Mr PETER DRAPER
(Tamworth) [5.49 p.m.]: It is time to rejuvenate Landcare. Since its establishment in New South Wales, Landcare has enabled community members to come together and learn about their local environment, to investigate ways of managing it better, and to implement those actions. The grassroots method of engagement, neighbours learning from neighbours, has the benefit of community ownership—the connection, innovation and outcomes are theirs, and they are proud of it. The idea was adopted nationally, with a partnership between the National Farmers Federation and the Australian Conservation Foundation leading into the decade of Landcare.
In New South Wales the former Department of Conservation and Land Management was the lead agency. While there were some Landcare groups in New South Wales prior to 1989, it was from that time that Landcare really took off—expanding from 54 groups in 1989 to 1,500 in 1999. Landcare was used as the basis for the Farming for the Future Program that has helped thousands of farm families, property managers, and Landcare group members to implement sustainable and viable agricultural practices. In 1996 12 facilitators were employed to encourage formation of networks of Landcare groups. In 1997 the Australian Government launched the Natural Heritage Trust and provided significant funds to ramp up activities, including combating salinity, soil, erosion and loss of biodiversity, and encouraging the uptake of conservation tillage and improved grazing management.
By 2003 there were 130 regional and community support staff. Those young and enthusiastic professionals added significant value to their communities. They were supported by the Landcare Support Unit within the Department of Land and Water Conservation. The partnership between Government staff and the 130 front-line staff enabled the resources of both the Government and the community to work together far more effectively than either organisation could on their own. In 2004 the Government introduced its regional model with statutory catchment management authorities. The catchment management authorities are resourced with approximately 500 staff.
Previous Landcare staff in many regions have been either terminated or absorbed into the catchment management authorities. Despite the resources, many people feel that some catchment management authorities have struggled to deliver the community cohesion, improved knowledge, and management capabilities that were the hallmark of Landcare. They feel that some catchment management authorities have seen Landcare as a competitor and have tended to bypass Landcare so that they can claim all outcomes in their catchments as their own.
I cite some examples of how Landcare organisations in the electorate of Tamworth have made significant contributions. The Upper Timbumburi Landcare Group Inc. was specifically mentioned by the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, at the March National Landcare Forum for its excellent work in preventing erosion. The group is part of the Tamworth-Manilla Landcare Association, which recently managed the local EcoSmart Sustainable Living Expo, which showcased energy and water efficient homes, including displays of other new sustainable technologies. Locals flocked to see the innovations. Local businesses report increased sales of environmentally friendly products and technology in the area.
Liverpool Plains Land Management, as well as running the Gunnedah EcoSmart Expo, has built a community garden in partnership with TAFE. The group involves children from the local G. S. Kidd Memorial School in Gunnedah for children with disabilities as well as residents of the local aged care homes. Southern New England Landcare is managing the High Country Urban Biodiversity Project. This $2 million Environmental Trust project involves the rehabilitation of urban bushland and waterways, greater household resource conservation, and an increase in community awareness.
Landcare in my electorate has been able to achieve real change in community attitudes and behaviour as well as massive change to the condition of the landscape. This is illustrated by a Liverpool Plains Land Management Inc. Natural Heritage Trust project implemented between 2001 and 2005. Work focused on achieving appropriate revegetation and implementation of scientifically based salinity management strategies on the principal recharge areas of the lower slopes of the Liverpool Ranges, which is an area of 291,000 hectares. The outcomes are that water tables have been lowered, saline seepage into streams has been reduced, and salt loads that have been delivered to the Namoi River have started to stabilise.
Ninety-three landholders were successful in obtaining incentive funding to implement changed land management practices over a 17,750 hectare area, including works to establish or enhance native vegetation on 12,360 hectares, protection of native vegetation on 1660 hectares, rehabilitation of remnants on 10,329 hectares and revegetation of 378 hectares. In addition, 99,650 tree seedlings were planted, 41.5 kilometres of waterways were protected and 30.2 kilometres of gullies were rehabilitated. Since the inception of the regional model New South Wales Government support for Landcare has been non-existent. The Landcare Support Unit no longer exists, most of the 130 community staff have disappeared, leaving 1,950 Landcare groups involving 50,000 members unsupported. If the Government wants to engage the community, if it wants people to learn how to reduce our carbon footprint, if it wants to restore and enhance our environment and if it wants to increase land manager awareness, Landcare has the credibility and the connections to do exactly that. Landcare just needs support from the Government.