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Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts
17/05/2012
Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate

ANDERSON, Mr Mark Bradley, Chief Executive Officer, Greening Australia (South Australia)

COHEN, Mr Leonard, Executive Director, Canopy

[11:57]

CHAIR: I welcome representatives of the Fixing Our Country program to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House. Although Greening Australia has made a submission to the inquiry, we have not received a written submission specifically about the Fixing Our Country program. Would you like to give us a very brief outline of that program? If you could summarise your submission, we can ask you questions.

Mr Cohen : I am a little deaf, so if I speak loudly and listen badly I am sorry about that. Fixing Our Country is a program designed to take information about the carbon market, the Carbon Farming Initiative, the Biodiversity Fund and biodiversity issues in general out to Aboriginal Australians in South Australia. It is funded by a grant from the department of climate change. The department was looking for stories to tell about action on climate change. We thought that this would be a great story to tell, because we could go out, visit Aboriginal communities, do a three-day program where we would introduce them to the whole idea of the carbon market and climate change and then we would work out what might be possible for them to achieve on their own country, should they wish, using biodiversity funds to apply and then create CFI based credits on their own country.

We thought the best way to do that would be to run the program live. Everything we do goes up on Facebook that day and every response that is made by the people who have come to it might turn up on the Twitter feed or it might come up on YouTube. The idea was that it would get out into the Aboriginal community more widely that way, because many Aboriginal people use Facebook. It has actually worked. We have delivered about six of them. We have two more to do. The responses have been wonderful. I had been hoping that it would work out this way, but it is particularly because Greening Australia is a trusted person with some Aboriginal groups. The first groups we spoke to were ones with whom Greening Australia had worked before. Once the word got out, others started to want us to take the program to them. Now that it has been delivered to about 60 people, we are starting to get emails from Western Australia and Queensland saying, 'You mob ought to come over and talk to us now, because we've got all the same issues. Come and tell us.' Of course, we are only South Australian and our funding expires in June. Nevertheless, we do talk to the department of climate change and to people in SEWPAC. We are looking to people who might think that this is a good model, and so have shown how we have done it. We have also shown them the revisions. You start off with an idea about how to do this thing and then you have to revise it because it does not work on the ground, or the participants tell you that they liked this bit but they did not like the other bit. So the whole thing has to shift and move. But the principle is the same: two people doing it, three days on ground. You have to actually go out and do it in country, you cannot import people to Adelaide and sit them in a boardroom. Is that too much?

Mr Anderson : At the end of the program a component of the funding is set aside to deliver some works on-ground. There is about $100,000, which will probably go to one or two of those communities who have the best opportunity to be able to spend it for a carbon purpose.

CHAIR: Which Aboriginal groups have you worked with to date?

Mr Cohen : We started with Ngarrindjeri Peramangk down on Swan Reach, then we went to Ngarrindjeri at Murray Bridge, then again down to the Coorong, to the Raukkan community, then up to Whyalla, to the Banggarla people, and we have just been to Ceduna. In Ceduna there is quite a mix of people, because Ceduna is kind of a meeting point. We had people from as far north as Alice Springs come down for this and from out to the west, almost to the Western Australian border, and from the homelands around Ceduna. Have I missed someone out?

Mr Anderson : Point Pearce.

Mr Cohen : That's right. We have not actually been to Point Pearce. We have Point Pearce and Umuwa still to do. We have eight; I think I have missed one.

CHAIR: That is fine. It is a very good cross-section of the major groups that I am aware of out here. You said that your funding runs out at the end of June. Have you applied for further funding? If not, what will happen after that?

Mr Anderson : The funding that we applied for here, I think, was a one-off. It was an early bit of funding around communications for the CFI. Whilst the Biodiversity Fund has already had a round—it was announced two weeks ago—for that first round the Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund actually did not call for any projects; it is going to call in the second round. As I understand it, for the second round the call will go out in September, decisions will be made by December and funding will be coming in in January, so we basically have a bit of a hiatus there. Then we would have to organise something after that, so we probably have a 12-month hiatus built into the program if the next source of funding is that Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund, unless we can find something earlier than that or some of the communities that are really keen to work with us have other sources of funding. We are talking now with people in Geraldton about other places where they might find funding so that we can run it there, and we are generally trying to think about what we can do.

I think the key to the success of it is that Greening Australia has had a long-term relationship with a lot of these communities. We have been there for 10 years or more, working with the Raukkan community and the communities in Murray Bridge and some of the others. So I think we have got over a bit of a hump when it comes to someone knowing when they pick up the phone that that person will still be there and that organisation will still be a keen partner to do that. So it is a lot of years of partnering, but I think that has taken us to a point where we were able to introduce a new scheme and get pretty good take-up of it.

CHAIR: Okay. I will pass over to my colleagues.

Dr WASHER: I have just one question. What are the practicalities? Give me an example of one of these communities. You would go out and get an agreement for them to plant so many mallee or whatever species would work there in the local area, and then you would set up a nursery site locally? Just run me through this, because they have to have something that lasts 100 years, which is a fairly long-term plan; I guess most mallees would survive that.

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Dr WASHER: Tell me practically. Just give me one example. Run through it quickly. What is practical on the ground and how involved would these people be in doing that for themselves?

Mr Anderson : We have not really got there yet with the on-the-ground stuff. At the moment this program is a training and education program that can allow communities to get up to speed with the opportunities that are available both within the Carbon Farming Initiative and within carbon in general in terms of government funding and programs that they can have access to, and also the commercial carbon market and what that means. Our thought was that, if you are a landholder—a normal white Australian agriculturalist—you probably have access to accountants, lawyers and people who can help you work through what these programs mean to you, whether you want to take them up in the end or not, whereas Indigenous communities probably did not have that ability to assess whether this was something they wanted to engage with. So this program, in the first instance, is so that a reasonable number of people within each of those communities understand all of those projects, have made some partnerships with us so that they can ask more questions and find out anything they want to know, and can then make decisions about how they would like to interact with those things.

On top of that, there is also $100,000 set aside for doing some actual carbon planting. We have not made a decision over where that money is going to get spent yet, but at the moment, for it to have a carbon purpose, it will have to be spent on actual trees in the ground, because that is the only thing that it can be spent on. Our commitment is to do that in the way that involves that community as well as practicable, with whatever gets the best results. For us, partnerships are always the best results, and an ongoing partnership with Indigenous Australia is something that we are keen to forge through this. That is what we get at the end of the day. Exactly how that works out depends on where that community is, what resources they have and all the rest of it, but it is surely the intent to use as much local labour and local input as possible. If that is 100 per cent then that is fine for us if we can do it that way.

Mr Cohen : It also depends a bit on exactly where you are and what kind of land you have. If you look at people up around Ceduna, on the homelands they have Torrens title; they actually own their land. They are in a slightly different position to, say, some of the people around Point Pearce. What they are looking at doing if they want to take this further is taking their current skills, which they have built up by learning about reveg programs, seed collecting and building nurseries, and making an application under the Biodiversity Fund for a program on their homelands and spelling out in the process a business plan that talks about all of the things, the infrastructure and how that would work.

The great thing is that the Ngarrindjeri at Raukkan and at Sugar Shack near Mannum have been doing this for the last few years with Greening Australia, so they already have a prototypical infrastructure that could be copied by other Aboriginal groups. So, if you are going to go down that path, you could follow what other groups have done. That is the kind of model we have been holding up.

Ms HALL: Does part of your training include the development of business plans and assisting to do that, or is that just left to the Indigenous group once you move away?

Mr Cohen : We have not included the development of a business plan, but what we have talked about is that this is not something that you can just go ahead and do. The model that we hold up is: information, more information leading to understanding, more understanding leading to planning, and planning leading to action—and you do not go to action until you have got all of that. So all of the inputs include business. At the end of every session everyone has big pieces of paper and they write up all the things they think ought to be done. In every case they have put down: 'We could fit this in with our current business,' or 'We need to know how to do this as a business.' Some people run ecotourism; some have cattle, carbon, conservation mixes. So they typically are aware that this is part of an economic change and that they need to see it in business terms. No-one that we have spoken to has missed that point, and they have told us that that is where they need to see it.

Mr Anderson : That said, though, the primary driver from a business perspective is going to be once a rangelands methodology is established, because probably the main source of actual real income is going to come out of the carbon market. We certainly do not believe that planting trees for carbon is going to be a viable income to replace other sources of income. Whilst you might be able to make money out of it, you would not want to do it somewhere where you could not afford to not be using that land in the first place. The advantage with Indigenous communities is that a lot of their driver for this is to restore their land for cultural purposes, so this is providing a resource where they can get some funding to restore that land. It may have a carbon value to them in the future, should such a market exist, but to write a business plan without a rangelands methodology and without knowing what the price of carbon is going to be in five years is very difficult.

Mr Cohen : Also, just to take it a step further, in the summary piece of work everyone is asked to come up with three things that they think are interesting, three things that suggest that this might be a good idea and three reasons not to do it. You have to look at risk and teach people about risk, so this whole thing has a risk-aware component. The standard line is: this is the opposite of a 'get rich quick' scheme; this is a 'get less poor slowly' scheme and it is not a river of gold. A lot of expectations get built up about the carbon market and defusing that in an appropriate manner is actually quite important, because when people come along to these sessions some of them have an inflated notion about the potential for carbon. If you want to revegetate a dune top where the sand has been blowing away due to the fact it was overgrazed, and there are ancestral burial sites on the dune top, then you have got multiple reasons, here is your funding, and into the bargain you get the carbon value from the mallee as you put that 500 hectares under reveg.

Ms MARINO: You have done six of eight sessions?

Mr Cohen : Yes.

Ms MARINO: What was the type of funding that you secured to be able to do that? You have got the $100,000 there as well. What was the overall funding package enabling you to do this?

Mr Anderson : That was from the communications component of the CFI when it first came out. There was an early allocation for communications.

Ms MARINO: What amount was it?

Mr Anderson : It was $300,000.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON: Just a little more about the prospective purchaser or purchasers of the credits. Who do you see as being the prospective purchasers?

Mr Cohen : It kind of works two ways. CSIRO did a nationwide survey about a thing called co-benefit where you look at the nature of a particular credit and what additional things that the creation of that credit brings to the credit to make it more purchasable or more valuable in someone's eyes. Last year we had a chat with both Qantas and Virgin and, for their voluntary purchase programs, they want co-benefit carbon. They want it for a number of reasons: there are corporate social responsibility ones, and there are the more venial reasons: that it looks good on your website. There are also reasons, which are quite interesting—for example, Qantas will not buy a carbon credit which has been created to the detriment of food production. They are really aware, so you have got your carbon aware buyer and then you have got people like—we were approached the day before yesterday by a coalminer: 1.3 million tonnes CO2 per annum emissions; anything under $23 a tonne, please? You would have people in the mandatory market who are really just competing on price and may not have a particular interest; and then you have people in the mandatory market who already have an ILUA with an Indigenous organisation and it is going to be to their benefit to buy credit, if they can, from that group—that is an Indigenous Land Use Agreement. The co-benefit carbon thing works both in Australia and without, because we know that the reason that the National Australia Bank bought carbon credits from Brazil was because of all the Indigenous co-benefits. They had a choice and they went that way.

CHAIR: You talked about the fact that some of the Indigenous groups have Torrens title to their land; others do not have any specific title but they have native title in a general sense; and some in fact have a management role. How do you structure the agreements so that the funds are properly directed back to the Indigenous people when none of them have specific ownership of the property?

Mr Cohen : We do not. They do, and it is a thorny question. Government has already looked at this and tried to work out how this might be best managed. If you look at the funding under the Indigenous carbon fund, the third tranche of funding is for real assistance to Aboriginal landholders to organise where there maybe multiple interests in land, including, say, pastoralists or other people or a lack of clear title. There are people up in the APY who have clear title and there will be people whose claims are in the process of being recognised like the so-called landless Barngarla, who now have something like 100 square kilometres of former defence department land being handed over to them out of Whyalla. When those two big stations come back to them, that will be theirs. The state government has to approve it, but that becomes theirs. They are all in flux, and we point out to them: 'Before you go down the path of making a CFI sink, these are the things you need to do. You absolutely have to know who owns the land and how that is worked out. Here is how you pay for that, because no-one is expecting you to go out and employ a hot shot lawyer. This fund will help you do that. This is how you apply, and you can apply from July 1.'

CHAIR: My last question: given that we were talking about your own funding and you are in somewhat of a limbo until you can even apply for funding, which is in about six months time, what happens to all of these discussions and negotiations you have had thus far?

Will they be ongoing or will they effectively just fall by the wayside? I suspect that if you do not keep the ball rolling with them, if you do not keep them on the agenda, nobody else will.

Mr Anderson : We will keep the agenda going because we feel confident about this being an appropriate thing to be funded in the next round, even though there will be at least 10 months of unfunded space in the middle. It often happens in our industry. We see it quite a bit. We are certainly willing to continue to stay with it as much as we can. The communities that we are talking to are very keen to find other sources of funding so that they can continue with it, so I imagine that we will be able to continue with it in some instance, somewhere, in some community somewhere in Australia—or two, three or four who have funding that they can find to keep the process going.

The concern is probably more that, if the idea of this process is to prepare Indigenous Australia to be able to engage with the Carbon Farming Initiative and the funds that are associated with that, and with the carbon market while it still has a fixed price, and with all sorts of other things that are happening right at the moment, we are talking about that taking longer and longer to happen. If we go through another round, we will not get funded until just before the end of the 2013-14 financial year. There will be another round in there for a second round, so, by the time we have built this program up with another couple of rounds, it will effectively be the end of the Biodiversity Fund and the end of that CFI funding.

Mr Cohen : That is what I am worried about.

Mr Anderson : What you should have is a big spike in funding right at the beginning, saying, 'Okay, can we make it a level playing field?' and get all Australians who are managing land—and these guys are managing most of it—up to speed with how they can work with these various funding sources, how they can work with the market and what they can do with their land and then let that flow through as the funding sources are spent and as the market develops.

Mr Cohen : We are looking to try and find Aboriginal Australians who can do what I do, and do what the Greening Australia guys who work with me do, so that we could replace me and them, hopefully, with people who have these skills and then just replicate it, because it is not that hard to do. You just have to know your stuff. We have found a couple—including one absolutely brilliant 20-year-old student, but that is too long a story. In a way, if we could now provide a plan that could be rolled out in WA, Queensland, New South Wales particularly, I think, and the Territory—but the Territory is more aware, in a way, about this stuff already—and if it could be duplicated and more people found to do what we do, that would be a very sensible thing.

In the past, Aboriginal Australia has been a bit behind the eight ball as the great economic waves came through the country—first agriculture, then mining and manufacture, and now we have a carbon economy. Having trained a lot of farmers and CEOs, I know that everybody is about equally unaware of how this works. So here is a chance for them to start off at the same level as all the other people, because the South Australian government is perhaps going to send me off soon to go and talk to landholders again, but they do not have a clue. Let us all, everyone, get a clue at about the same time. Do you know what I mean? I do not want to be cheeky, but that seems to me to be important.

CHAIR: Thank you. As there are no further questions, Mr Anderson and Mr Cohen, thank you very much for attending today's hearing. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence today. If you feel that any changes need to be made to it, please advise the secretariat. On behalf of the committee I thank you not only for appearing here today but for the work that you have been doing with the Indigenous people in this state. It sounds as if the project you are on is very, very useful and productive, so we wish you well with it.

Resolved (on motion by Dr Washer):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 12:24