Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Government's environmental credibility maintained by its continued financial support in the Budget of the Landcare program

PETER CAVE: One of the few good news stories to come out of the Budget is the Government's continued commitment to Landcare, the community scheme which promotes sustainable land management. Landcare got $105 million to help it move into a new national role and to help in setting up Landcare programs in urban areas. Sarah Armstrong reports on what many regard as one of the last examples of the Government's environmental credibility.

SARAH ARMSTRONG: Around the country people in Landcare groups are planting trees, regenerating the bush, monitoring their use of fertilisers and reducing water run-off. Over the last three years the number of groups has grown from 600 to 1600. Between 25 and 30 per cent of Australian farmers are involved in a Landcare group. The scheme represents the Government's increasingly pragmatic approach to environmental policy. Chief Executive of Landcare, Brian Scarsbrick.

BRIAN SCARSBRICK: I think what's happening is that Landcare is being positioned as the middle of the road, sustainable, taking into consideration productivity, environmental issue. It's marrying environmental issues with the need to get on with the job of producing food and fibre. And also, under the Landcare banner, a lot of things are being put, let's face it. So it's an environmental issue that is really taking off and being successful. The main reason is that it is community based, that the community are making the decisions about it and the Government is just facilitating, greasing the cogs with some funding and that sort of thing. Governments can't fix problems, it's people and it's communities.

SARAH ARMSTRONG: Brian Scarsbrick from Landcare. One hundred and fifty land holders near Violet Town in north-east Victoria have joined forces to tackle dry land salinity which has affected hundreds of hectares of their land. Pam Robinson, who runs a merino sheep farm in the area, is involved in the local Landcare group and says that over ten years they've helped the local area's sustainability by planting grasses and trees, protecting rivers and streams and lowering the water table.

PAM ROBINSON: Dry land salinity for me is a problem that I have to contend with but it's only in a moderate amount on my property, but it has meant that I've got an area of land that is now out of action for stock. But equally, since I became involved ten years ago, some of that area that really was not producing anything I've been able to sow down things like tall wheat grass and, in fact, I'm getting some grazing where I didn't in the past. So it's understanding all of that.

SARAH ARMSTRONG: And how do you do that? How do you make the land produce again?

PAM ROBINSON: Well, first of all, it is to close out the area so that you keep stock off it, because stock love salt and they will, in fact, come in and roll in it and lick it and what have you, so you've got no chance of covering it under those conditions. After that it is certainly fencing it out; it is then finding a species of grass that will grow - and that's one area that we're fairly limited in our area as to what will grow. We use tall wheat grass and that is most effective, but then the other side of that is it has to be managed properly. So all of it is learning all the time.

SARAH ARMSTRONG: So what's the most important thing for you about being involved with a Landcare group?

PAM ROBINSON: Being in a Landcare group gives the opportunity to achieve a lot more than you would working by yourself. And really, we're just farms by means of fences. It's an area, it's a district, so that where we've always worked before as just individuals within fences, we're really having to look at where the cause and effect of what's happening. And that's been one of the major things.

One of the other great things has been, it's really the amazing phenomena that Landcare groups are and can be, because socially a lot of other things have gone from rural areas, such as Red Cross branches and CWA, and so it's filling an enormous gap of being together as a social function, which is very important particularly when things are just not as buoyant agriculturally.

PETER CAVE: Pam Robinson, a member of a Landcare group near Violet Town in north-east Victoria, ending that report from Sarah Armstrong.