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STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
17/10/2008
Natural resource management and conservation challenges

CHAIR —I welcome representatives of the South Gippsland Landcare Network. Before we go to questions, do you wish to make a brief opening statement?

Mrs Brennan —I will make a brief one. South Gippsland Landcare Network covers 22 Landcare groups. We have over 800 members and we are part of six Landcare networks that operate in West Gippsland, which cover over 2,000 families in our area. That just gives you an idea of where we are coming from.

Senator SIEWERT —What is your understanding of the current situation with NRM funding and Caring for our Country?

Mrs Brennan —At the moment, the last round of funding, NHT2, finished on 30 June. We are currently waiting for the outcome of our current CFOC bids. We put in two bids under the open grants process. We were advised that the funding will be announced in late October or some time in November.

Senator SIEWERT —Was that the open grants?

Mrs Brennan —That was the open grants, yes. We also put one in, in partnership with one of our local friends group, the Friends of Venus Bay, through the Community Coast Care grants, and we are waiting to see how that went. The current gap between when one funding program is finished and the next one is announced has meant that we the network has lost one and a half staff members because we do not have the funding to cover them. My position as network coordinator is currently covered through the money that the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority receives. They got their base-level funding. They are in the same boat, as I would suggest every other NRM organisation in Australia is, waiting for the competitive process to be announced. We have all put our applications in. We have had tremendous support from the West Gippsland CMA in that they have given each of the six networks in West Gippsland a half-time network coordinator. Unfortunately they do not have the funds to cover the facilitator positions that were in the networks prior to 30 June. They funded those positions until the end of September with the hope that we would find out prior to then what the funding was, but we did not. We lost one and a half staff members from our network and that was a similar loss across the other networks as well.

Senator SIEWERT —I have been trying to find out through the terms of reference what capacity has been lost. Queensland did not have a real handle on it, but it seems like they have not lost too many. There has been some loss in Western Australia, but we have been looking at regional groups and not necessarily the Landcare networks.

Mrs Brennan —Are you asking from a regional perspective?

Senator SIEWERT —Yes.

Mrs Brennan —My understanding is that the West Gippsland CMA who employs the Landcare staff in West Gippsland, in terms of coordinators and facilitators, has gone from eight and a half down to three in that changeover period. There were eight and half positions and now there are six half-time positions, so effectively three FTs. My understanding is that the CMA has lost in the vicinity of eight to 10 staff because of the gap between one funding cycle and the next.

Senator SIEWERT —What does it mean on the ground for your network?

Mrs Brennan —It means that if we have a new landholder ring up at the moment they do not get a site visit. Prior to 30 June they did. They got a site visit. It was explained to them what was happening. They were referred to a funding program. I work three days a week now. Before that I was working only three and a half, so I have only dropped a little bit, but I do not have any staff to do field visits anymore. We still have a pest, plant and animal officer, but they are funded through the state government through the second generation. If they have a weed problem I can send our pest, plant and animal officer out there.

I had a call this morning before I drove from Leongatha to Melbourne to fly out, ‘We have a new landholder in the district. Can you come and see them and tell them what we can help them with?’ I said, ‘At the moment I can’t.’ We have developed a Welcome to Landcare pack for South Gippsland. We did that because we are getting a huge influx of people from Melbourne into South Gippsland that do not know what our issues are. We did that so that anybody who comes into the district now will get a welcome pack. They are distributed through us, but also our 18 real estate agents in South Gippsland hand them out to anybody who purchases land. At the moment if you are a new landholder you will get a welcome pack and I will refer you to your local Landcare group, but unfortunately I have no ability to give you a site visit.

The other impact it has had is that we do not have the support for the groups to help them apply for their own funding. That has always been another role that the facilitators have had; working with our Landcare groups to develop their action plans, and then to help them identify where they might get funding from. The facilitator who finished in September helped one of our groups to get some funding to run a dung beetle trial. They have released dung beetles. The follow-up field visits and follow-up farm walks need to be fitted in somewhere and at the moment that is not fitting in very well. I suppose it is that support.

Tree planting is still going ahead because the GippsLandcare has some funding, but it is not going ahead at the rate it was, because we do not have the help that a lot of our new landholders need. They need somebody to tell them, ‘This is the species that you need to plant. Have you thought about fencing the gully?’ Unfortunately we are having to rely on paper information for people to make those decisions and I do not believe that is the best way we can do it.

Senator SIEWERT —You have applied for the open grant process now. Where have you got your funding from in the past?

Mrs Brennan —The funding has come through the West Gippsland CMA. They had a coordinator and facilitator project. We were part of their regional catchment investment plan, so that money came through there. That was for the staff component. A lot of our operating we then get through various other small grants through the state or through corporate sponsorship.

Senator SIEWERT —Is it Landcare money, NAP money or NHT money?

Mrs Brennan —NHT.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you been also accessing Landcare money?

Mrs Brennan —At the risk of sounding silly, what do you mean by Landcare money? The funding that we apply for is mainly through NHT. We are not in the Murray-Darling Basin so we have no access to those funds. We are outside of the basin. We have applied for national Landcare program funding, but unfortunately we were not successful. One of the other networks in West Gippsland received some money under the NLP program for a salinity officer. Unfortunately, we were not successful in the last round.

Senator SIEWERT —That is what I wanted to check.

Mrs Brennan —The facilitator money was to support our groups and our individual landholders. As a network, we apply for project money to run a specific project, whether it be salinity or—

Senator SIEWERT —I wanted to check that, because I have had some people asking me specifically about Landcare money and what is happening with that money. Do you have any involvement or is it purely the CMA that is engaged in looking at the new Caring for our Country program and the competitive tendering model that is going to be used?

Mrs Brennan —The CMA has a regional catchment investment plan. The Landcare networks are involved in the development of that. For want of a better term, we are giving a community voice to that. We have always been involved in that. In some respects we are a competitor to the CMA now, whereas we have always been in partnership before.

Senator SIEWERT —That is where I was coming from. Can you tell me how you see that operating and what you mean when you say that you are now a competitor with them?

Mrs Brennan —Yes. In the past we had our facilitator or our project money through the CMA as part of an overall regional bucket. My understanding now is that there is a certain level that the bucket comes into, which is what the CMA has employed our coordinator staff with. Anything above that is competitive. It is in our best interests to work with the CMA on projects or to work with other groups to try to develop a partnership project to put that up. There are going to be times when what the network wants and what the CMA wants are different and in that case we may put our own bid in. Therefore, we are then in competition if the CMA has a different project that they want to put up. We would be a competitor then with the six other Landcare networks if their projects are different. If they are the same, we would put them in together and we would have a multi-network or a large regional project. With the open grants round we had a number of bids. We put in two, because they met the needs of our South Gippsland community, which was slightly different from the Yarram community and slightly different from the West Gippsland community.

Senator SIEWERT —Do you see the competitive process as good or bad?

Mrs Brennan —Part of it is good, because it means that anybody can apply. The bad bit is that everybody applies and then there is the potential for everybody to be fighting. In our region we have an extremely good working relationship with our CMA, so we would always try to do that in partnership with them. The open grant we put in for our community weeds taskforce had 14 letters of support ranging from our local community right through to local government, the CMA and both the Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Department of Primary Industries. It is in our interests to have a partnership approach. My concern would be that, if that partnership approach or those working relationships are not as good as they are in West Gippsland, there is the potential for a negative competitive process where you have a CMA almost against your Landcare network or against the local government. It is very much going to be a regional good or bad, based on whether you have those relationships in place.

Senator SIEWERT —If you have strong relationships you can weather it?

Mrs Brennan —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —If you do not then there might be problems?

Mrs Brennan —Yes. It does not seem to be encouraging partnerships. Some parts of it does, but in most parts it is ‘everybody needs to get a grant in, because if you don’t you will miss out’. There was no requirement for us to talk to the CMA about our grant. We did, because it is a relationship that we have, which is a strong relationship. But in other areas that relationship might not be as good.

Senator SIEWERT —So I am not accused of leading the witness I will put on the table that one of my concerns has been that we have spent a lot of time on investment plans and developing what we call at home regional strategies or regional plans.

Mrs Brennan —We call them regional catchment investment plans.

Senator SIEWERT —We had strategic plans and then we had our investment plans. We have spent a lot of time doing that across Australia and it seems to me that the open process can undermine that. Or do you get brownie points if you write in and say, ‘This is consistent with the investment plan’?

Mrs Brennan —I will tell you that if we get the money. That is one of the questions in the terms of reference, ‘How is Caring for our Country going to achieve these objectives that it has put out?’ The objectives and the outcomes are great and they suit our needs. Are they going to make a difference? I do not know, because I do not know what is going to get funded. Until we get an indication of what is going to be funded we really do not know, if we put in a partnership project, whether that will be seen as a good thing, or whether if we stand alone and portray that we are a very good-quality organisation as a single unit and do it based on our own plan, that is going to take us a step further. In Victoria we have a regional catchment strategy and the regional catchment investment plan comes out of that. It is the same sort of process as in Western Australia.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, it was a two-step thing.

Mrs Brennan —The regional catchment strategies are due for renewal. If we tick the boxes and say, ‘Our bid covers A, B, C, D, E in the regional catchment strategy’, I do not know whether that will put us ahead. I believe it should, because it means that we are all heading towards the one goal. Until we get some money out of the end of it, or we see who got money out of the end of it, I cannot tell you.

Senator SIEWERT —That is fair enough.

Mrs Brennan —That is where we are at at the moment.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you been around long enough to have been part of the process when we moved from NHT1 to NHT2?

Mrs Brennan —I have been in Landcare and environment work since 1990. I was the executive officer for the Soil and Land Conservation Council for a number of years in Western Australia, while you were on it under Rex Edmondson.

Senator SIEWERT —Of course you were. I am sorry.

Mrs Brennan —It sounds terrible. I am one of the oldies in Landcare in West Gippsland. For half of that time I did have a different surname; I got married in the middle of my term.

Senator SIEWERT —Is this any different from when we had that change before?

Mrs Brennan —Not really.

Senator SIEWERT —Is it inevitable when you change? I am trying to see if we could have learned from it?

Mrs Brennan —In my honest opinion, given that there was to be such a major change, we probably should have done all this sort of work and then announced the change. We have announced the change in May that we are now going to Caring for our Country, but the business plan is not out. The information we received about what we could apply for was there but it was not the best quality. There is always a gap in the middle. I have said to staff, which is a terrible thing to say, ‘This happens all the time.’ Realistically now we should be a hell of a lot better at this. Yes, there was a gap between NHT1 and NHT2 and some organisations carried staff.

I was interested to hear you ask whether local governments had carried staff until we found some. That happened in some cases, but with the lag that we are experiencing now, as I said, the CMA carried staff until the end of September with the hope that we would know what we were getting and they could move through. We are now towards the middle of October. I think that if we find out in the middle of November if we have got money we will be doing really well in the time factor. If I am lucky enough to get funding, we will not have a staff member in those positions until probably January.

Yes, it always happens. I believe we should have got all of these sorts of things done before a new funding program was announced. I recognise there was a change of government, but with NHT1 there was a transition year of the same process. In my personal opinion, if we had carried it through for another year we could have done all of this so much better and then everybody could have applied knowing exactly whether they were going to get it or not. We are always going to lose staff for any number of reasons. It is unfortunate that we lose them when money runs out. I believe people move for any number of reasons; I was in Western Australia and I now back in Victoria and I come from Victoria. I have moved for a number of reasons. I have never had to move because my funding ran out. I was always able to find another job. That is the unfortunate part. In hindsight, we have seen it so many times surely we could have done it better this time. That is my concern.

Senator SIEWERT —The point with moving when the money runs out is that all the money seems to run out at the same time so you are losing the institutional memory.

Mrs Brennan —Yes. We have lost one and a half staff members. Yarram lost a one and a half staff members. The three facilitators in Lake Wellington are all gone. Their network coordinator went. The Lake Wellington networks, of which there are three subnetworks—one has just moved out—have no corporate knowledge left because the money ran out. Yes, it happens. It happens in all industries. Health runs out of money. I have a friend in Western Australia who is a microbiologist. It is the same sort of thing. She is constantly applying for money. But in NRM this happens all the time. Surely we should have learnt now that we need to apply earlier. We should have been applying in January and not after the money had run out. The money ran out on 30 June and we did not have to have applications in until the end of July and August. We should be better than this.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you had any involvement or had a chance to look at the new outcome statement? What is your opinion of the outcomes?

Mrs Brennan —I believe some of the outcomes suit what we need to do. My role as network coordinator is to manage the staff. I look after my Landcare groups to the best of my ability at the moment because I do not have staff to look after them. If you look under ‘sustainable farm practices’ it is stated:

Support the work of voluntary groups, including Landcare groups, to build the skills and capacity of land managers to deal with emerging threats.

That is terrific. What I need to know is whether you are going to give me enough money to employ a staff member to deliver that program. At the moment under the Community Coast Care grants we can only apply for 15 per cent of project support and administration. It costs me $100,000 a year to employ a staff member, by the time I include their super, WorkCover, an office, a computer, phone and a vehicle because they have to be able to get out on a farm. What we need is to be able to have a reasonable amount of employment costs, plus the on-ground work so they can work together. It is no good giving me $100,000 to support the work of voluntary groups if I have nobody to deliver that for me. That is our big issue. You will see in our submission that we said that Greening Australia work on 30 per cent for their support and administration and I do not think that is unreasonable.

Senator SIEWERT —Universities charge 33 per cent now.

Mrs Brennan —We are being asked as a Landcare network to try to do that on 15 per cent.

Senator SIEWERT —Were EnviroGrants 15 per cent, too?

Mrs Brennan —Probably.

Senator SIEWERT —I remember hearing consistent complaints around that. It has dumbed down the grants program.

Mrs Brennan —Anything we put in our submission is not new. Again, 15 per cent does not give us enough for somebody to help run the process. That is the benefit that we have had in West Gippsland and across Australia of having coordinators and facilitators or project officers. They do not do the work. We have still got our landholders doing the work. They are still out there planting the trees, fencing the gullies and doing the sustainable pasture work, but they need somebody to help coordinate them with the next person and help them get some extra money to give them some incentive. None of the Landcare money we get covers everything that a landholder does. Our landholders across Australia do a huge amount. Up until this recent grant everything had to be one-to-one, and the only way a Landcare group could do that was with their volunteer time. They are not new issues. This is part of why we have been invited to speak. We need more project staff. I do not want $200,000 to employ project staff with no outcomes. They will have outcomes, but I need that project money. I need to be able to have somebody there to answer the phone, to encourage our new landholders, to explain to them what species are there, and I do not have that at the moment.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you been told what is going to happen after the transition year?

Mrs Brennan —My understanding is that we have a transition year where we are allowed to apply for nine months funding, which has to be completed by 30 June next year. If I get some money I have to squeeze nine months worth of work into about six. I will do that. It is amazing how resilient we can be. My understanding is that the business plan, which was due out in September, will be out shortly. We will then look at it and decide that we can apply for A, B and C. We will then work on our partnerships and we will put in large three-year funding bids.

My understanding was that this was a transition year. One of our bids was called H2O, Hills to the Ocean, which is trying to link the high-value Strezleki hills to our coastal areas. This transition year we have put in for mapping work to map all our existing work, find the gaps, identify where the high value bits are that need to be linked and then the next three years would be implementing that plan. This is the planning year and then we implement it in the next three years.

Senator SIEWERT —I apologise if I asked this before. Was that project part of the CMA’s investment plan?

Mrs Brennan —No, that was not. This year the RCIP did not run the same as it was run in previous years because of the competitive process. In previous years the CMA would have looked at all the projects. We would develop them together. That would then go up in a regional bucket. This year they got their base-level funding, and then, because it was competitive, it was open and out there. As I said, there were no requirements to talk to the CMA. In the past if this had been part of the catchment process we probably would have put it in as a larger scale project. I am not 100 per cent sure of how that would have worked.

CHAIR —Senator Macdonald, do you have some questions.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Siewert has asked all the important questions. I would like to ask about the positions that have gone and the few that are remaining. Without being too precise, can you tell us what sort of a salary range are we paying a facilitator and a coordinator?

Mrs Brennan —Our facilitators are what they call grade 3. Mr McGarry may be able to tell me that.

Mr McGarry —They start at around $45,000 and go to about $60,000.

Mrs Brennan —Most of them would sit between $45,000 and $55,000. The network coordinators are a grade 4 level and go from $60,000 to about $75,000. A project officer is generally a grade 2 and they are in the $35,000 to $45,000 bracket. They are a specific project officer role. Obviously there is no requirement for a degree there. Once you go into the grade 3 you have got a degree and some sort of project management skills and budget, and then you are at a network coordinator level, as with myself, where you are expected to manage budgets, staff, et cetera.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —What oncost do you use for those?

Mrs Brennan —We use about 10 per cent. You then have to add a nine per cent super on that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You listed off the top of your head the positions that have been lost in your area. I did not add them up.

Mrs Brennan —We have lost 5½ FTEs, or full-time equivalents. That is a greater number of staff because some people were part time. Do you know how many we have lost completely from the CMA?

Mr McGarry —We lost six people. That is 5½ FTEs in Landcare. CMA in total so far has lost 8 ½ full-time equivalents.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Where were they based?

Mrs Brennan —They would have been based in West Gippsland, so out of Traralgon, Warragul, Ellinbank and Leongatha primarily.

Mr McGarry —And Maffra.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The Queensland CMAs, or NRM bodies, gave evidence before saying they did not think there were any loss of jobs at the moment, which I find surprising.

Senator SIEWERT —The ones that they knew about were the reef ones where they knew they were getting that extra $200 million that was in the budget.

Mrs Brennan —The other loss of staff depends on how much money would have come in originally, so therefore how much initial support a region would have had. Also, it is how many staff are there. They may have lost staff that he is not aware of, because they may have been lost from other organisations.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The evidence you are giving is similar to what people tell me even along the Barrier Reef. Do you know whether the CMAs in Victoria or anyone would have a running total of what job loss there has been in Victoria?

Mrs Brennan —I would suggest the CMAs would. The catchment management authorities employ in West Gippsland and partly in Port Phillip. They employ Landcare staff. In East Gippsland they do not; they are employed by their own network. Each CMA would be able to tell you what staff have been lost from their organisation. That does not necessarily mean all the staff because, as I said, in East Gippsland the CMA might have lost staff and the Landcare network might have, but I do not know whether the CMA would know because they were employed by the Landcare network. All of our staff are employed by the CMA, so we do not have the administration burden associated with employing staff.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Are all Landcare people employed by CMA?

Mrs Brennan —No, it is only in the West Gippsland. In Bass Coast they are employed by the shire. I work for the South Gippsland Landcare Network. I am employed by the CMA for the administration component of my role.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That leads me on to my next question. Our inquiry is looking at whether we have the best models for natural resource management. Is it appropriate for Landcare to be a different stream or organisation from the catchment management authorities or the NRM groups?

Mrs Brennan —I would say yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is there still some merit in it?

Mrs Brennan —Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Landcare has been there for a long time and it has evolved, but nowadays in your area at least, it seems as though you really do your Landcare work but you do it as part of the CMA.

Mrs Brennan —No, we do our Landcare work. What you have to understand is that we have 22 Landcare groups with 800 members. It is the 22 Landcare groups and the 800 members that do the Landcare work. The catchment management authority has the programs that it runs, but they are delivered by their employees. The bulk of the Landcare work that is happening in South Gippsland and in other networks is done by the volunteers. In terms of South Gippsland there is only myself employed in the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority Area in the South Gippsland network, because we cover two CMAs. I do not do any of the on-ground Landcare work; I just facilitate. I follow the strategic objectives of our board.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Does the CMA also get volunteers involved and coordinate them for various things that the CMAs do?

Mrs Brennan —Mr McGarry would need to answer that.

Mr McGarry —We use Landcare as a primary partner for our connection to community because it has a strong history in West Gippsland. The employment arrangement that Mrs Brennan has spoken about is about helping our community avoid having to deal with public liability, insurance, tax office and everything else. We run them as an employee of the CMA and we have a memorandum of understanding where we run a partnership arrangement where the CMA takes on all the legal responsibilities of employing the staff but the community actual form the employment steering committee that manages the staff on behalf of the community. The CMA has recognised in West Gippsland over the last 20 years a long history of community led natural resource management that has had a strong focus from a Landcare basis, and that is why our board and our management see it as an important partner to help us make sure that we are connected to the grassroots people in the region.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is your role with the CMA?

Mr McGarry —I am a regional Landcare coordinator. I am funded through the Victorian government to act as a support for Landcare within our region.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is your principal employer the CMA?

Mr McGarry —Yes.

Mrs Brennan —Mr McGarry works for the CMA. The money comes in to the CMA to employ Mr McGarry. If I want to employ a staff member I can employ them with our money and I pay the CMA to administer that salary component. Their operating comes out of ours. Last year the network did a strategic plan. Everything that I do is guided by the strategic plan for the South Gippsland Landcare Network. If we do something with the CMA it is a partnership arrangement. It is a fine line. I am employed by but I do not work for the CMA.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Do not let me put words in your mouth, but is the reason there are two separate but complementary organisations that one is really comprised of state government employees and the other is comprised of volunteers?

Mrs Brennan —Primarily, yes. The work of the Landcare network is done by our volunteers. The coordinator and facilitator roles that we have just help the process.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Forgive me. I come from Queensland. In Queensland the CMAs are called NRM bodies, but they are community based and they do interact with volunteers. In Queensland we still have Landcare as well, and I have always been confused as to why they were separate. I can understand it now from what you are saying in Victoria, but in Queensland the whole thing is community based with the CMA or the NRM body having big licks of money and paying staff but also involving volunteers in the work that they do.

Mrs Brennan —I will just throw a real spanner in the works for you. That operates in West Gippsland. In East Gippsland the Landcare network employs their own staff. In Port Phillip the catchment management authority, CMA, employs some staff, but the Bass Coast Landcare Network staff are supported by the local government. Instead of the CMA employing staff in the Bass Coast network, they are employed by the shire. They are like a host.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Even in those places your principal work would be done by volunteers.

Mrs Brennan —The principal work is done by volunteers, yes. I would say that is the same across the whole of Victoria and probably the same across the whole of Australia. The principal work done by Landcare is done by the Landcare farmers on-ground, own property and public land that might be in their area. On adjoining farms, one of our Landcare group have monthly tree plantings and they go from farm to farm. Everybody has their meeting at the same time, but it is all about them working together.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —This is not particularly relevant to you except to say that in Queensland the CMA is also interacting with volunteers.

Mrs Brennan —In our case the CMA does some of it, but the bulk of it comes through with Landcare. If they have a community project we would get involved with them.

Senator SIEWERT —Is it fair to say that the Landcare movement in Victoria seems to be more intact than some of the other states?

Mrs Brennan —Yes. NRM work and conservation work is extraordinary in Western Australia. I used to work in the wheat belt of Western Australia. They had land conservation district committees. It is a different name but the same work, and they were shire based.

Senator SIEWERT —They seem to have gone a little bit by the wayside now. There are some still working strongly, but there are other groups that have popped up, and the NRM groups have a stronger role.

Mrs Brennan —I know the land conservation district committees were based on shires. Again, I was interested to hear the previous speaker talking about the Queensland local government and saying that some local governments have a great interaction. We vary from local governments that we have trouble speaking to, to some such as Bass Coast that employ the staff and have rate reductions for Landcare farmers, et cetera. It is the same as the partnerships that we have across Australia with NRM agencies and Landcare groups. It just depends on the partnerships.

Senator SIEWERT —That would be a fair account of what happens in Western Australia, too.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Western Australian and Queensland are similar in that the CMA is really a community group that interacts more closely. I think in Queensland it is similar in that Landcare is not what it used to be, because to a degree the role has been blurred. I thank you for the information that you have given us today. It has been particularly useful. I can understand why you have been in the business for a long time. You know your stuff, and I wish you all the best. I hope the funding comes through.

Mrs Brennan —So do we. As I said, our community weeds taskforce is one of the very few bodies in Victoria that brings together approximately 20 different agencies and community groups for weed management. There is a huge passion out there for NRM work, and most people would say that they do not want somebody to do it for them. They just want a little bit of help and that is what our coordinators, facilitators and project officers were there for. It is about having somebody to support them to do it. They do not need you to do it for them. They just need some help. That is the message that I need to get up to Canberra from my community. We do not expect you to do it for us, but we do expect a little bit of help, because it is the environment. As much as the global economic crisis at the moment is terrible, if we do not look after our environment it will not be there. You cannot bail out our environment overnight. It is a long-term commitment and we have those long-term committed people.

Senator SIEWERT —Can we go back to the NLP issue?

Mrs Brennan —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Do you access NLP as well?

Mrs Brennan —Not anymore. My understanding is that NLP has finished.

Senator SIEWERT —Were you previously?

Mrs Brennan —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —How long ago was that?

Mr McGarry —It was up until the last financial year.

Mrs Brennan —NLP finished as of 30 June.

Senator SIEWERT —I am still tracking all the money. We have been told that NLP Landcare funding has gone into—

Mrs Brennan —The Sustainable Farming Program of CFOC, or Caring for our Country; I am not allowed to call it CFOC, sorry.

Senator SIEWERT —I have heard somebody else call it something else.

Mrs Brennan —Sorry, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —My understanding is that is still being run as a Landcare funding issue?

Mrs Brennan —My understanding is that as of 30 June all the previous funding stopped, regardless of what it was called. All the natural resource management funding is handled under Caring for our Country. Under the outcomes that are to be announced in the business plan—and obviously this is the start of it—we will ask: what was NLP money? That is the sustainable farming stuff. What was the coastal money? That is the critical aquatic habitats money. That is how we get our minds around where that money has gone.

Senator SIEWERT —I will double check this again next week, but my understanding is that the Minister for Agriculture is still responsible for the sustainable farming money. Are you aware of that?

Mr McGarry —As I understand it, the National Landcare Program was going to run as a three-year project alongside Caring for our Country, but that changed and was reduced back to one year. Its focus was also going to change and it was going to be a lot more focused on sustainable agriculture and have a lot more industry focus. In our case that would mean we would miss out on that opportunity. When the senator asked us about the difference between volunteers and what the networks and the CMA does, I can quantify it really simply. Last financial year the CMA received $780,000 of NHT money to employ eight and a half coordinators and facilitators. Those eight and a half coordinators and facilitators supported Landcare in the region and they brought on board another $2.2 million of project money for on-ground works.

Senator SIEWERT —Did that come from NHT and NLP?

Mr McGarry —It came from everywhere.

Mrs Brennan —Corporate sponsors.

Mr McGarry —It came from all sorts of places.

Mrs Brennan —We are slowly developing our corporate sponsors. That $780,000 generated another $2.2 million worth of work in our region; because we had that $780,000.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, in the first place.

Mrs Brennan —We need that $780,000 to be able to get the $2.2 million.

Senator SIEWERT —Exactly. If you do not get the grants—

Mrs Brennan —I am not particularly optimistic. Somebody told me that the Caring for our Country open grants were 95 per cent oversubscribed.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is right.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes.

Mrs Brennan —That means there is five per cent. We are just hoping we are in that five per cent, but we are not holding our breath.

Senator SIEWERT —What happens then? It seems to me it is a catch-22, because you cannot get the other money to do your work if you have not got that initial money.

Mrs Brennan —What I will do as the South Gippsland Landcare Network coordinator is wait until the business plan comes out. I will then work with the partners that I have to develop a three-year funding bid, and our network goes into almost a bit of a holding pattern until we can get some more funding. I still support the groups to the best of my ability. We have some money that we have been able to save as a network. We are employing, and we have interviews next Friday, a half-time—for nine months—new landholder project officer, but we have had to fund that ourselves. Come 30 June next year that person will be gone and they are only there two and a half days a week. That is all I have got. If my Landcare groups want some help and if I can fit it in with staff management and all the other stuff I do in those three days a week, that is great. If not, we will just have to wait until some more money comes. It probably means that I will spend a lot of my time in writing applications for money to wherever it comes from. If you know of some money about, let me know because I can write an application. There is the Australian Government Volunteers Small Equipment Grants Program. Our Landcare groups need tree planters and backpacks. What I was doing last night was finishing that off and that went into the post today. I am trying to get $40,000 for our network, primarily our Landcare groups, to help with the work that they do. That will give them some money. The issue I have is that if I get that $40,000 I have to administer it. I cannot say, ‘Can you buy 92 tree planters? Can you buy 46 backpacks? Can you buy five GPS units and have all the instructions and all the legalities?’ We are going to have a big working bee to label things if we get the money. I apply for money for our groups. Our No. 1 objective is to strengthen our Landcare groups. Everything I do comes back to that one thing.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you very much.

CHAIR —On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your time today.

Committee adjourned at 5.42 pm