WESTERN Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert should be congratulated for her pursuit of the truth about the impact of the 2014 Federal Budget cuts on local Landcare Groups (see video link below right).
On Thursday, May 29, while she grilled Mr Ian Thompson, First Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Resource Management Division of the Department of Agriculture at the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee meeting, she finally got the officer to admit that there will be no funding within the Agriculture portfolio for Landcare grants for the next four years.
Here is the exchange between Senator Siewert and Mr Thompson which the senator admitted left her stunned. It is bound to leave local Landcare groups stunned as well:
Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Just to be clear, did you just say all of your funds under the agriculture part of the National Landcare Program are now either committed or already contracted?
Mr Thompson: They are either contracted or committed to activities that are extremely difficult not to proceed with, so they are effectively committed.
Senator SIEWERT: I am not advocating that you do; I just want to make sure that is on the record. Is that for the 2014-15 financial year?
Mr Thompson: That is for 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18—for the four out years.
Senator SIEWERT: I may be misinterpreting this. Are you saying there is no money for any other Landcare grants?
Mr Thompson: There is no money for activities beyond those which are already contracted or committed.
Senator SIEWERT: For Landcare?
Mr Thompson: For Landcare.
Senator SIEWERT: So, with regard to that money that we were talking about in Environment estimates, I did not misunderstand. The $173.8 million—I think it was point eight, but I will need to check—was for the environment side of the National Landcare Program?
Mr Thompson: My understanding is that that is the statement they made the other day. I think they said it was money that was uncommitted.
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, they did. Yes. So there is no money for landcare groups to apply for to carry out landcare works?
Mr Thompson: That is correct. In terms of new money, a large proportion of the money is in things like regional delivery, and there are those programs that you spoke to the environment department about, 20 Million Trees and Green Army. Landcare groups will be able to apply for those because, while we have committed a certain amount of money to the regions and money has been allocated to those things, it has not actually been contracted because they work through grants rounds themselves.
Senator SIEWERT: We traversed the Green Army thing the other day, although I may have a few questions for you there. I am a little bit stunned that there is no money for actual landcare projects.