Diane and Ross Garner, members of the Arawata Landcare group, said cutting Landcare funding and redirecting it to a Green Army program was “a disaster” for local groups. “It’s setting up Landcare to fail,” Diane said. “We’re fortunate that the issue of funding assistance offered through Landcare isn’t as important to us as sharing the knowledge. “We only have a couple of acres and a business in town that can help, but other people out there need more incentives and more assistance to implement environmental programs.” D032314
By Danika Dent
FARMERS and Landcare members are ropable about the Federal Government’s budget plan to cut $500 million from the National Landcare Program, and pledge it to the much maligned Green Army.
The funding reallocation has local groups in the South Gippsland Landcare Network (SGLN) worried they may be amalgamated to cut costs or closed and, there will be a decreased interest in sustainable farming practices as funding opportunities for on-farm work dries up.
SGLN board chairman Mark Uren described the funding cuts as devastating.
“It’s pretty obvious the Federal Government has slashed its Landcare funding in half and shifted it to cover the unemployment [Green Army] bill,” he said.
“What concerns me is that we’ll be paying for this down the track.
“Landcarers put in thousands of hours of volunteer work, doing it for free – farmers carving off significant parts of their land for revegetation, building fences and members planting trees because they believe in it, but with the budget cuts, we’ll have to pay for it to be done by the Green Army and it won’t be any bloody use to us.
“For example, we’ve got the Mirboo North Secondary College Landcare Cadets and they come out and do a great job and have a supervisor (aka a teacher) with them.
“With a Green Army there’s so much more (and paperwork) that will need to be done – there’s safety issues, WorkCover, training, induction and pay for a supervisor too.
“Then you’ve got to make sure you’ve got 26 weeks’ worth of work for them to do – which would be near impossible on local farms.
“In a case where you’ve got a million trees to plant, paying a contractor and a Green Army might work.”
Mr Uren said it was impossible to see how a Green Army program could do better than local Landcare groups.
He cited his experience supervising prisoners, Work for the Dole and other employment programs.
“Have any of these political idiots ever supervised a Green Army?
“Well I have and in all three cases the people doing the work weren’t motivated at all.
“If they don’t do a good job, what’s your recourse? You write a bad report but that’s it. Then you have to go in and replant it all again.
“The best thing about Landcare is that all the people involved are highly motivated and want to do the right thing.
“Bringing in a Green Army risks disenfranchising the people, the farmers, who are trying to do the right thing.”
Mr Uren said the network was already struggling and operating on an “oily rag”.
SGLN’s current projects, which include the Friends of Strzelecki Koala connecting biolinks, Demonstrating Sustainable Farming Practices, Corner Inlet water quality improvements and others are funded, but no money is being made available for future projects.
Funding for these projects comes from a variety of sources – federal, state, water catchment management authorities and industry levies.
Each project is allocated funding, from which the SGLN draws a 10 to 15 per cent stipend to fund a coordinator (Jenny O’Sullivan, whose contract expires in two and a half years), and environmental officers.
The rest of project funding goes into plants, materials for fencing and on site works.
“We’ve always managed to get really good bang for our buck,” Mr Uren said.
“It’s difficult to see this [budget] as anything less than a cash grab.
“Projects that are already being rolled out won’t stop, but after their funding runs out, we don’t know what will be next.
“We will have to find alternatives for funding, and we’d likely rely a lot more on State Government funding.
“We expect there may be a process of competitive tenders for funding, but that will focus on the big icon projects – like saving fluffy animals and for which the koala project has great promise, but there’s no money for erosion and water quality, weeds – the things that bring real impact in the long term.
“I just don’t see how varying the formula for funding will bring about the same or better outcomes.”
What is a Green Army?
• The Green Army is the pet project of Minister for the Environment Flinders MP Greg Hunt, and will begin in July
• It will build up to 15,000-strong workforce of 17 to 24 year-olds by 2018
• Recruits will be paid an allowance and work on up to 750 projects, lasting up to six months
• They will work towards Certificate I or Certificate II qualifications land management, park management, landscaping or horticulture.
• Jobs include cleaning up creek beds, revegetating sand dunes, managing pests and weeds, and protecting local heritage sites
• The scheme will be run by ‘qualified service providers’, and will be funded with $525 million over four years.
• Landcare will lose $483 million of its funding over five years, but will still get $1 billion.