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Minister Tony Burke - address at 2010 National Landcare Forum.

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23 March 2010

So as we are now only a handful of months away from the 21st birthday for Landcare it's a really important time, not simply to celebrate what's been done and what's been achieved so far, but to determine what are the new questions and how do we make sure that Landcare continues to be the answer.

Tony Burke - address at 2010 National Landcare Forum, Adelaide

23 March 2010

Thanks very much and can I begin by saying a very deep thank you on behalf
of all of us for that Welcome to Country. That was an extraordinary and a
wonderful way to begin. I think of all the different gatherings and
conferences where there can be a Welcome to Country it strikes a particular
chord amongst the people here today who spend so much of their time looking
after, rehabilitating, and caring for that same land. That was a Welcome
that I think was very much felt by each and every one of us.

I often address conferences, but I look around today and this is not your
typical conference - this is a movement. I take particular pride in, a role
that some of my colleagues had for many years as part of the catalyst for
building this movement. Around the Cabinet table, I sit one away from
[Minister for Trade] Simon Crean. Simon still regards his role in a new
partnership between the Australian Government, the Australian Conservation
Foundation and the National Farmers Federation as one of his most important
legacies from his time in this portfolio 20 years ago. The partnership was
based on two pillars - how we build biodiversity and how can we do that in a
way that helps with productivity? How can doing the right thing for the
environment match doing the right thing for private land managers? That
work, I had understood in a general sense, mainly from watching the TV ads
when I was growing up and by occasionally getting involved in the local
council tree plantings.

But I started to understand Landcare in a much more direct way when I began
to meet all of you after I first got this job. From the time I first got out
of the car today, to when I walked to the front of this room, there would
have been about 20 of you who I said "g'day" to. And on almost every
occasion the first time we met was somewhere out on the land that you help
work on. There were very few people who I met for the second time today
where our first meeting was in an office. I think that has been an important
part of me gaining a better understanding of the work that you do.

A moment ago, just as I was walking in, I said g'day to Lachie Gall and his
wife Jo. It was very early on in the portfolio when I was out at their
property near Broken Hill. I remember the opening line, Lachie saying, 'your
electorate is about 40 hectares', I think the figure was. He said, 'Yeah
I've got a paddock that's that size'. It gave me the sense of some of the
challenges of land management, like the scale of the work that's done.

In the same way, Tony Windsor took me out very early on to a local Landcare
group for Upper Timbumburi at Stan and Isabelle Lee's place. Now when we
arrived that day - and I remember this, there were people from Namoi CMA
there as well - there had just been torrential rain which, as a new
agriculture minister, you take full credit for. There had been torrential
rain and I remember it was still a little bit light that day. We were having
a cup of tea under a slightly covered area. It was said to me then by some
people who had been working the area for many years, "If this was even seven
years ago with the rain we just had there would be gullies everywhere.
Instead, because of the Landcare work that we've just done, all of the water
that has fallen is now saved and stored in the soil." This is a fundamental
change in the quality of the land with all the biodiversity benefits that
come from it.

That's been one of the extraordinary things with Landcare over the years.
The questions have changed - the question of biodiversity, of productivity,
of drought and how do you store moisture in the soil? Where there is a whole
lot of rain, occasionally all coming at once, and problems of salinity that
come with that. The question has kept changing; the answer of Landcare has
remained unchanged.

So as we are now only a handful of months away from the 21st birthday for
Landcare it's a really important time, not simply to celebrate what's been
done and what's been achieved so far, but to determine what are the new
questions and how do we make sure that Landcare continues to be the answer.

I was concerned, late last year when I visited Borenore out near Orange.
Michael and Tanya Pratten own a property there and they're involved in some
of the most extraordinary land management work I have ever seen. The work
that they have done on that property is part of the Environmental
Stewardship Program, and they have done some extraordinary work in looking
after native vegetation and some endangered species. When I asked Michael
how long he had been involved in Landcare, his response was, "Oh I'm not."
And I think we've got a challenge there to work through the fact that the
work that he was doing undoubtedly was Landcare and yet he didn't associate
with it.

This is one of the challenges that I want us to work through - whether we
see Landcare as purely being a group of thousands of local community groups
or whether we view Landcare as a movement for landscape change. It's a
fundamentally different - whether Landcare is an outcome or simply a system
of organisation. I think if we look at the system of organisation alone we
sell ourselves terribly short because the whole reason for starting up more
than 20 years ago was because of what could be achieved and we must never
lose sight of those objectives, of seeing it for its outcomes.

While we view Landcare by its outcomes, we do view the local community
groups as an intrinsic part of that. A focus on outcomes in no way
undermines the benefits that come from local community organisations,
because those benefits in many communities - particularly through the
drought stricken years - have created incredible social benefits which must
not be overlooked. Those social benefits have worked because there's been a
focus on the outcomes. So the challenges that I'd ask us to consider during
the meetings today and in the following days and in your local areas for
many months following this, are to work through what are the changing
outcomes that we need to achieve.

Now I'm not going to pretend for a minute that either side of Government has
got the engagement with Landcare spot on over the years. In areas where
environmental stewardship is running. I've been to properties where someone
has referred to their Landcare work, not as Landcare but as the National
Heritage Trust (NHT) work or the Natural Resource Management (NRM) work. If
we are still committed to the outcomes of that original partnership between
the Government , the NFF and the ACF - the outcomes of landscape change -
then I think we need to acknowledge that while Governments have clumsily
tried to change the brand, the one that survives all comes back to that
concept of landcare.

We have three challenges that I do not believe were contemplated 20 years
ago. I want to make sure that Landcare is the answer to all three. It's
going to be your call as to whether or not we do it. The three challenges
that weren't seriously contemplated 20 years ago were food security, climate
change, and the changing nature of how people volunteer. Because all three
have seen a fundamental shift.

Food security is not necessarily a challenge in Australia in the way it's a
challenge in other countries. We still export more than 60% of what we grow.
We don't have a problem in being able to feed our own population but our
planet does. We help here in two ways. First, through the extraordinary work
International Landcare does. I do want to acknowledge the number of people
here from other parts of the world - from parts of Asia, from the South
Pacific, from many parts of Africa. I was at a meeting representing the
Environment Minister in the lead up to the G8 in Italy and by chance I ended
up sitting next to the Environment Minister for South Africa. She noticed
that I was the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister for Australia
and she went straight to one issue. She said - "Oh, you would be involved in
Landcare." She said Landcare is one of the best forms of foreign aid that
Australia has ever helped us with. What an extraordinary statement.

But where those productivity and biodiversity aims can go hand in hand is
where we have an answer that helps provide assistance to food security
challenges throughout the world.

As an exporting nation, we still place priority on being able to produce
more food. It is a good thing to do, it matters. But so much of the Landcare
work that I've seen has involved a slight reduction in the actual area that
is used for farming. Whether it be through fencing of riparian zones or
through providing extra shade in a purely grazing paddock that is not used
for mixed farming. Some work has been done where there is strategic tree
planting for shading purposes done in the middle of the paddock which
results in there being technically less land available but still a
maintenance of the stock numbers grazing on it.

With all these good outcomes in food production, we should not view our role
as a food producing nation as a side issue. By 2050 we're looking at
something in the order of 9 billion people living on this planet. Depending
on whether you use the figures of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of
the UN or whether you use other figures, that means between now and then
we're looking at something in the order of a 70% increase in food production
or a doubling in food production, depending on what sources you use. That's
what we're looking at. We have a big task ahead. I want to make sure that in
meeting those challenges Landcare becomes the answer to that question.

There are many things that need to be done in responding to climate change.
The adaptation work is already with the the work that Landcare does.
Improving soil moisture is another part of the adaptation work that needs to
be done in response to the issues of climate change.

There's a couple of other areas with climate change that we are going to
need to look at more closely than we have in the past. The first of those is
the concept of soil carbon. One of the great changes in improving the soil
carbon that happened in the agricultural part of work within my portfolio
over the last 20 years is one Landcare hasn't been in the front line of.
That is shifting our cropping areas from a system of ploughing to a system
of direct drilling. Through minimum till and no-till farming we've seen a
very significant improvement in carbon in the soil.

All the work that Landcare does, whether it's on private land or public
land, all of that work will add improvements in natural vegetation. It is
all part of getting carbon out of the air and storing it in the soil. It's
an important part of the response to climate change. We're kidding ourselves
if we think that's the whole response because it's not. But it's part of the
equation, it's part of what needs to be done and once again I want to see
Landcare be the answer to that climate change question.

There's a further challenge, and this is why I referred to the need to focus
on outcomes rather than structures of organisations. Structures of
organisations are part of where Governments have had challenges - there've
been issues where new forms of funding started to be branded by different
names. You've had the funding being channelled through regional NRM bodies,
whether it be CMAs or different names in different states. Some places it
worked brilliantly and some places it hasn't worked as well as it should
have. Then, we can have arguments that get down to territorial arguments
rather than being outcomes focused. All of those challenges are real. In the
time I've been in the portfolio there has been an attempt to start to unpick
some of the mistakes made over time. You would have seen my commitment to
restoration where we got it wrong.

You would have seen the effort to make sure Landcare facilitators are back
in your local areas. You also would have seen the reintroduction through the
Community Action Grants to make sure community groups don't have to immerse
themselves in a sea of bureaucratic red tape to get funds. Those objections
that were made during the first round of Caring for our Country have been
responded to, I think, fairly effectively. There will be a few rounds of
Community Action Grants coming through.

The way people volunteer now in many ways is fundamentally different to 20
years ago. I'll give an example from my own home city. I remember through my
involvement in a range of community organisations, people said to me it's
hard to get volunteers like we used to, it's harder to get people to turn up
to regular meetings than we used to. Then we had the Sydney Olympics and we
had people say we had more volunteers than we ever had before.

We do have many people, and you're the example of it, who have made the
commitment to a local organisation and have kept that commitment over many
years. But many Australians now volunteer in a different way. Organisations
and movements that try to fight that, I think face long term challenges. But
if we can harness it then we have the pathway forward for Landcare for the
next 20 years. Now I we get more people volunteering but they are less
likely to want to be permanent members of an organisation. They are much
more willing to volunteer for a particular cause than for a defined period
of time.

Now one of the things that we receive from climate change is more major
weather events; the floods when they come through and cyclones are more
vicious than they used to be; the droughts are harder than they used to be
and after long periods of dry we see more intense bushfires. In each of
these cases following major weather events there is an extraordinary
opportunity for us to harness short-term volunteers. There is a huge
opportunity for us to involve in the leadership role of Landcare and provide
pathways for people who are not traditional volunteers to come in and help
with remediation.

Now there are really good examples on all of these issues where Landcare is
already doing them. But a strategic way I don't think we've yet worked out
the pathway forward.

I want to put some views forward which I have formed out of experiences with
you, meeting with you on private land or public land and seeing the work
that you have done.

Point one - the community groups method of organisation has always been,
will always be, fundamental to Landcare and providing facilitators and
coordinators is an essential part of the foundations of Landcare. I don't
think we have any pathway forward that would undermine that.

It is also the case that the priorities of biodiversity and productivity can
probably be better described these days as three things we need to be part
of: we need to commit to food production; we need to have a commitment to
respond to climate change; and we need to maintain the commitment to the
environment. Food, climate, environment, I think provide the three pillars
for Landcare into the next 20 years.

The methods of organisation need to always be outcomes focused. If work is
being done by an organisation that doesn't badge itself as Landcare I think
we should still own it. Our commitment to the brand is important but our
commitment to the outcome has to be what matters. Therefore I don't believe
there's any room to be threatened by other organisations that choose to do
good work that we know is Landcare work. I think we should own that too. I
also believe we should be central in organising volunteers because,
following major weather events and in crisis situations, we have a way of
providing the revegetation needed. We have a way of making sure that when
the climate is more severe than in the past we don't lose our biodiversity
in that and we are part of the soil carbon answers.

There's really creative work in these areas already and I'll give you just a
handful of examples. Some of you may know this year I managed to get out and
see some of the work being done by Richmond Landcare. Some incredible work
being done in improving the carbon content of the soil. It's already being
done by Landcare groups. I want this sort of work to be seen as fundamental
to what Landcare does.

Similarly, I had the chance last year to visit the Landcare community
nursery out at Port Macquarie. Out there it had all the work in propagation
of seeds being done. Now I wish what they do in Port Macquarie had been done
for years in the Gulf region in Queensland. Not all of you might be aware of
what followed the floods more than a year ago in Queensland. A normal flood,
like many of you are seeing at the moment, causes major devastation for many
parts of an area but also helps to provide the next generation of native
vegetation. We had something unusual occurring in Queensland. In Queensland
we had a flood that remained there for eight weeks so not only did the
native vegetation get wiped out, the seeds rotted and when the flood waters
subsided what was left of the seeds just went. You ended up with a Gulf
region, following the flood, which looked more like the end of a seven year
drought than what you normally see following a flood event.

Had the work been done where we've got nurseries and propagation of seeds
happening over a long time we would have an easier time of revegetating the
land. Unfortunately, we don't. So we do need to find ways of thinking in
advance what we are going to need to do following major weather events and
how can Landcare coordinate volunteers because after those sorts of
disasters there are Australians everywhere saying, "I just want to know what
I can do." I want the answer to be, "Landcare will find a role for me."

The final example that I'll refer to is in Corangamite. And I've caught up
today with a couple of people from some of the forestry work I saw being
done there. This is where you have a forest resource being put in with a
biodiversity dividend that is continuing to improve food production and also
counts for carbon sequestration in the soil. If you ever wanted to find an
example of how all these issues come together - food, climate, environment -
it's to look at that work being done in the forestry areas in Corangamite.

I've given a handful of examples only for a few states. You've been with me
from the other states, whether it be work in WA or work in South Australia
or in Tasmania. There is no work that I'm more proud to have a level of
involvement with than the work done by Landcare. There is a reason why, when
we talk about agricultural exports, one of our best exports is something
that we made no money out of and that's the export of Landcare around the

For 20 years you have been involved in work where you have every right to
feel extraordinarily proud. You have helped transform the Australian
landscape and done it in a way where public land is more beautiful and more
rich than it's ever been and private land is the host to native vegetation
in ways that it wasn't previously and it has become more productive at the
same time.

This movement has transformed the Australian landscape. We should celebrate
the last 20 years with a firm eye on the next decade and the one that
follows it. If we miss the opportunity to realise the questions have changed
then there is a chance that Landcare does not become the answer to the new
questions. We are perfectly set up so that when the question was
biodiversity and productivity, the answer was Landcare. When the question
was drought and soil moisture the answer was Landcare. When the question
became salinity, once again Landcare was the answer to the question. And
when the question is how do we respond to climate change, how do we deal
with food production, how do we keep a good environmental story into the
future, how do we harness volunteers in the new ways that people interact, I
am determined to make sure the answer is Landcare for the next two decades.



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