultural chemicals
- the provision of financial incentives to promote and support environmentally related activities
- the strengthening of catchment-based organisational and process arrangements
- support for innovation and education and training.
It is an open question as to whether or not recently introduced changes to these responses, specifically to land clearing legislation, to financial incentives and to catchment based organisational and process arrangements, will result in a lessening of the rate of deterioration of the land resource.
Many past and present public policies and programmes, including the advocacy of land clearing and intensive grazing systems, certain forms of drought assistance and land tenure arrangements, promote or enable practices that impact adversely on the natural resource base. Furthermore a wide range of macro-economic, competition and other generic policy settings affect land management practices and, consequently, the condition of land. Although not covered specifically by this commentary, it needs to be recognised that these policies do affect the condition of land in very substantial ways.
Responses to date to the pressures on the land resource have not been sufficient to prevent a continued deterioration in the state of the land resource or, at best, to remove the threat of a continued deterioration in the condition of the resource. Hence, unless one postulates that non-anthropogenic factors will counterbalance the impacts of human activities, an unlikely scenario, then the deterioration is likely to continue unless there are changes in the pressures on the resource or in the responses to those pressures.