Land: Institutional pressures

Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Dennis
(2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2006

8.3 Institutional pressures

A major pressure on Australia’s land has been the slow recognition and acceptance of the fact that landscapes are used and valued for more than one thing at a time. Products that have a dollar value (such as crops , minerals  or forestry products ) have generally been given primacy over ‘products’, such as landscape function, biodiversity, carbon balancing, water quality or heritage, with a value that is difficult to measure. This has been the case for generations, but it nevertheless must change in the context of a wide range of macro-economic, competition and other generic policy settings that affect land management practices.

Agriculture, with the large area of land it uses, is the most obvious and dominant example. Many past and some present public policies and programmes contribute to landscape decline. These include the advocacy of land clearing and intensive grazing systems, certain forms of drought assistance, and land tenure arrangements, all of which promote or enable practices that impact adversely on the natural resource base.

While it is becoming more widely accepted that land management is the responsibility of all Australians, much policy is still targeted at single sectors and single issues. For example, environmental legislation tends to focus on one issue, such as vegetation cover or water or chemical use, leaving land managers to decipher and apply apparently unconnected regulatory requirements across a range of highly connected activities. Support, when it does come, has historically been transient, not integrated and costly, and has failed to fully exploit landholder motivations and capabilities. In this regard, governments need to support regulatory frameworks with education, training and compliance-monitoring efforts that address the interconnectedness of landscapes.

There is also a fear that mandating environmental practices or outcomes will constrain trade between countries, and thus may disadvantage Australia as a trading nation. Others subscribe to the alternative view that failure to sign up to mandatory environmental outcomes may jeopardise Australia’s position as a trading nation.

The management of Australia’s landscapes requires three things. Firstly, institutional arrangements are needed that recognise the multi-industry nature of most Australian farms. Secondly, support is needed for systemic and revolutionary innovations to improve landscape sustainability. Thirdly, incremental innovations directed towards the needs of existing operators in existing businesses must continue (Corrish 2005).

The paucity of relevant time series data sets has inhibited the development of more effective responses. Biophysical data are needed to assess the condition of the environment and the pressures acting on it. Such data are also needed to inform the beliefs and values governing the design and operation of the institutional arrangements that drive the pressures and inhibit the responses