Caring for our Country Q&A

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What does budget say about Caring for our Country?

In the 2012-13 Budget, the Australian Government has secured a further $2.2 billion over five years from 2013-14, including for the National Sustainable Agriculture stream as part of the the Caring for our Country initiative from July 2013.

The budget also sees a change to how the initiative is delivered. Caring for our Country is currently jointly administered by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC).

From July 2013, Caring for our Country funding will be divided into two specific streams – one dedicated to environment – led by DSEWPaC and the other to agriculture – led by DAFF.

The new National Sustainable Agriculture funding stream will come into effect from July 2013 and includes $200 million over five years already received for Landcare and over $500 million for sustainable agriculture innovation and the eradication of weeds and pests. This will allow us to better support regional communities, land managers and industry groups to develop and adopt sustainable resource management practices.

What has Caring for our Country already delivered?

Caring for our Country aims to achieve a healthier, better protected, well-managed and resilient environment in a changing climate. The department in conjunction with DSEWPaC has actively contributed to the Australian Government's natural resource management priorities.

Since its inception in July 2008, Caring for our Country has provided funding for Landcare and sustainable agriculture projects, with many projects also contributing to biodiversity and aquatic outcomes.

Caring for our Country has also invested $711 million through regional base-level funding to regional natural resource management bodies from 2008 to 2013. Over $92 million of this funding relates to managing the impact of weeds and pests.

Community Action Grants have also funded 1239 projects to a value of $21.6 million and are delivered by 974 community groups across Australia.

Through Caring for our Country, the department has also assisted farmers to adopt improved sustainable farm and land management practices to reduce soil loss and improve soil quality on their land; adopt activities that contribute to the ongoing conservation and protection of biodiversity; and improve their knowledge and skills in managing natural resources and environmental assets.

Why the change?

The Caring for our Country Review, released in April, found that:

  • the initiative is appropriate as national-scale natural resource management issues require a national perspective and commitment to address them effectively
  • the initiative is effective as Caring for our Country is making real progress towards an environment that is healthier, better protected, well managed, resilient, and provides essential ecosystem services in a changing climate
  • the initiative is efficient in delivering Australian Government investment in natural resource management.

Some areas of Caring for our Country were highlighted where further development could be beneficial, including the monitoring, evaluation, reporting, and improvement framework and consultation around the setting of outcomes and targets. Industry groups also called for greater engagement by industry in natural resource management programs.

The review has also informed government of key issues that were considered in order to deliver future natural resource management investment effectively, efficiently and appropriately.

What will be delivered in 2012-13?

There is over $380 million of funds for 2012-13 that are already approved for multi-year projects, delivering Caring for our Country outcomes including reducing the threat of weeds and pests, reducing the agricultural runoff to the Great Barrier Reef, increase the update of improved land management practices.

In addition, further projects under the 2012-13 Community Action Grants and Business Plan rounds are currently being finalised.

What are the advantages of the Caring for our Country changes?

The Caring for our Country Review found that the one-size-fits-all approach of the current business plan funding application process did not suit all project types or the innovative sustainable agriculture outcomes we were trying to achieve.

This budget sees Caring for our Country transition from joint delivery by DAFF and DSEWPaC to specialised delivery through two funding streams – environment and National Sustainable Agriculture.

The new environment National Sustainable Agriculture streams will allow us to specify what we need for each area. For example innovation and industry partnerships will be able to be better delivered by having a targeted approach to sustainable agriculture and key objectives such as improved soil management, better industry capacity to plan, monitor and report on natural resource management performance.

Other benefits of the Caring for our Country changes include funding for:

  • capacity building and developing leadership in our communities especially among Indigenous, women and youth, which was an area where the current program did not deliver strongly
  • regional natural resource management (NRM) will deliver community priorities from the regional NRM plans, where they link with national Caring for our Country priorities.

We are also looking to make improvements in a range of areas including online project reporting and increasing the transparency of project funding and assessment processes.

What does the budget mean for future delivery arrangements?

The new program will be designed over the coming months, taking into the consideration the further feedback we receive through the consultation. We expect that funding will be delivered though a range of mechanisms as well as small grants, strategic investments, expression of interest processes and regional base-level funding.

Feedback from the review showed that a range of investment approaches was preferred.
One change is the delivery through an environment and a National Sustainable Agriculture stream. This will mean more targeted delivery for the outcomes we are seeking and closer engagement with key stakeholders.

DAFF and DSEWPaC will continue to work together closely to transition to new delivery arrangements.

How can I have my say on Caring for our Country?

Planning for the transition and implementation of the next phase of investment is underway.

We will consult with our stakeholders throughout 2012 to inform the development of the next phase of Caring for our Country, including environment and sustainable agriculture priorities. Stakeholders will be invited to contribute to the consultation process via written submissions, face-to-face meetings and online forums.

Further information including discussion papers will be made available on the Caring for our Country online forum.

What about current staffing arrangements?

The staffing structure will be aligned to support the future delivery of Caring for our Country. Staff will be supported throughout this process.

How does this align to DAFF's strategic focus areas?

The two funding streams sees a more targeted approach to sustainable agriculture, focusing on the important role farmers play in keeping our land productive. Productive agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors help contribute to the way of life and prosperity of all Australians, consistent with DAFF's Strategic Statement. Sustainable agriculture also directly supports DAFF's strategic focus areas of Resources and Productivity, which is vital for long-term profitability and production whilst ensuring the sustainable use of our natural resources.