The newly-released Australia State of the Environment Report has raised concerns among local environmental groups, with the main issues – climate change, land clearing, extinction, etc. – highlighted in the previous 2011 report either unchanged or worsening.
The Peel Harvey Catchment Council is particularly concerned by gaps in environmental management, which they believe can be remedied by changed funding priorities – which they may see at a state level, with a new government incoming – and a better integration of NRM groups with Landcare.
“There are deficiencies in the relationship between the federal and state government,” PHCC chief Jane O’Malley said.
“Commonwealth funding has to be used for Commonwealth assets, this leaves a significant gap, as detailed by the West Australian Landcare Network [WALN].”
In their own State of Landcare report, also released in March, WALN called for better integration of funding and community-based initiatives with Natural Resource Management (NRM) groups like the PHCC.
“NRM is Landcare and Landcare is NRM – we all want the same results and the only difference is the scale at which each group operates... We have to work closely together to make the best use of resources allocated to Landcare and NRM,” Ms O’Malley said.
However, a decline in funding overall seems to be the major challenge facing the success of either groups, according to Ms O’Malley.
“Government support and funding for environmental projects are diminishing,” she said.
“This is happening at a state and Commonwealth level and is having a massive impact on the reduced capacity of land managers and groups to contribute to the management of our natural resources.”
Established in July 2014, Peel Harvey became independent from the South West NRM region, but like many other groups, were affected by the government’s shifting funding priorities in recent years.
“[They] left us hanging by a thread to continue supporting our community and deliver on-ground projects," Ms O’Malley said.
“Without the support of the Peel Development Commission and the City of Mandurah it is unlikely that we would could have weathered this storm.
“As our own Region we now have access to funding from the Commonwealth, and ironically are excluded from some funding through the state.”
She called for a reinstatement of a bi-lateral agreement between state and federal governments, and with the new state government incoming, said she would like to see a greater investment by the state to meet their responsibilities to manage natural assets.
“The reality is that government priorities do not adequately enable protection of our natural assets... This doesn’t make sense because our natural environment (healthy soils, clean water) are fundamental to a thriving economy,” she said.
"To say the budgets are constrained is not accurate – it is our priorities that are constrained. The environment just doesn’t rate and I welcome WALN bringing this matter to the attention of the government.”
She said it would take many years to replace the assets and value provided by the regional groups.