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Rethink needed on allocating environmental funds


Landholder group calls for a rethink on how to allocate environment funds

Taxpayers and landholders are not getting value from environmental funding, according to a leading national landholder group.

In the wake of a damning Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report on the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAP), Tony Gleeson, CEO of Australian Landcare Management Systems Group (ALMS) has called for a fundamental rethink on how taxpayer and landholder funds are being spent.

Last week in their fifth report on NHT and NAP the ANAO concluded there is little evidence that the programs are achieving the anticipated national outcomes, or giving sufficient attention to the radically altered and degraded Australian landscape highlighted in the 1996 Australia State of the Environment Report.

Mr Gleeson says he is not surprised by this finding, but disappointed by the ANAO proposition that after 10 years and five ANAO reports the problem might still be rectified simply by better accountability and monitoring.

‘Surely under the new Rudd federalism it is time to stop the buck passing down the line from Canberra through State governments through regional NRM groups to landholders,’ he said.

Mr Gleeson maintains that we need a fundamental rethink about why NHT and related programs are not delivering the outcomes sought by Australian communities, both rural and urban.

‘We need to question the wisdom of people far removed from the practicalities of land management to be setting standards and targets and insisting on complex and ineffective administrative processes. We need to reduce the horrendous transaction costs, the unwieldy administrative processes and the administrative loads imposed on support people in the field’.

‘In its simplest form the problem is one of not having the right signals. Good land managers are not being rewarded. We are not supporting credible national systems to recognise improving land management’.  

Mr Gleeson estimates the NHT /NAP program related expenditure per farm to now well exceed $50,000. More broadly since the start of NHT the expenditure by farmers on activities affecting land condition would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

‘We can do much better’ he said.

‘We have the natural resources, we have the Landcare culture, we have the knowledge and skills and we have developed practical land management certification systems. But what we don’t have in government or industry is the leadership necessary to put Australia at the international leading edge of land management. We need to enable the drivers for improvement and let land managers respond in varying and nimble ways, in ways that release the creativity needed for improvement. We need to abandon short term, fragmented, prescriptive approaches and put in place visionary systems that recognise and reward good environmental behaviour.

We need to enable and fortify drivers that lead to better environmental outcomes. We need better not more accountability, and that goes for all concerned, not just at the farm face’.