LOCAL Landcare groups will have to wait another month before finding out exactly how much money the Federal Government is committing to a new small grants program.
Federal Environment Minister and Member for Flinders, Greg Hunt, took part in a one-hour roundtable discussion with several dozen Landcare representatives from Bass Coast and South Gippsland last Friday.
The meeting, held at Bass Community Hall, was closed to media, but several attendees said talks with Mr Hunt were civilised, despite his government’s budget plan to cut almost $484 million from the National Landcare Program over five years to fund the Green Army project.
Mr Hunt used the meeting as an opportunity to clarify that, despite the cuts, the Department of Environment is still providing $1 billion to Landcare and investing in other projects, such as $50 million towards the 20 Million Trees Program.
But local Landcare representatives hoping to gain clarity on the future of Landcare’s small grants program at last Friday’s meeting were left with few answers.
Bass Coast Landcare Network’s executive officer Kellie Nichols said there are “still a lot of unknowns”.
“We got a little bit of clarification around some programs, but it’s still unknown how Landcare will roll out into the future,” she said.
“We want to continue on the creation of bio-links across the catchments, we want to look at sustainable agriculture, and continuing our work along waterways, but in a broader scale, not in this isolated one-off grants program that won’t necessarily create linkages.”
Speaking to the Sentinel-Times immediately after the meeting, Mr Hunt confirmed an announcement regarding the small grants program would be made before the end of July.
He could not, however, confirm exactly how much of the $173.8 million of unallocated funding within the Environment Department’s budget will go directly to the new program.
Mr Hunt said he did not raise any figures during last Friday’s meeting, but assured the funding announcement would be “supportive”.
Mr Hunt finished by praising local Landcare representatives for their dedication.
“I think the Bass Coast Landcare Network is as good as any in the country,” he said.
Long-time Landcare volunteer Paul Speirs, who is part of three separate Landcare groups, as well as the Archies Creek Reforestation Project, said the Green Army project – which is destined to build a 15,000-strong workforce within four years – could help shape the views young participants have about the environment.
“Some of the Green Army recruits may stay with Landcare and want to enrol in natural resource management (courses),” he said.
“But we (at Landcare) would have to make sure their work is valuable and the experiences they have are valuable.”