The NSW government has defended its major shakeup of its rural services, which could see the Landcare network abolished.
A new body, Local Land Services (LLS), is to be created from January 2014, made up from the old Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (NRCMA), the Livestock Pest and Health Authority and the agricultural advisory function of NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Under existing arrangements, Landcare offices receive substantial funding from the NRCMA, but North Coast Regional Landcare Network chair Neville Sloss fears that funding won’t be there from July this year as a result of the merger ‘which seriously threatens our continued existence’.
‘It will mean no Landcare offices, no help for landholders looking for project funding, no natural-resource management workshops and field days, no support for Landcare projects, and the loss of a host of farming and habitat-management information services,’ Mr Sloss told Echonetdaily.
‘There are serious challenges ahead for all our 14 local member organisations, especially in the coming transition period while the LLS is being set up,’ he said.
But a spokesperson for primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson told Echonetdaily that Landcare NSW was on the stakeholder reference panel ‘leading the development of Local Land Services’.
‘This is a reflection of how highly the NSW government values the contribution of Landcare and the natural-resource management activities it carries out,’ the statement said.
The spokesperson said Landcare community support officers ‘have been funded by NSW Catchment Action funds (currently channelled through catchment management authorities) and Australian government Caring for our Country funding.
‘Northern Rivers CMA has a partnership agreement with the North Coast Regional Landcare Network that commits both organisations to work collaboratively to develop projects and programs of common interest, seek additional funding, deliver on ground works and provide resources to assist delivery of projects.
‘There is no reason this relationship should not continue under Local Land Services, and the opportunities presented by working more closely with Landcare across the state is one of the reasons why Landcare is represented on the Local Land Services Stakeholder Reference Panel and will be a part of the new Local Land Services engagement with the community.
‘Northern Rivers CMA continues to work with the NCRLN to develop competitive funding proposals to support Landcare and NRM in the region.
‘The NSW government also supports Landcare through the Landcare Support Program Strategic Business Plan which provides funding of $2 million over four years.
‘This program has delivered a successful conference for state and Commonwealth officers and others working for Landcare networks supporting Landcare on the ground. Other projects include developing material to help Landcare groups with their governance and the upcoming 2013 NSW Landcare Awards.’
Mr Sloss said the inclusion of Landcare on the reference panel overseeing the setup of the new organisation was ‘heartening’, but ‘there are serious challenges ahead for all our 14 local member organisations, especially in the coming transition period while the LLS is being set up’.
Local Landcare offices with community support officers include Mullumbimby, Tweed Heads, Wollongbar, Grafton, Old Bonalbo and Kyogle.
Mr Sloss said ongoing financial support for the Landcare community must be part of the LLS structure and this was best delivered by local community networks
Anyone who cares about Landcare’s future is invited to attend an LLS reference panel community consultation session at Invercauld House, 161 Invercauld Road, Goonellabah, on March 18, between 1 and 4pm.