Land: Institutional responses

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

8.4 Institutional responses

Some positive initiatives are emerging. Natural resource management has become much better integrated into the thinking of land management agencies and farmers’ organisations during the last five years, with many engaging professional staff to help them develop appropriate science and policy. It is likely that these developments will lead to improvements in land condition, provided that appropriate adjustments to farming as an economic pursuit can be achieved. One such adjustment that is already taking place is the recent push for the development of farming accreditation and environmental assurance systems.

There have been significant investments in natural resource management since 2000, at both the national and the state and territory levels. Within regions, the NAP and NHT programmes are driven by an integrated plan to improve natural resources on a regional scale. The plan was developed by natural resource management entities and is supported by state and territory government. Like all evolving systems, this has attracted its share of criticism (Lane 2006).

Fifty-six NHT regions have been established and a natural resource management plan has been developed for each. In most cases, regions are defined based on catchments or bioregions and, where possible, are consistent with those established for the NAP. Each region has at least one regional body formed to manage the region’s natural resources. It is too early in the life of these regional plans to report on the results of their investments in improving the condition of their land and water (although for an early indication, see Green 2006), and there are some concerns about their longevity because most have no long-term funding.

Key points

  • At the national level, the rate of vegetation clearing has decreased in recent years in many states. Nevertheless, declines in vegetation extent and condition, and further fragmenting of vegetated habitat in some areas and regions, are a cause for ongoing action and vigilance.
  • Sheep and cattle grazing derives high economic value for Australia but, in doing so, continues to place heavy pressures on soils, vegetation, and terrestrial and wetland habitats, especially in sensitive areas.
  • The ongoing decline in soil quality is of concern. Despite a lack of definitive data, it is clear that soil acidity, soil salinity, soil erosion and nutrient loss all remain a major threat to the long-term sustainability of Australia’s agricultural environment. The actual extent of the current salinity problem across Australia is currently under review and re-analysis.
  • The need to take a landscape-wide view of land and vegetation management is increasingly being recognised by governments, regional management groups and farmers. Tools that allow local on-ground actions to be integrated into broad-based landscape plans will become increasingly important over the next decade.
  • The regional NAP and NHT programmes remain important in funding and guiding catchment and bioregion-based planning and management actions. It is too early in the life of most of these regional plans to report on the value that is being derived from the extensive community and government investments in natural resources management.