Natural Resource Management Program - Adjournment Debate

September 15, 2009

Natural Resource Management Program - Adjournment Debate

HON ROBIN CHAPPLE (Mining and Pastoral) [9.42 pm]: I rise tonight to talk about the natural resource  management program. Born out of and expanding upon the Landcare movement, natural resource management,  or NRM, has always been about communities caring for their environment, but with the Australian government  now  clearly  looking  to  purchase  outcomes  for  its  priorities  and  the  state  indicating  a  similar  preference,  the  ability of local people to care for their local environment appears to be in jeopardy.

The future of natural resource management is now caught up in a perfect storm. The Australian government is  now favouring nationwide NRM targets that do not take into account Western Australia.s unique NRM issues,  such  as  salinity.  In  last  year.s  funding  round,  no  small  WA  environmental  groups,  such  as  .Friends  of.  or  Coastcare, were successful in obtaining funding. To make amends, this year the Australian government allocated  $5 million  to  small  group  projects  across  Australia.  Even  if  this amount  was  distributed  evenly,  it would  not  mean much funding for local communities in this state. Instead of filling this void, up until now the state has  essentially done very little. A total  of $6 million was allocated to NRM last financial year,  with  $2.5 million  supporting NRM administration functions and the other $3.5 million supporting state agency projects.

The state government instigated and  responded  to  its  own NRM  review  in  May of this year. As part of its  response to the review, it stated –

A $30 million program has been delivered in the 2009-10 State Budget, with a review of the program to  guide consideration of further NRM investment leading into the 2010-11 budget process.

Minister Redman, in his press release of 14 May 2009, declared .

Future NRM  funding will  depend on  successful  outcomes from key State NRM programs supported  with this money.

That is, the $30 million.

It is almost the end of the first quarter of this financial year and the community is still waiting for the state to  announce how it will be running the NRM program and who will be receiving funding. If a future NRM program  is dependent on successful outcomes for this financial year, it must be questioned what can be achieved in the  remaining nine months. The window of opportunity for activities such as weed removal has passed. Are we to  see $30 million spent on planting trees and fencing because there is not enough time to do anything else? How  are  these decisions being  made? We know  there  is  a Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council  comprising seven ministers. How are these ministers prioritising projects and funding allocations when we are  still waiting for a state NRM policy to be tabled in Parliament?  Also, there is no word  whether an  implementation strategy is even being developed as per the government.s response to its own review.

The  government has also stated that it  has adopted a policy of  defining state  priorities that  will guide NRM  investment by the state. When will the community see this? Will the community have a say? The government  has stated that it will continue to engage with the community and that a key role for the community is to identify  those regional assets the community identify as important. The community has not engaged in this government.s  NRM program to date. The government  may state that  regional NRM groups  are  the principal  point  of  community engagement; however, the  $250 000 a year the state provides this group is not enough  for any  organisation  to  engage  with  the  regional  community. The  occasional  meeting between the state and NRM  regional chairs group does not constitute community engagement.

What  does  this  essentially  mean for  the  continuation  of  a  state NRM  program  and  conserving, managing  and  improving the WA environment? Investment decisions are being made, but, in what appears to be a hallmark of  this government, without any acknowledgement of the need for transparent processes open to the public and key  stakeholder examination, or,  more importantly, participation.  Will cabinet decide to  pull the  pin  on NRM  altogether because of a lack of strategic framework around the decision making of NRM ministers? Meanwhile,  as ministers squabble over $30 million, we have a much larger bucket in royalties for regions that produces little  value for Western Australia.s environment. Under royalties for regions, regional development equals spending  on infrastructure. An important part of community resilience in regional Western Australia is ensuring there are  attractive places to live and that we have healthy, viable natural resources. As the impacts of climate change are  only going to increase, it is essential that water supplies are secured for regional towns, that invasive weeds and  pests are  dealt with,  quality  agricultural land is  preserved to  provide  food, and biodiversity is conserved to  support human life.

Has any of the royalties for regions money been used for the better management of our natural resource assets?  Have these been included as priorities by regional development commissions? The management of our precious  natural  resource  assets  must  be  a  strategic,  long-term  process.  Our  environment  has  been  in  decline  since  European settlement, as evidenced by successive state of the environment reports. There is no quick fix to the problems we have caused. To truly do what is best for our environment, we need an NRM program that is secure  in its continuation and strategic in its investment. The  program must acknowledge that we  will not always  achieve  short-term  outcomes  for  the  investment,  but  it  is  the  long-term  results  that  count.  It  must  also  acknowledge, support and involve our community members who have dedicated many hours of paid and unpaid  time to conserve our precious natural resources. 

On that note, I ask the minister representing the Minister for Agriculture and Food, who will be able to respond  to a question I am asking in the next day or so, where are we going with the investment of this $30 million?

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