Building relationships to care for country - Page 2
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 2: Dreams of Land
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Rick Farley (dec.)
IT IS OFTEN DIFFICULT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT MOVEMENT to build relationships with farmers and Aboriginal people. Farmers are suspicious because the environment organisations don't always reflect the views of their members in regional areas, who better understand the complexities of some issues. They see a lot of the environment agenda as city-driven and more political than practical.
Aboriginal people want to develop a more independent economic base. They want to use land for some commercial purposes so they have doubts about an agenda that concentrates on creating more national parks.
At the end of the day, the key groups that need to come together to change the landscape are not properly engaged with each other or with government. They have a community of interest but it has not been developed sufficiently for a common agenda to emerge.
Many people are trying to improve the situation. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists believes science can be the common denominator for better understanding and relationships. The Carr Government in NSW is changing its agency structures to bring the parties together and integrate programs. The Burdekin Dry Tropics Board is developing a protocol for input by traditional owners.
From experiences all over the country, some common themes appear to be emerging. They are the basis for a way forward down the road to more sustainable use of natural resources.
There should be a commitment to long-term action by all political parties. New management systems and rehabilitation will take decades and governments will change. There must be confidence that partnerships, once begun, will be continued, so the support of all political parties is necessary.
There needs to be an integrated and accessible database that includes proper assessment and mapping of the resource stock and natural values. Audits should be informed by science and undertaken regularly.
There should be clear national and state priorities. The community needs to understand the objectives and the agenda. The Wentworth Group suggests four environmental standards against which to test priorities – water quality, salinity, biodiversity and soil conservation.
Regional catchment plans should be developed to apply national and state priorities and have the force of law. They must be developed, owned and implemented by regional stakeholders through a regional catchment authority that operates independently under its own legislation. Catchment plans should also provide access to necessary public funding.
Individual property plans should give effect to the regional catchment plans and identify the public and private investment components. They should be certified by the catchment authority and provide management security for a specified period of time, similar to the security given to the timber industry under Regional Forestry Agreements. They would travel with the property if it were sold.
Landholders could bid for public funds to provide environmental services, based on the identified public investment component of their property plans. The bids could be assessed in a Dutch auction where the lowest cost/highest impact proposals are funded.
Long-term public funding must be available. The public investment in property-management plans will amount to billions of dollars over decades. Partnerships are necessary with land-holders and funding for adjustment will also be required.
It is very likely that taxes will have to increase to fund necessary public investment. A transparent environmental tax deserves close consideration and would need to be accompanied by regular public reports and audits.
Engaging traditional owners will need special care and effort. One mechanism would be to require a cultural-heritage management plan as part of each regional catchment plan. Indigenous people's cultural identity depends on the natural values of their country and their cultural heritage being protected by commonwealth, state and territory legislation. Their values should be included in management of the natural resource base. Traditional owners could be contracted to develop and implement cultural-heritage management plans, thereby providing employment and skills development.
IT IS ENCOURAGING TO SEE THOSE BROAD THEMES emerge around the nation but there is still an enormous amount of work to be done to flesh out the detail and get it working properly on the ground. The better the understanding and relationships between key groups, the faster it will happen. The farm sector, indigenous people and the environment movement need to engage effectively so options are identified and there are agreed positions that can be put to government.
The cornerstone of that engagement must be respect – a willingness to consider other points of view. There are always at least a couple of sides to any debate and unless they are all treated as legitimate, there will be no enduring resolution.
The value of strategic partnerships should also be understood. The wider the base of public support, the easier it is for government to act. Just because groups can't agree on everything does not mean they should not co-operate where they can agree. Together, they will be able to achieve wider outcomes than by acting alone.
That's essentially what happened when the National Farmers' Federation and the Australian Conservation Foundation came together to advocate the Decade of Landcare. That's also what happened when pastoralists, Aboriginal people and environmentalists signed the Cape York Land Use Heads of Agreement. It can be done but it requires sophistication by all the parties.
It also requires sophistication by government. If government wants community ownership of outcomes and resolution of conflicts, it has to be prepared to devolve administrative responsibility to regional level. One size does not fit all. What works in the Hunter Valley won't work at Walgett or Lightning Ridge.
Communities need to be able to tailor programs to their individual circumstances or the programs will be devalued. This creates considerable challenges for our public administration – balancing regional flexibility with state and federal accountability is undeniably difficult.
Government often advocates community empowerment but is not always eager to hand over the purse strings. New skills are also required to facilitate outcomes within local communities – skills that do not always exist at regional level within agencies or the community.
Maurice Binstead, Roddy Smith and Lyndon Schneiders all have a love of country. They respect it and they want to look after it. That doesn't mean they want to lock it all up but rather to use it in a sustainable way, within its capacity to renew and provide sustenance.
These three people are not unique. There are many more men and women like them and they hold the key to how we manage our resource base into the future. Their relationships with each other and with government will shape how we care for our country because they are the ones who will do it in practice – on the ground, where it counts. ♦