Landscape changes for natural resource management

Hopes Landscape SA reform will be natural fit

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GREATER CONTROL: Limestone Coast Landscape Board chair Kerry DeGaris says boards have been impeded in the past in their decision-making, being too closely aligned with government, but hopes this will no longer be a problem.

GREATER CONTROL: Limestone Coast Landscape Board chair Kerry DeGaris says boards have been impeded in the past in their decision-making, being too closely aligned with government, but hopes this will no longer be a problem.

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Regional SA can look forward to a "back to basics" approach to how the state's natural assets are managed, according to Environment and Water Minister David Speirs.

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Regional SA can look forward to a "back to basics" approach to how the state's natural assets are managed, according to Environment and Water Minister David Speirs.

From July 1, the Landscape SA Act 2019 comes into effect, replacing the Natural Resources Management Act 2004.

Mr Speirs says the model he first unveiled while in Opposition in 2017 will give far greater control to the regions to decide how the levies collected in that area are best spent.

RELATED:New bill to overhaul NRM in SA

He has appointed the members of eight boards across the state, but from 2022, elections will be held so locals can decide who sits on their regional board.

"The message I have given the boards is clear, for them to focus on resilience of landscapes and water resources, sustainable agriculture programs and effective pest management," he said.

"They will lead a decentralised approach to ensuring our regions are thriving and sustainable rather than decisions being made by outsiders in Adelaide."

Mr Speirs believes he has found a strong combination of land management, business and governance experience, as well as local government representation on the boards - often having 30 to 40 nominations to select from.

People will not begrudge paying a levy if there is a clear line from where the levy is paid to the boards to how that money is being spent to deliver positive environmental outcomes. - DAVID SPEIRS

He has also made it clear to all the boards that they need to be transparent with their spending and "live within their means", with levy increases capped at CPI, equating to 1.9 per cent for 2020-21.

"People will not begrudge paying a levy if there is a clear line from where the levy is paid to the boards to how that money is being spent to deliver positive environmental outcomes," he said.

"What they won't see under my watch are the year-on-year increases of 5pc, 6pc and 7pc seen under the previous government."

Primary Producers SA NRM chair Joe Keynes says PPSA is looking forward to working with the new boards and is pleased to see a good mix of those carrying on from former NRM boards and new faces.

"The NRM system had become Adelaide-centric and disengaged with grassroots farmers so having local management will start a new era," he said.

"We have need to be more productive with our land and part of that is looking after our environment."

Mr Keynes says the boards' budget priorities will vary from region to region, but believes it is possible to strike a balance between productive agriculture and conservation.

"Some areas have had quite a bit of soil erosion in the past year or two so that will be their focus, but for other areas it may be soil acidity - it is why we can't have a blanket use of the levy money across the state but need locals spending money in their local area on local issues," he said.

But opposition environment spokesperson Susan Close says the NRM changes are "cosmetic" rather than major reform.

"Very little has changed apart from the name. Nothing in the way water is managed has changed at all and the regulatory role of the NRM boards is identical," she said.

"We broadly supported the legislation, but we needed to fix some issues through amendments - a lot of references to habitat rehabilitation and biodiversity protection, which the government had taken out of the Bill, we managed to get put back in."

During the transition period to Landscapes SA, Ms Close is concerned NRM board staff could risk losing working conditions so will be watching this closely, but she believes the biggest issue is the Local Government Association's opposition to collecting the levy on the government's behalf.

And while Labor was not opposed to capping annual levy increases to CPI, she is concerned some NRM boards may require larger budgets in these "extreme times", after recent bushfires and drought.

"Under the legislation the Minister has the power to lift the cap, but I am concerned he might deny reasonable requests from the boards," she said.

FARMER WIN: Kangaroo Island Landscape Board chair Andrew Heinrich.

FARMER WIN: Kangaroo Island Landscape Board chair Andrew Heinrich.

Kangaroo Island Landscape Board chair and Duncan sheep producer Andrew Heinrich says the new act will be a "win for the farmer".

"I believe NRM got too diverse and lost focus, but with Mr Speirs getting back to basics, a big part of that is the farmer," he said.

"KI's environment is very special and has been touched up fairly badly with fire, so we will be there to help support those farmers who have lost a lot of native vegetation and we are continuing to spend a lot of money on the (feral) pigs and cats."

SE board chair excited about local impact

Bool Lagoon farmer and viticulturalist Kerry DeGaris says she is excited the new boards have been given "an opportunity not to be squandered" to make autonomous decisions in the best interest of their communities.

Dr DeGaris, who joined the NRM SE board in 2016 and was the presiding member until the changeover, says she is excited to lead the Limestone Coast Landscape Board, especially with the great skill set of the six newly-appointed board members.

"Boards have been impeded in the past by being too closely aligned to government, but the fact that we have that expertise on the board will enable us to make some hard decisions we have struggled with in the past," she said.

"Working closely with local government is a goal where I hope we can focus on more collaborative natural resource-based projects and thus be seen to be helping communities."

Dr DeGaris says water remains a critical issue for the region, especially finding equity between industries on its use.

"Everybody to some extent is affected by the water use in our region," she said.

"They might not be directly affected, but even a town can't run if we don't have productive farmers.

"It is pretty obvious we are seeing a lot of industry moving down into this region because we do have a pretty assured water supply, compared to some other regions in SA, so it is a balancing act between maintaining a sustainable resource while trying to make the region even more productive than it already is."

Dr DeGaris says there is a historical precedent of farmers irrigating an area without knowing much about how much water is being used but believes most are now thinking long-term.

"In this region we need a better understanding of the science but I think we can be realistic that we can't keep mining a resource until we can't access it anymore or the quality of that water is so poor that we can't use it any more," she said.

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