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Tackling salinity: Labor's policy framework for sustainable land and water use.



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Labor Policy Paper 002 1

Tackling Salinity Labor’s policy framework for sustainable land and water use The Hon Simon Crean MP Leader of the Opposition

Kelvin Thomson MP Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage

Senator Kerry O’Brien Shadow Minister for Primary Industries and Resources

MARCH 2002 - PP002

Labor Policy Paper 002 1

Contents

Contents ......................................................................................................................... 1

Introduction ................................................................................................................... . 1

Principle 1 - Strategic planning and a Whole of Governments approach.............................. 1

Principle 2 - Leadership from the top................................................................................ 2

Principle 3 - Improving existing processes ........................................................................ 2

Principle 4 - Reversing the current decline in native vegetation.......................................... 2

Principle 5 - Streamlining Funding.................................................................................... 3

Principle 6 - Innovation ................................................................................................... 3

Principle 7 - Partnerships................................................................................................. 4

Introduction

After six wasted years - and in spite of John Howard’s hollow rhetoric - fundamental environmental issues have become more critical and are in need of urgent attention.

Australians are more concerned about the health of our environment than ever before. They are right to expect that governments will protect our most precious and vulnerable areas and will ensure the sustainable use of our resources.

To address environmental, sustainable land use and regional development issues effectively, a national effort is required from all sectors of the community and industry, with leadership from the Commonwealth, and coordinated action amongst the States.

The 2001 State of the Environment Report 2001 highlights the need for urgent action. The report found that since 1996 there have been increased pressures on many inland waters, a substantial increase in water extraction, continued clearing of catchment and riverside vegetation, increases in the area of land affected by dryland salinity and increases in pesticide use.

The following principles provide a framework for action to combat salinity and to ensure sustainable land and water use.

Principle 1 - Strategic planning and a Whole of Governments approach

Tackling salinity and land degradation requires a Whole of Governments approach - it requires the active involvement and co-operation of all levels of Government - Federal, State and local.

Action must be driven from the top, through a Heads of Government Commitment under the Council of Australian Governments.

Such a Commitment should be guided by a comprehensive national strategy for Natural Resource Management that includes:

• A national framework of objectives, targets and priorities with clearly defined roles and responsibilities;

• Binding and enforceable agreements between the Commonwealth and States, with monitoring of performance against auditable outcomes;

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• A system of regional planning and integrated catchment management based on accredited management plans, including assistance to landholders to identify land capacity and for integration into regional planning processes;

• Ensuring all obligations under international treaties to which Australia is a signatory are being met; and,

• Ensuring full integration of biodiversity targets and objectives.

Principle 2 - Leadership from the top

Labor believes that federal Natural Resource Management Policy should be driven from within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Department must coordinate Government policy on systemic environmental issues like greenhouse, salinity and land degradation that cross the boundaries of portfolios, and rely on whole of government responses for effective action.

Furthermore, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet should subject all legislation to an environmental review as part of the process of coordinating comments for cabinet submissions.

Principle 3 - Improving existing processes

Effective co-operation with the States is particularly crucial for delivering outcomes. The Federal Government must:

• Ensure the Council of Australian Governments address salinity as a matter of priority and work cooperatively with the States for urgent action;

• Ensure all future policy development and decision making is informed by community and expert consultation;

• Progress and strengthen the COAG water reform process to ensure that water is properly managed through a package of reforms that address the issues of water pricing, property rights, infrastructure and environmental flows;

• Ensure water distribution infrastructure is co-ordinated with a National Infrastructure Plan; and,

• Enhance the ability of institutional frameworks, such as the Murray Darling Basin Commission, to deliver tangible on-ground outcomes.

Principle 4 - Reversing the current decline in native vegetation

Land clearing has serious implications for increasing rates of salinity and land degradation. Historical land clearing is the major cause of current salinity. Unless we control clearing now, we will face even greater devastation and loss of productive land.

The Government must consult with the States to re-establish a timeframe to reverse the decline of the quality and extent of native vegetation, including:

Setting national standards to control land clearing, that States must implement and manage under bilateral agreements; and

Making Commonwealth natural resource management funding (including both National Action Plan and Natural Heritage Trust funding) contingent on the implementation of these national standards, and linked to environmental outcomes.

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In setting these targets and establishing new standards, Labor recognises that some stakeholders may be adversely impacted.

The Government must provide resources for education and incentives for landholders to stop land clearing, invest in revegetation and move to more sustainable agricultural practices.

Labor recognises the legitimate expectation that compensation is payable where property rights are affected as a result of changing legislative requirements.

Principle 5 - Streamlining Funding

Funding for long-term environmental challenges must be met through core funding. The grant based funding of the NHT has been shown to be an ineffective mechanism to achieve natural resource management outcomes.

Funding allocation under the Natural Heritage Trust and National Action Plan for Salinity needs to be significantly reformed, including:

• Allocating funding according to regional priorities, established with a range of stakeholders that includes local government, under accredited catchment plans consistent with the National Strategy;

• Simplifying the funding allocation process by decreasing the administrative burden, particularly on volunteer community groups;

• Extending project funding periods where appropriate from annual to triennial or greater, to deliver improved environmental outcomes and provide greater job security to project workers;

• Linking funding to environmental outcomes under binding and enforceable agreements and ensuring clear accountability; and,

• Base ongoing funding on achievement of agreed milestones.

Principle 6 - Innovation

Encouraging more private investment in land repair is essential if Australia is to adequately address the challenge. Funding must focus on leverage of private investment to maximise the public benefits.

Market based mechanisms, such as permit or credit trading, can assist in achieving savings at least cost and can provide market signals that encourage private investment.

Labor calls on the Government to:

• Appoint a team of experts to explore private sector funding mechanisms to accelerate the uptake of sustainable agricultural practices;

• Explore market mechanisms to address salinity and natural resource management issues;

• In cooperation with the States and Territories, implement a federal legislative framework that appropriately defines property rights and trading mechanisms; and,

• Establish partnerships on both public and private lands to protect remnant vegetation and wildlife under covenant agreements.

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Principle 7 - Partnerships

Governments alone cannot solve the challenges of natural resources management. An effective solution will require active participation and the engagement of all stakeholders. The Government must:

• Work co-operatively with the States, Territories and local Governments through the Council of Australian Governments process;

• Seek to establish strategic alliances with industry leaders to promote best practice and innovative approaches to natural resources management and sustainable land use;

• Make Government assistance contingent on whole farm management plans that are consistent with regional strategies;

• Provide recognition and acknowledgment of those that take the lead on these issues, both within industry and the community, through the development of codes of practice, accreditation and endorsement labelling;

• Work with industry and land-holders to develop resource management benchmarks and codes of practice in specific industries;

• Promote research and development of innovative approaches; and

• Empower the Australian environmental services industry to provide solutions where possible.