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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - 26/05/2015 - Estimates - AGRICULTURE PORTFOLIO - Landcare Australia Ltd

Landcare Australia Ltd

[10:25]

Ms Jakszewicz : Landcare Australia is a not-for-profit organisation. It is a company limited by guarantee. It delivers a range of services to support the Landcare movement and to deliver Landcare activities on the ground, working with local stakeholders. Those activities range from—I guess, in the agricultural space we do a lot of those activities under 'fee for service' contracts through the Department of Agriculture. That specific contract involves knowledge sharing activities—so building knowledge across farming communities and Landcare communities about sustainable agricultural productivity. What we are looking to do is to enhance the performance of farms in the production of products, not just in the short term but over the long term, by effective use of their land and water assets.

We run a range of programs. We create a magazine or an insert that appears in all of the rural press publications that are distributed around the country. In New South Wales, that would be The Land. It has a readership of over 140,000. Recent surveys demonstrate that it is used by farmers and landcarers as an important source of information and case studies from around the country that they can apply to their own situations on the ground. We also, through this contract with the Department of Agriculture, run the national and state and territory Landcare awards. There are about nine categories and about four are in the agricultural space, there is also one in the Indigenous land management space, a number in the kids space and in the community space. I guess I can talk more about what we do, but that is just a bit of background.

Senator EDWARDS: No, you have done a really good job.

CHAIR: I am going to declare an interest: I have received Landcare funding over the years. When was Landcare started?

Ms Jakszewicz : As a national initiative, it would be 25 years ago last year, depending on who you talk to and which state you are from. The Victorians will tell you that it is much earlier than that, and the WA people will tell you that it is earlier again.

Senator SIEWERT: Seeing as I was employed under Landcare money in 1984, I would suggest that you that Landcare was running before 1989.

Ms Jakszewicz : I agree with you.

CHAIR: One of the observations that I have to make about Landcare is that Landcare was very good at teaching farmers back when skeleton weed was a problem and there were no chemicals. It had done an excellent job. One of the dangers with Landcare has been, and is, that it is filled up with coordinators, cars, computers and symposiums and to get money for trees is much more difficult. To put the tree in the ground is much more difficult because the overheads on administration, coordinators, cups of tea is a risk of eating into the critical mass of Landcare.

Senator EDWARDS: Take him on.

Ms Jakszewicz : I will take you on, on that one. A couple of things. There was actually a national Senate inquiry into the National Landcare Program, I think, last year. There was a whole review of that space and a series of recommendations that came out of that.

CHAIR: Obviously, I did not go to that inquiry. You probably did not want me to know about it.

Ms Jakszewicz : I do believe that—

CHAIR: You do not have to give a long response.

Ms Jakszewicz : It is not an area that Landcare Australia actually has individually any control of so—

CHAIR: The catchment management authority et cetera has intervened. This year we planted 1,400 trees. We should let the farmer know. Last year there were not any frosts early. You can put the trees in those little cups as opposed to the seven-inch cups. If you put them out at the end of July, the frost will bowl them. If you put them out at the end of August, you think, 'It is getting late if we have a dry spring.' Actually the ones we put out late are now four-foot high and the ones we put out early are dead, so there is a bit of a trick to it.

Senator EDWARDS: I noticed across the nation's weekly rural papers there was a big expose last week on Landcare. There certainly was in the stock journal in my home state. There was a multipage lift-out. What was that celebrating?

Ms Jakszewicz : Are you talking about the 'Landcare in focus' publication?

Senator EDWARDS: Yes.

Ms Jakszewicz : I would not describe it as an expose—

Senator EDWARDS: It was very complimentary of the work over the years.

Ms Jakszewicz : Landcare Australia is running a program focussing on specific people's stories and case studies. A lot of this work is very long term. We are revisiting quite a lot of previous award winners. They may have won the award some years ago. We are talking to those landholders now about where their property is now. We are seeing the journey that the farmer and their property have made across the seasons and across variation. We feel there is a need to demonstrate the tangibles of Landcare to people—not just the aware people but the less aware people—

Senator EDWARDS: There were a lot of before and after shots.

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator EDWARDS: Thank you very much.

Senator BULLOCK: I often agree with the chair on a range of matters. I was on the Landcare inquiry last year. My recollections were of ageing volunteers, some level of frustration in terms of being able to get on with the work, lots of money being spent applying for various grants with a mixed success rate and overlapping bureaucracies that were pursuing different objectives. I would not have thought that the inquiry revealed that everything was happy. It painted a complex and somewhat depressing picture for me, but nevertheless that is just me. In the budget this year there have been some cuts in your area—cuts to the Natural Heritage Trust and even some cuts to the Green Army. What effect do you see these cuts having on your work?

Ms Jakszewicz : The Natural Heritage Trust funds, as I understand, were reallocated. There were unallocated funds sitting in there that were reallocated to the reef program. Again I am not from a government department; I am from a not-for-profit organisation outside of government. In terms of the Green Army, the cut to the number of projects on the ground was for about three years. From my perspective, while any cut is disappointing, I do not get too hung up about what somebody is saying in forward estimates three or four years away. They announced I think 500 projects this coming financial year, which was in line with the budget, 750 Green Army projects the following year and a cut of about 100 projects in the third year. In the fourth year they confirmed 1,500 projects. That was unconfirmed previously. There was a reduction in the third year but a confirmation of an increase or a consolidation of numbers in the fourth year.

Senator BULLOCK: That was merely confirmation of something that had previously been flagged; is that right?

Ms Jakszewicz : Sorry; I did not quite hear.

Senator BULLOCK: You said confirmation, so presumably it is confirming something previously—

Ms Jakszewicz : Previously, because we are a Green Army service provider in partnership with ManpowerGroup, the 1,500 had not been a confirmed number. That was confirmed in the last budget.

Mr Thompson : The issues around the Natural Heritage Trust, the Green Army and the trees programs are appropriations to the Department of the Environment and would be better pursued through that committee. In terms of Landcare Australia Limited, Ms Jakszewicz can confirm the money that they have received; but, in terms of the appropriations from the Department of Agriculture, they have not changed this year and, as she said, they have been successful in winning to be a service provider for the Green Army. So that organisation is actually doing quite well out of those programs.

Senator BULLOCK: I was interested in the Green Army because some of the feedback we got on the committee, which I referred to, at the inquiry we did was that there was concern about how the people working on the Green Army projects would relate to the volunteers who were working on their own projects, whether the short burst of Green Army activity would be able to be maintained in the longer term once the green armies marched on and whether the Landcare support would be able to maintain the initiatives undertaken by the Green Army. What do you say about that?

Ms Jakszewicz : I can only comment on what I have observed on the projects that we have been involved in that have hit the ground so far. I have seen some really wonderful collaborations. I am thinking about a particular one that we went to the other day where we went to the graduation of those young people. They had focused on an area that had not been dealt with by volunteer groups, because the area was absolutely smothered in lantana. You would have to be so incredibly committed as a volunteer to be there day after day trying to smash through that. What they have done is revegetate the area with advice and guidance from the local friends of bushcare type group as well as the council that was sponsoring that project. The council then arranged, through their relationships with their bushcare group and the local school, to take on the ongoing maintenance and development of the site. I do not think that site had been left like that for many years before that happened. I think there are many examples where the work can be done in a complementary fashion, but there are definitely other situations where the Green Army team is not suitable to work on a particular Landcare community site—people can pull out examples either way. What I have seen of this particular program is that the people joining it are getting an experience of landcare, and I think we have to re-look at the way we do things.

Volunteering is an issue across Australia; it does not matter what not-for-profit you are working in. Volunteers are ageing. It gets a bit tougher to drag things down and hack down trees when you are getting old—like I feel today! We need to find different ways to engage people in landcare. They might not want to join a community group and they might only want to volunteer on specific days for specific events. That is all fine as far as I am concerned.

Senator BULLOCK: Talking about the examples you used: you have the commitment of the local schools and the local council to ensure that you do not go backwards and that the sites are continuing to be maintained. Are you confident that you will get that sought of commitment for the majority of Green Army projects, or do you think that is a laudable exception?

Ms Jakszewicz : No, I do not think it is an exception, because, as I said, I have been to quite a few of these and typically a lot of the projects tend to be in more urban, periurban or regional areas because that is closer to where you have a population of people—

Senator BULLOCK: The army.

Ms Jakszewicz : so they do tend to have friends of bushcare or councils working in those areas. As the project service provider, we do work with the project sponsor to look for opportunities to engage the community in that program and, in particular, to draw upon subject matter expertise from local groups—for example, in plant identification and that kind of thing. We are trying to bring the two parties together.

CHAIR: How do you stop lantana from reshooting?

Ms Jakszewicz : You are asking the wrong person. I am not going to give you an answer on that.

CHAIR: Anyhow, I am very pleased. Senator Siewert, you have some questions? It is very pleasing, before I go, to see that the Green Army is actually doing what it is doing—it has taken the Red Army out of the news.

Senator SIEWERT: Moving right along: in terms of your contract with government, have you had any variations to that in this budget?

Ms Jakszewicz : The Department of Agriculture contract? No.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Or in the out years?

Ms Jakszewicz : No.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of your interaction with the Green Army, did I misunderstand that you have a contract for the Green Army?

Ms Jakszewicz : No, you did not. We are a service provider in partnership with ManpowerGroup, which is not what some of you may be thinking of. It is a recruitment specialist and workforce firm. They specialise in the labour hire, payroll processing and people management side of it.

CHAIR: Where are they based?

Ms Jakszewicz : They are national and international. They have locations all around Australia.

CHAIR: Could you take on notice to give us the details of their—

Ms Jakszewicz : They have offices in all the capital—

CHAIR: I would be interested in their background—where they pay their tax et cetera. Are they based in Bermuda, or—

Senator EDWARDS: They are not a dance troupe.

Ms Jakszewicz : They are listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

CHAIR: I would be very interested to see their corporate background.

Senator SIEWERT: What size contract have you got under the Green Army program?

Ms Jakszewicz : It is not a specific dollar amount, because each round that comes out, we have to bid—

Senator SIEWERT: You are bidding for each.

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes—we receive work depending on the range of volume we have said is the minimum and maximum amount we can take on in each period. We are operating in each state and territory except for the Northern Territory. At the moment, in terms of scale, we would be the second-biggest service provider of those which have contracts.

Senator SIEWERT: So what is the range of provision—

Ms Jakszewicz : Work volume?

Senator SIEWERT: or work volume you have taken on?

Ms Jakszewicz : It varies by year. It is a range and I cannot recall the numbers off the top of my head. Rather than just make them up, could I take it on notice and give them to you?

Senator SIEWERT: That would be great. I am presuming that in order to do this you have had to take on additional staff? In order to be a service contractor, you have had to take on additional staff?

Ms Jakszewicz : Our staff are really in the environmental part of the project. We help with project applications, in terms of looking at project ideas and developing the applications so, with network or a community group, we can discuss those ideas. The second part is that when we receive a work deed from the government, we work with the project sponsor—which could be a group, an NRM body or a council—and define the project scope before we put the team on the ground. We are providing the subject matter expertise. In terms of the people that we have put on, it would number two or three at this point.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice the size of the rounds and the projects you already have—in which states and with which groups?

Ms Jakszewicz : I know we have six in WA, and they are about to put people on the ground during June. I will give them to you.

Senator SIEWERT: I am particularly interested in my home state, but I am interested in projects around Australia.

Ms Jakszewicz : Sure.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the awards—I will just do this last little bit, Chair--you will have funding for both the state or territory and the national awards?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Into the future?

Ms Jakszewicz : We have a contract until the financial year ending June 2017.

Senator SIEWERT: So we have got them for this year, next year and the year after?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Well, you said June 2017.

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So you have half a round, maybe in June 2017—

Ms Jakszewicz : Well, yes. We have got the money to run the national awards.

Senator SIEWERT: So we will have awards under that process for 2017?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

CHAIR: Could I go back to your relationship with Manpower. Just describe to me what your relationship with Manpower is.

Ms Jakszewicz : Basically, Manpower is the major partner in our arrangement.

CHAIR: Yes, but what is the arrangement?

Ms Jakszewicz : The arrangement is that they do the recruitment processes that—

CHAIR: Of who?

Ms Jakszewicz : ManpowerGroup—of the participants in the Green Army and the team leaders.

CHAIR: Could you supply the contract arrangements you have with Manpower?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

CHAIR: How much do you pay them to do that?

Ms Jakszewicz : I do not pay them anything. It is funded by the Department of the Environment.

CHAIR: How much are they paid to do that?

Ms Jakszewicz : They are paid in accordance with the standard contract of any service provider.

CHAIR: Could you supply the contract?

Ms Jakszewicz : Which? The one they have with the Department of the Environment?

Senator Colbeck: That is probably a question for the Department of the Environment.

CHAIR: But it is an interesting relationship because they are based in Milwaukee; they are all over the place, and we get them to supply—it is interesting that you have to get Manpower. I will be very interested to see the contract.

Ms Jakszewicz : They do all your Defence Force recruitment in Australia.

CHAIR: I do not care what they do. It seems to me that, if you have to get an international company to get people to go along and do the Green Army stuff, there is something that does not ring the bell about these being all well-meaning volunteers.

Senator Colbeck: They are Australian people.

Mr Thompson : I think LAL may be able to provide details of their contracts because they have authority over those, but they do not have authority over—if there is a separate contract between Manpower and the environment department, they would be questions better pursued with the environment department.

CHAIR: I am sure it is all quarantined.

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes. I can share what we do with Manpower, but I have to obviously run that past Manpower, I would think.

Senator SIEWERT: But you do not have a formal relationship with Manpower; is that right?

Ms Jakszewicz : No. We have a contractual arrangement with Manpower, yes.

CHAIR: Well, you can supply the contract you have.

Ms Jakszewicz : I would prefer to speak to Manpower before I issue a contract.

CHAIR: The more you say things like that, the more I wonder: what the bloody hell is this all about?

Ms Jakszewicz : It is just a standard commercial contract.

CHAIR: But it is purer than the driven snow. All these volunteers go out to the edge of Junee and put in trees—you know, the Green Army movement—

Ms Jakszewicz : They are not actually—

CHAIR: but, hello, we have a company from Milwaukee out to actually provide the labour to do it.

Ms Jakszewicz : They are actually not volunteers. These people are paid participants, but yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I just follow up.

Senator Colbeck: We will just take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of you getting into the Green Army process, did you make the decision yourselves? Did the government approach you? Or did various NRM groups and landcare groups suggest to you that it was a good idea?

Ms Jakszewicz : We got into it of our own volition. We were not approached by government. We make business decisions, like any company, by consultation with our board, and that was the process that we followed. We did think about it for a long time before we actually made the decision, but we strongly believe that we need to look at other ways of engaging with people in landcare activities, and I stand by that decision as being a very good one.

Senator SIEWERT: So what drove the decision was looking at—what you just said—the way you get people involved in landcare and NRM rather than seeing it as a business opportunity per se? Is that what you are saying?

Ms Jakszewicz : We are a company limited by guarantee, and we work in accordance with the objects of our constitution. So, in terms of any decisions that we make of a strategic nature, we refer back to those as a guidance to what we are going to do. Obviously, we are a company. We do not have any underpinning funding from government, and anything we do (a) has to be consistent with our objects and (b) has to make sure that we can actually deliver it in a way that is sustainable. The Green Army ticked both those boxes.

CHAIR: But the contract you have with Manpower is to do what?

Ms Jakszewicz : As I mentioned, the role that Landcare Australia is playing in the contract occurs in several areas. We are bringing environmental knowledge and know-how to the partnership or the arrangement, in that, when there is a potential project idea—

CHAIR: Just pausing there: are you contracted to supply Manpower with information?

Ms Jakszewicz : We are contracted to provide Manpower with technical expertise.

CHAIR: They are not supplying something to you—

Ms Jakszewicz : No.

CHAIR: you are supplying something to them.

Ms Jakszewicz : And ManpowerGroup is one of the approved service providers.

CHAIR: They pay you to do that?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

CHAIR: Could you supply those details of what you pay them?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

CHAIR: Through you, Mr Thompson, we will put Environment on notice for us to be told the details of the contract that they have to pay Manpower to use the expertise which Landcare are paid for to do whatever it is in the Green Army. From my experience from various manpower providers, or labour hire providers, it is generally a very generous arrangement, so I would be very interested to see the contracts.

Mr Thompson : I am not familiar with the contract at all since we do not administer that program, but we will certainly make sure that the Department of the Environment are aware of it.

CHAIR: It seems a lazy solution.

Senator SIEWERT: The funding—now he has put me off my train of thought. The funding you get is actually from Manpower?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So the projects that you were going to take on notice to send around are all ones that relate to funding from them?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of looking then at the outcomes from a natural resource management and landcare perspective, do you review the projects?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Who does that analysis of the projects?

Ms Jakszewicz : Under that, there are two areas of review. We do internal audit and review, which is from an environmental perspective and is a responsibility of Landcare Australia. The government also have an external review process which is contracted out to whoever they use.

Senator SIEWERT: Do internal review and audit include the environmental outcomes?

Ms Jakszewicz : Absolutely. That is the component that we look at.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that your own processes, or do you use criteria that the government has established?

Ms Jakszewicz : That is our own know-how and knowledge and processes, yes, predominantly.

Senator SIEWERT: You just spoke about the lantana project. How many projects have reached completion?

Ms Jakszewicz : In our case, it would be a handful at this stage that have actually finished. There are a lot underway, halfway through and three-quarters of the way through.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I appreciate that. Are you able to provide us with examples of the sorts of audit results from those projects?

Ms Jakszewicz : I can provide what we do. Anything that you want from what the government does is obviously the Department of the Environment.

Senator SIEWERT: I know I have to ask them. They are on tonight. That is on tonight, so I will obviously chase that there. Could you take that on notice?

Ms Jakszewicz : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

CHAIR: I suppose it would be in your annuals how much the government provides to Landcare?

Ms Jakszewicz : In terms of the Department of Agriculture contract?

CHAIR: The taxpayer generally.

Mr Thompson : The total contribution that the government makes to Landcare and Landcare related projects is summarised in our annual report, but it is also in our portfolio budget statement.

CHAIR: Can you take that on notice and provide it as an answer to a question on notice to this committee, thanks.

Mr Thompson : Yes.

Senator Colbeck: Or do you know how much it is?

Ms Jakszewicz : For the current contract?

Mr Thompson : The current contract, as I understand it, is—

Ms Jakszewicz : $4½ million.

Mr Thompson : Over four years. That is for Landcare Australia Limited. Then there are the program funds, which add up to almost $300 million over four years, provided by this portfolio into it, but then there are also the environment department funds. As ministers announce, money goes to community landcare groups, to regions, and there are small grants as well.

CHAIR: Just to complete it: how much do Manpower pay you?

Ms Jakszewicz : They pay us about $4,000 a project.

CHAIR: Take that on notice anyhow, and we will get the precise fee. Thank you very much for that.

Ms Jakszewicz : Thank you.

CHAIR: Cheerio.