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Speech by the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation at the Lower Burdekin Landcare Awards Program: Ayr, North Queensland: 9 September 2005

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Lower Burdekin Landcare Awards Program

Ayr, North Queensland - 9 September 2005

I wouldn't have missed this night for quids. I'm so proud of the landcare movement, and everything the landcare movement does - particularly here in the Lower Burdekin. As I say, I wouldn't have missed it for quids, I actually left Canberra this morning at 9.30am to be with you and we've just arrived.

In spite of the best efforts of the fire scare at Sydney airport, and Qantas' delays, I'm at last here. And apologies from my wife, who has just dropped me off. She wasn't properly attired in our travelling gear and, neither am I, but I thought it perhaps more appropriate to be with you.

It's good to be with you and help celebrate tonight; celebrate the work that the landcare movement in the Lower Burdekin has achieved; celebrate their successes and their real achievements and tonight, to recognise some of the champions of the landcare movement with the presentation of some six awards.

Before I do that, can I just recognise and pay tribute to Chairman of the Lower Burdekin Landcare movement, Graham Anderson and his wife Joan. And to Stan Simpson, the MC, who has obviously been keeping you well entertained with his jokes.

Sorry I missed them Stan, I guess I probably heard them 30 years ago when I first met you, but they still bring a laugh to people and, of course, I know she'll be here somewhere, Rosemary Menkens, Member for Burdekin, yes she is up there and her husband Ray, Councillor Lyn McLaughlin, the Mayor, Councillor Ross Gambino, Bob Frazer the CEO OF the Burdekin Dry Tropics NRM Body and other distinguished guests.

Look, it is I think appropriate that we should all very much congratulate the winners and the landcare movement in general. I do want to thank all of those who've been involved any way in helping do the things that landcare does so well - sustain, manage our soil, our water, our vegetation ensuring that we do pass on to the next generation in good condition, the environment we value today, and the services that environment provides.

Right throughout Australia, there are over 130,000 people actively involved in the landcare movement, and they include, farmers, individual groups, groups like the Burdekin Shire Council, and Australia-wide farmers make up a good proportion of the landcare movement. Forty percent of farmers across Australia are actually members of landcare, and 75 per cent of the total number of farmers in Australia have drawn on information that has been made available through the landcare network. Sixty-six percent of those farmers have advised, according to an ABARE study, that the landcare experience has improved their farm productivity and their farm profitability. And, so, we are indebted to all of those people who do make a contribution to landcare.

The Australian Government wants to assist, and we do assist. By 2008, we

will have put something like $700million dollars into the landcare movement since 1996. Since 1996l as well, some four and a half billion dollars has gone into the Natural Heritage Trust, and the National Action Plan Salinity and Water Quality, and various other programs, and that includes our Envirofund program, our Community Water Grants Program, the 57 NRM Regional Bodies right around Australia that are doing good work on the ground.

And that does also include a recent innovation that many landcare members will be aware off, and very interested in, and that is the new program called 'Defeating the Weeds Menace', whereby, at the Commonwealth level, we are putting some $40 million into trying to defeat the menace of weeds in our country. As many of you will know weeds cost our country something like $4 billion annually. About two and a half billion dollars in lost production and about $1.5 billion in monies spent by landowners, councils and State governments to try and control weeds. And so this $40 million dollar program will be well received by those involved in the landcare movement.

In this particular area we do need to look after our land. We have this unique Burdekin delta system; we have one of the biggest river systems in Australia to look after. We have, just next door to us, one of the world's significant natural icons in the Great Barrier Reef - and that does need care and protection.

We have very important industry in this area - the sugar industry, which depends so much on the natural resources that people like yourselves make happen,l and it's an industry that, while it has struggled in the past, is looking a fraction better now, but one that is of course very important to many coastal communities up and down the countryside. I have to say, as an aside, just yesterday, I was in a Cabinet sub committee, which did look at the question of ethanol, and while the Prime Minister is yet to make any announcements, and no, we're not going to mandate ethanol, but, certainly, I think when the Prime Minister does announce what Cabinet decided yesterday it will be good news for those communities, both grain and sugar communities, who can make a good go of the ethanol industry.

But all of those sorts of things are important to landcare members and, of course, looking after our natural resources supports and enriches our quality of life, in this community and right throughout Australia.

Ladies and Gentlemen, landcare only works because of people. It doesn't matter how much governments put into it, it doesn't matter how many bureaucrats and scientists get involved in landcare, unless you have people doing the work on the ground it won't work. And so, tonight, we do recognise particularly, six people who have made a special contribution, but I'd like to extend that and recognise all of those who have made a contribution.

As I say, Graham and Joan Anderson are two of them, the Lower Burdekin Landcare movement itself, I see Scott Abraham here, making a contribution through fish re-stocking and other ways, John Young, I'm told, is here and, I hope, I haven't missed you John - oh that's great, because I've heard John before, or heard of him before, and of what he will tell us, and I know it is something not to miss. Particularly, can I welcome and congratulate in advance those people who are to be awarded tonight?

In concluding, ladies and gentlemen, can I say how very supportive I am as an Australian Government Minister of the landcare movement? And, as the Minister for Conservation, Fisheries, Forestry and Conservationl I am very determined to do what I can to help the landcare movement right around Australia.

Please, if you do ever need some unravelling of some bureaucratic road blocks, don't hesitate to call on me. I'm still working on the Burdekin Bowen Floodplain arrangement; I see Les Searle here, to try and get a resolution to an issue that arose sometime ago, but we do want to try and support anyone dealing with landcare movements, anyone dealing with natural resource management in this particular area.

So, finally can I again congratulate all of you who have been involved? And, particularly, let's celebrate together the winners who have been recognised tonight.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2002-2005 | Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry | Other DAFF Ministers | Prime Minister