You may have learned that some details of the Australian Government's proposed funding of Landcare through to 2023 have been released.
We at Landcare Tasmania have been busy trying to make sense of it. The proposed arrangements will have implications for community Landcare. Read on to find out more.
What we know so far
Broadly speaking there are four main areas of funding.
1. Regional Land Partnerships
$450M will be allocated under a competitive tender process for consortia to 'bid' to deliver priority services in each NRM region. These services are Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitators, NRM core services, threatened species and ecological communities, Ramsar sites, World Heritage, soil/biodiversity and vegetation, and supporting agriculture to adapt to change. There will be one contract per NRM region, and that will be with one of the partners in a consortium only. Although the words emphasise partnerships, a betting man would probably put odds on most of the contracts going to the NRM regional organisations.
2. Environment small grants
There's $5M for an environmental small grants program. Grants will be capped at $50,000. Other than that it's light on detail, so all will depend on what comes later.
3. Smart Farms
$134M will go to a new Smart Farms program. There's 3 distinct pots here:
- $60 for 'Smart Farming Partnerships'. These are larger projects ($250k - $4M) in the areas of agricultural innovation, biodiversity, soils and vegetation, and meeting obligations under international treaties.
- $50M for 'Smart Farm Small Grants'. These are grants of $5k - $100k and are similar to that above except they focus more on land managers becoming better at doing things better, rather than on innovation and partnerships.
- $24M for 'Building Landcare Community and Capacity'. These will focus on awards and recognition, skills development, networking, community engagement and delivering on-ground improvements in land management.
4. Other funds
The rest is a range of other issues totalling about $500M - nearly half the program funds. These will go to eradicating red fire ants in Queensland, World Heritage Area management, the Great Barrier Reef, Indigenous Protected Areas, a Centre for Invasive Species Research, 20M trees...
Implications for community Landcare
It's pretty simple really.
1. Access to funding for community Landcare groups under the Regional Land Partnerships program is uncertain. There is a requirement that 20% of funds go to local groups, but exactly what that means is not clear. It will also be determined by the specific projects that go into each contract. Some might be relevant to your group, others not. We definitely believe that requirement should be increased substantially.
2. There is likely to be access to funds under the environment small grants. However the devil will be in the detail, and that hasn't been released. More importantly, $5M over 6 years for grants up to $50,000 each is REALLY spreading it then. A much larger allocation in this area is needed.
3. The Smart Farms program is interesting. Its a good move that access to funding will be significantly expanded to those undertaking Landcare in the agriculture sector. Groups in these areas will probably see an improvement in access. In addition the $24M to fund Landcare community and capacity is highly relevant, but details are still limited.
We look forward to the release of the guidelines.
4. Most of the other funds aren't really about Landcare at all- yet that make about almost half the funds. They are doubtless worthwhile areas for funding, but should they really be under a program called Landcare? This is another example of the use of the name Landcare without any respect to its origin as a community movement empowering people to make a difference to care for the land. Landcare without community is little more than public works.
There are some positives in what's been announced, but there may also be negative on availability of funds in some areas. We are concerned about impact on groups working in urban, peri-urban and coastal areas - of which there are many! - those whose focus is on freshwater areas, and those who work on managing important areas of public land. Landcare should cover all issues, and we definitely don't want to see strength in one area taken undermined to support others.
There is also a much heavier focus on activities rather than on community delivery, capacity and engagement, particularly outside of the Smart Farms program.
What's this survey that's been released?
You may have seen that there has also been a survey released as part of the Commonwealth's consultation process.
To clarify: the survey is only about the proposed arrangements for the Regional Land Partnerships program.
We've been through the survey and have concerns in a number of areas.
1. As a community Landcare group YOU are not recognised as a stakeholder
There are 5,000 community Landcare groups in Australia, but this survey lumps them into a category called 'NRM local groups'. Community Landcare is uniquely different but once again we see this not being properly recognised. Good engagement processes partition their stakeholders in ways that recognise groups who organise and work in different ways.
2. The survey is biased
The survey seeks feedback on only the one model being proposed for the Regional Land Partnerships program. This is particularly disturbing given that the proposed model has been developed without meaningful engagement with the Landcare movement, despite our efforts for this to occur. Its hard to escape the conclusion that there's a pre-determined outcome here, and at best there will be some fiddling at the edges. Good consultation involves options.
3. The survey is difficult to understand
The survey is about getting feedback from the community about the proposed RLP arrangements. We found many of the questions were not relevant to community Landcare and, in particular, would be difficult for many in the community to even complete. Good surveys are accessible to their stated audience.
To help address these issues, along with other areas where more certainty is needed for community Landcare, we've develped an online petition. You can add your name to a brief summary of things that the next 6 years of Commonwealth Landcare funding need to have for community Landcare to continue to thrive and deliver.
If you wish to fill out the survey, you can access it HERE