Chapter 6 Natural resource management
Natural resource management (NRM) is ‘the sustainable management of
Australia’s natural resources (our land, water, marine and biological systems)
to ensure our ongoing social, economic and environmental wellbeing’.
NRM involves those at the individual, local, regional, state and national levels,
from the private, community and government sectors.
NRM governance has become increasingly complex since the 1970s, when NRM
issues were largely dealt with by individual states and territories, and soil
conservation was a high priority. The 1980s saw the introduction of coordinated
national arrangements, including the Landcare network. The 1990s saw an
increase in the number of environmental non‑government organisations
(NGOs), the creation of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and
national strategies including the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT), and the
introduction of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
1999 (EPBC Act). From 2000, the focus shifted to regional knowledge and
integration, with the formation of 56 regional NRM organisations, the
creation of integrated regional NRM plans, and a focus on on-farm biodiversity
conservation and environmental management.
The NRM governance structure has developed through the following
Australian Government programs:
n National Soil
Conservation Program (1983‑1992)
n National Landcare
n Natural Heritage
n National Action Plan
on Water Quality and Salinity (2001‑2008)
n Caring for our
Country (from 2008).
Over the past 20 years the devolution of responsibility to regional and
local levels has been evident, with the Australian Government moving towards an
integrated, landscape‑scale approach to conservation and NRM, using a
regional delivery model, and realising the need for ‘effective and adaptive management
regimes’ to support targets in different management contexts.
Regional delivery model
The current system of NRM governance is a regional delivery model. There
are 56 NRM regions in Australia, each based on catchments or bioregions. The
boundaries are agreed by the Federal Government in association with the state
and territory governments. Each region is overseen by a management body—known
as a regional NRM organisation, NRM group or Catchment Management Authority
(CMA)—and has a NRM plan.
In Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, regional
NRM organisations are based in the community sector. In the remaining states
and territories, regional NRM organisations are based in the government sector,
and some have statutory responsibilities.
The national framework within which regional NRM organisations and NRM
bodies operate comprises a range of initiatives and strategies (some of which
are listed below) that cover funding, coordination and governance arrangements.
The Caring for our Country (CFOC) initiative is the Federal
Government program for funding environmental management of Australia’s
resources. Baseline funding for regional NRM organisations, provided through
CFOC, is due to cease in June this year. Organisations may apply for Open Call
funding, provided through CFOC, which also provides resources for the
Environmental Stewardship Program for private land managers, the Working on
Country program for Indigenous ranger groups, and Community Action Grants.
The Clean Energy Future Package includes:
n The Biodiversity Fund,
which is designed to support landholders to undertake restoration and
conservation projects, and control pests and weeds
n The Regional NRM Planning
for Climate Change Fund, which provides funding to identified regional NRM
organisations to incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation
approaches into existing NRM plans, in order to guide regional NRM planning in
a nationally consistent way.
The Carbon Farming Initiative encourages sustainable farming
practices and provides funding for landscape restoration projects. Farmers and
land managers may earn carbon credits by storing carbon or reducing greenhouse
gas emissions on the land.
Some of the nationally agreed strategies relevant to natural resource
Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010‑30 (Biodiversity Strategy), which
includes 10 interim national targets for the first five years, to be formally
reviewed in 2015
n Australian Pest
n Australia’s Strategy
for the National Reserve System 2009‑30 (NRS Strategy)
n Australian Weeds
n National framework
for the management and monitoring of Australia’s native vegetation.
The Standing Council on Environment and Water—as part of the COAG
council system, having replaced the NRM Ministerial Council after a review of
the ministerial council system undertaken by COAG in 2010—considers matters of
national significance on environment and water issues.
Benefits of NRM delivery at local and regional levels
The Committee received submissions from 11 regional NRM organisations,
met with the South West Catchments Council (SWCC) and South Coast NRM in Bunbury,
and spoke with a representative from Territory NRM at a public hearing in Darwin.
The Committee heard from these bodies about some of the benefits of having NRM delivered
at local and regional levels.
The SWCC stated that regional bodies have an advantage in dealing with
the changes to biodiversity due to climate change because, while supported at a
federal level, they have good relationships with state government agencies,
rural community groups (such as Landcare groups), NGOs, and local shires.
The Committee heard examples and suggestions of the successful
collaboration and engagement between the local community and regional NRM
organisations. Ms Kate Andrews, Chair of
Territory NRM, cited the success of the Territory conservation agreements
(voluntary 10-year binding agreements entered into by pastoral landholders) as
a good example of working in a collaborative way as an NGO.
Ms Andrews also stated that Territory NRM funds four pastoral Landcare
positions, and that they are more trusted in the community as they are not
necessarily recognised as being funded by the Federal Government.
The Goulburn Broken CMA stated that members of the community are often
more willing to engage with Conservation Management Networks—made up of private
landholders, public agencies and the broader community—and Landcare Australia,
as they are not perceived to be government agencies.
The Border Rivers-Gwydir CMA stated that it had established meaningful
relationships to enable effective delivery of biodiversity conservation
Another of the benefits of NRM delivery by local groups is the level of
engagement engendered in the community, as demonstrated by the fact that, as at
August 2012, around 93 per cent of farmers were practicing Landcare on their
Is the system working?
The Committee encountered widespread support for the regional NRM
delivery model, but also heard about many areas in which improvements could be made,
especially in the areas of governance coordination and integration, and program
delivery with regard to baseline monitoring and funding.
Integration between levels of governance
There was much discussion during the course of the inquiry about the
need for better coordination between the different levels in the NRM system.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) suggested that the Federal
Government increase coordination with the state and territory governments in
relation to the Biodiversity Strategy, the NRS Strategy, the National Wildlife
Corridors Plan (NWCP) and the CFOC initiative, possibly by providing incentives
for reforms that align state and territory government laws, policies and
practices to the achievement of agreed national biodiversity targets.
Dr Judy Henderson, a Member of the NWCP Advisory Group suggested the need for a
uniform standard of governance across the various regional areas, and for the
regional planning process to be integrated with Federal Government programs.
The Committee heard that more integration at the regional level was
required, with local governments, regional NRM organisations and Landcare
groups all needing to play important roles in environmental management.
The Border Rivers-Gwydir CMA observed that: ‘[s]ignificant additional
coordination of other governance arrangements, knowledge support and
collaborative partnerships is required to ensure that the regional delivery
model continues to be effective’, and that there is a need for knowledge to be
provided, relating to the resilience and disturbance thresholds of the
ecosystems for which regional NRM organisations are responsible.
The Queensland Murray-Darling Committee stated that its regional NRM plan
was not consistently referred to or considered by key stakeholder organisations
or institutions when they are formulating new regional policies, strategies and
Ms Andrews from Territory NRM stated that decisions needed to be made at
the most appropriate level, where people have an understanding of the context
that the decisions are being made in. Similarly, the South Australian
Government stated that ‘government is able to create the institutional
frameworks and provide the guidance at a high level’ and that, for the Australian
Government, opportunities lie in providing ‘frameworks at the high level and
providing the support to enable those people closest to the ground to progress
what they see as important at the time.’ Ms Penelope Figgis, Vice
Chair for Oceania for the International Union for Conservation of Nature World
Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN WCPA) stated that ‘big picture national
leadership is critical’.
The Committee heard that implementation of NRM plans in non-statutory
jurisdictions (such as WA) can be difficult where there is conflict between NRM
plans and any land-use planning powers of the local jurisdiction. In the event
of any conflict, local planning powers will generally override a NRM plan,
which means that the best environmental outcomes are not always achievable due
to conflicting governance powers.
The Committee was advised that, in WA, local governments are
successfully engaging with NRM regions on issues such as the impacts that land-use
planning decision making is having on the environment.
The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) stated that
regional NRM organisations need to understand the land‑use planning
framework, and suggested that provision of the right expertise could achieve
The Committee heard views which compared the operation of CFOC to other
funding programs, such as the National Heritage Trust (NHT). Mr Keiran
McNamara, Director General of the WA Department of Environment and Conservation,
told the Committee that, compared to the former operation of the NHT, CFOC is
being run in less of a partnership way, and that now there was more of a direct
relationship between regional NRM organisations and the Federal Government.
Mr McNamara was concerned that there was no longer discussion about CFOC
at the COAG ministerial council level, as there used to be during the NHT.
The SWCC stated that CFOC allowed past strong local NRM planning to lapse.
The Committee also received evidence from Greening Australia about the
more competitive nature of CFOC, as compared to the NHT, with community groups now
having to compete with the NRM bodies for funding.
Mr Sean Sullivan, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Sustainability,
Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPAC) gave evidence to the
effect that expression of interest processes could be expected in future for funding
application requirements, in order to foster cooperation and collaboration between
regions to address shared issues.
Regional program delivery
The Committee heard that regional NRM organisations have had varied
success in delivering NRM programs, due to the differences in the level of
skills and knowledge within the organisations, particularly on biodiversity and
connectivity conservation, but also on land-use planning legislation.
The SWCC stated that ‘NRM governance has become increasingly complex over time
and will require people with good analysis, able leadership and good
Professor Kristine French, President of the Ecological Society of
Australia stated on her own behalf that inserting ecologists into CMAs would
boost the level of skill and help lead and guide the community a little better,
but indicated that the lack of available funding prevented those people being
engaged in working in the field.
BirdLife Australia and the Conservation Council of South Australia suggested
that the Federal Government roll out biodiversity education and training
programs to all sectors of the community, in order to ‘upgrade ecological
literacy, and improve skills in biodiversity management’.
Ms Andrews of Territory NRM suggested the need to invest in long-term training
programs for people, to ensure that there is the human capacity to deal with
biodiversity issues in future.
Several regional NRM organisations discussed the successful local
programs being undertaken. One such example described as having gained strong
community acceptance is the enterprise-based conservation program being
undertaken in the Western Division of NSW regions. The program has established
conservation as a viable alternative enterprise to grazing, recognising an
economic value of the environmental services provided.
The Namoi CMA stated that the program can be undermined by surrounding land-use
decisions, and ineffective if not supported by an effective legislative regime.
Both the Western CMA and the Namoi CMA emphasised the need for greater and
ongoing funding for such private land conservation programs.
It was suggested that the strong relationship enjoyed between Territory
NRM and the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association assists in successful
program delivery in the Northern Territory region. Ms Andrews stated that
Territory NRM holds an annual NRM forum, at which local groups and individuals
can get together and discuss what is working. The Conservation Management
Networks and Landcare groups in the Goulburn Broken CMA’s region also provide
forums for community members to meet and exchange information. The Goulburn Broken
CMA suggested that such forums, along with environmental grants and other
instruments, needed to link in to state and federal programs in order to create
confidence in the actions being undertaken as part of a bigger policy picture.
Terrain NRM from Queensland stated that the combination of the Carbon
Farming Initiative and existing NRM arrangements is effective in ensuring
carbon sequestration and abatement will improve landscape health and
The Committee heard that relationships between regional NRM
organisations and local groups can work as a double-edged sword, in that they
can be more trusted in the community but not necessarily recognised as being
funded by the Federal Government.
One of the 10 interim national targets in the Biodiversity Strategy is
to establish a national long-term biodiversity monitoring and reporting system
It was suggested in evidence that the abolition in 2009 of the research
and development corporation Land and Water Australia left a gap in natural
environmental research. In 2010, a Productivity Commission report recommended
the creation of a new rural research and development corporation, to invest in
non-industry specific research and development that promotes productive and
sustainable resource use by Australia’s rural sector.
The Australian Government did not agree with this recommendation.
The 2011 Australian State of the Environment report stated that biodiversity
indicators for national state of the environment reporting have differed since
the first report in 1996, ‘due largely to the lack of information available.’
BirdLife Australia suggested that the reintroduction of a research and
development corporation was required in order to undertake research into
sustainable land and water management and ‘establish a long-term monitoring and
auditing framework for biodiversity across the continent to assess the impacts
of climate change and other drivers of terrestrial, freshwater and marine
The 2009 report by the Biodiversity and Climate Change Expert Advisory
Group, commissioned by the Australian Government and prepared for the NRM
Ministerial Council, outlined an approach proposing a new national institution
to review the status of Australia’s natural resources and advise on progress in
achieving biodiversity targets. This institution could also provide advice at
the COAG level in relation to the need to adjust targets and programs, based on
the knowledge gained.
The Committee heard that one of the barriers to engaging the community
with biodiversity conservation is a lack of consistent funding and the
existence of grant application ‘fatigue’. The Committee heard from Professor
Mark Hovenden from the University of Tasmania, in relation to research on the
impacts of rising carbon dioxide concentrations, that a lack of security and
certainty in future funding of research tasks, created by short funding cycles,
results in research being ad hoc and locally directed, and makes carrying out
long-term experiments very difficult. The Committee heard
about the need for significant long-term investment for the success of NRM
programs. Ms Figgis from the IUCN
WCPA suggested that:
… we should be looking at projects on 10-year contracts,
where people have to report against indicators and perform as in any contract.
I do not think they should be short term. I do not think they should be yearly.
I think that is exhausting for people. No truly important land repair effort is
going to take one year. The danger of that scatter-gun drip-feed approach is
that you end up not achieving very much.
The Committee heard from Mr John Gunn, Chief Executive Officer of the
Australian Institute of Marine Science that more investment is needed in
sustained rather than three-year lapsing program measurements of the
environment, in the terrestrial, marine and cryospheric environments.
The NSW Environmental Trust is an ‘independent statutory body
established by the NSW Government to fund a broad range of organisations to undertake
projects that enhance the environment of NSW’. Mr Kevin Evans, Chief
Executive Officer of the National Parks Association of NSW informed the
Committee that the Environmental Trust had—for the round of funding at the time
Mr Evans spoke to the Committee in March 2012—changed the length of funding
provided for on-ground regeneration programs from one year to six years:
So initiatives that require a long-term commitment to restore
the habitat can now have a guarantee that it is not going to be one year of
funding and then the challenge of doing it again; it is now six years for some
of the large scale projects, which we believe is a big step in the right
Mr Jolly from Greening Australia suggested a fixed and variable
component to funding could be introduced, for the groups that NRMs select to
The Committee heard from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Studies that Indigenous communities are very grants‑driven
and that ‘more consistent long-term funding with appropriate administrative,
community engagement and management support is required to ensure delivery of
high quality outcomes’.
The Federal Government provided $711 million in baseline funding to the
56 regional NRM organisations in the first five years of CFOC.
This baseline funding will cease from July 2013.
The Committee heard that CFOC had provided very little funding for local
governments. For example, about 0.08 per cent of the program’s funding has gone
to local governments in Western Australia.
The Committee understands that, from July 2013, a new five year funding
plan for Caring for our Country will come into operation, with the Australian
Government committed to providing more than $2 billion over that period.
The funding model offers two streams, relating to sustainable environment and
sustainable agriculture, with funding programs including:
n community environment
grants available to ‘help community groups and organisations to contribute to
the sustainable management of Australia’s environment’
n target area grants to
provide funding for projects ‘to maintain ecosystem services, protect our
conservation estate, and enhance the capacity of Indigenous communities to
conserve and protect natural resources across six target areas’
n community Landcare
grants to ‘help local community-based organisations and groups take on-ground
action and build their capacity and skills to manage their natural environment
and productive lands’.
One of the issues raised in the review of Caring for our Country was
that the competition for funding did not promote cooperation between regions.
Mr Sullivan of DSEWPAC stated that the Department was looking at ways to
promote cooperation and, as referred to above:
… you can envisage some programmatic funding being put out to
more expression-of-interest processes, where we are saying, ‘Look, we’re
interested in your ideas’, and then fostering the cooperation and also
promoting the fact that we are looking for cooperation between regions,
particularly where those issues are shared.
Conclusions and recommendations
Natural resource management program delivery
The Committee encountered widespread support for the regional NRM
delivery model. Evidence suggested the need for a strategic and large scale
plan that is locally driven. This requires long term, stable arrangements in
order to be successful, including more collaborative relationships across state
and territory borders.
The Committee heard about the need for greater and longer term funding
grants for regional NRM organisations and local NRM groups. Short funding
cycles make it difficult for regional NRM organisations and local NRM groups to
have certainty and confidence in planning for the future, and to maintain
competent and consistent human capital. It was suggested that longer funding
cycles would be more beneficial.
The Committee heard that the application process for funding was too
competitive between regional NRM organisations and local NRM groups, as well as
across regions. DSEWPAC gave evidence to the effect that expression of interest
processes could be expected for future funding application requirements, in
order to foster cooperation between regions in getting together to address
Overall, the Committee was impressed by the professionalism and
commitment of the NRM organisations and local NRM groups that participated in
the inquiry. However, the Committee is also aware that, because NRM bodies
originated in different jurisdictions and with different capacities nationwide,
their consistency, standards and quality are inevitably variable. As recipients
of public funds, all NRM organisations and local NRM groups should be able to
demonstrate that those resources will be used to best effect and the Committee
believes there is scope for improvement.
The Committee would like the Australian Government to review NRM boards,
in particular in relation to these three areas.
In recognising the importance that NRM boards operate
effectively, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government conduct
a review, with particular reference to:
including assessing claims that existing application processes result in
‘grant fatigue’, and can foster competition, rather than cooperation between
to improve consistency of standards between NRM bodies nationally
which may improve skills management, including sufficient capacity to attract
and retain personnel, especially in regional areas.
Research and development
The Committee notes that in evidence provided to the inquiry there was
broad support for the re-establishment of a research and development
corporation to continue the work of the now disbanded Land and Water Australia.
However the Australian Government, in its response last year to the
Productivity Commission’s recommendation to create such a body, stated that
‘increased focus on collaboration and cross-sectoral research can be achieved
within existing arrangements.’ The Government also outlined some of its plans
to achieve this.
In recognition of the expressed need for re-creating such a body, the
Committee believes that it would be reasonable for the Australian Government to
confirm that it is meeting these research and development needs through other
That the Australian Government advise the Committee and
stakeholders as to how the research and development needs formerly undertaken
by Land and Water Australia are now being met.