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Local environment programs would be merged into a single National Landcare Network, with guaranteed funding, the Coalition announced on Monday.
The decision, which would roll the “Caring for Country” environment initiative into the Landcare program, would mean local volunteer groups would have easier access to funding for tree planting, restoring rundown land and rivers, and controlling pest animals and weeds.
“The Coalition will give Landcare significantly greater access to the Caring for Country pool of funds, as well as the current Landcare funding,” the Coalition’s environment spokesman, Greg Hunt, said in a statement.
“We have listened to local communities and we will put Landcare at the heart of our land conservation programs.”
There are about 2500 local Landcare groups in NSW. Their work is diverse but includes restoring degraded farmland, reviving pockets of bushland in suburban Sydney, sustainable farming, stopping erosion, and clearing polluted rivers of invasive species.
Mr Hunt also announced $1 million in new funding per year to support the operating costs of running the national network which co-ordinated local groups.
The chair of the national Landcare organisation, David Walker, warmly welcomed the announcement, and said it would have a material effect on enhancing local environment work.
“The commitment to no more funding cuts from the existing budget is a relief, and so I’m really pleased,” Mr Walker said.
“We are still hopeful we’ll get some good policy announcements from the federal government, but we haven’t heard anything yet.
“Likewise, the Greens have talked about the environment a lot, but we haven’t seen anything from them yet.”
The Coalition’s spokesman for agriculture and food security, John Cobb, said the policy change would mean there was more money available to volunteers, even though the total funding pool had not changed.
“Over the last six years, Landcare has increasingly been excluded from the decision-making processes in both Canberra and the regional bodies,” Mr Cobb said in a statement. “Volunteers spend hours filling in grant applications only to find they don’t meet the criteria set by bureaucrats or must reapply every 12 months.”
The Coalition also pledged $1.4 million in funding for local community heritage grants on Monday, part of a trickle of small policy announcements during the election campaign.
On the weekend it promised $9 million to the National Climate Change and Adaptation Research Facility, based on the Gold Coast, and on Friday it pledged $2 million for whale and dolphin protection, including a plan to develop a “national whale trail” along the east coast to encourage tourism.
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