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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 9155

Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (9:43 AM) —I want to commend the Wentworth Group for their Blueprint for a living continent document that they have recently produced. It is a very important benchmark for where we need to go in Australia to achieve a sustainable environment. I am concerned, though, that, while they have addressed the environmental and economic aspects of the triple bottom line, the social aspects still need a lot more development and understanding. We need a holistic approach to this if we are to achieve in Australia the sorts of outcomes all of us wish for. For example, a sustainable environment depends on the existence of a social system which sustains institutions and a culture which delivers to the people a life worth living in that location—it is a closed loop. The social system needs to deliver generations of motivated, skilled and committed people who can appropriately manage the land for the lifetimes it will take for its recovery. You cannot be green if you are in the red, and you cannot pull up your socks if you have none. The regions with the most degraded natural capital are the places with the least sustainable communities—as the young leave, the local economy shrinks and community infrastructure deteriorates or is withdrawn. Calling out a greater voluntary or cooperative effort in these circumstances is not effective.

This is not to dismiss the extraordinary efforts of volunteer Landcare and other groups trying to protect land and habitat. However, too many of them report the burnout and frustration caused by having too few hands to do the work. While grants for fence posts, seedlings and wire are essential for the survival of such groups, so too are funds for facilitators, coordinators or even secretaries, paid at an acceptable salary and for a reasonable period of time, to coordinate, facilitate and do the legwork that was once done by volunteers.

Addressing an unsustainable social system in regional Australia requires specifically designed programs or adjustments to universal approaches that compensate for the rurality impacts. The manifestation of these impacts include: declining school retention rates; poorer levels of access, participation and completion rates in higher education; poorer health; higher suicide rates; teenage pregnancies; and lower socioeconomic status compared with the total population. We have examples now where we understand through, for example, our ecosystem services that you can deliver incomes to some farms that are beyond the food and fibre incomes that traditionally have delivered them a livelihood. That is now being explored through Natural Heritage Trust funding, and BushTender in north-east Victoria is one such example. Indigenous protected areas are doing similar work.

I call on all Australians to understand that for people to manage the landscape they need to have a life worth living. That requires some very serious understanding of their need to work cooperatively and to work across a whole catchment or a whole landscape. That is a new paradigm and it requires a great deal of very important thinking. I commend the Wentworth Group and I ask them to go further.