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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7921

Mrs MIRABELLA (12:57 PM) —At a time when the government is talking about the issues of climate change and Penny Wong is touring the countryside buying up properties and water rights on the premise that it will save our depleted waterways, it is very surprising that the government would dramatically change funding for Landcare groups. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has admitted that, thanks to his reshuffle of funding for Landcare, there are now only 56 facilitators to cover the entire country. The government has introduced a funding model which now puts Landcare groups in competition with one another for funding. Under the new system, 70 per cent of funding must go toward funding grants, leaving only 30 per cent for wages of staff. Despite the minister’s assurance that funding levels have not decreased, he cannot guarantee—and he will not—that Landcare groups on the ground will not suffer. It does show that the minister is totally out of touch.

Landcare, as we know, is made up of volunteer farmers—farmers who take time out of their busy day to contribute to their local environment and community. It is these volunteers, who rely on the expertise of paid Landcare facilitators, who help local groups in so many ways—to identify problems, to provide advice on funding opportunities and to help draft proposals. Local farmers just do not have the time to keep up with government funding. They are not always in a position to be able to draft proposals to access funding.

In an ABC Radio interview, the minister failed to accept responsibility for the reduction of staff in areas in Victoria—and in some areas, such as the Mallee, they are down to one paid facilitator for the entire region. The minister must take responsibility. He is the one who approved the change. He should speak to farmers on the ground and other Landcare operators and actually do something that helps farmers care for their environment.