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Productive sustainability of land and water resources at risk

The decision to abolish Land & Water Australia placed the long-term productive sustainability of Australia’s land and water resources at risk at a time the nation faces the converging challenges of climate change, water availability, global food security and declining productivity growth, the Chairman of Land & Water Australia, Ms Bobbie Brazil, said today.

“For 19 years Land & Water Australia has been equipping Australia’s farmers with the best available science and technology to manage our soil, water and vegetation,” Ms Brazil said. “Gaps in our knowledge which have become clear through debates on water allocation, drought relief and species loss in rural landscapes demonstrate the Land & Water Australia’s role is more important than ever.”

The decision by the Federal Government to abolish Land & Water Australia with effect from 30 June 2009 was disclosed in a range of media reports today. It is expected to be announced formally with the introduction of the Federal Budget next week.

Ms Brazil said it had been suggested that the new government program, Caring for Our Country, would fill the gap left by Land & Water Australia. “However, Caring for Our Country focuses on remediation or work on the ground; it operates on the assumption that the research has been done, we know what to do, we just need incentives and grants to make it happen,” she said.

Another rationale for the abolition was that Land & Water Australia’s job was done, that it had influenced industry-based R&D Corporations to fund their own research into the management of natural resources. “While Land & Water Australia has been a major force in mainstreaming natural resource management, the work of the organisation is far from complete. Land & Water Australia today is the nation’s primary and unique funder of research and adoption into long-term sustainable and productive management of our rural and regional landscapes,” Ms Brazil said.

Ms Brazil pointed out that a recent Productivity Commission report identified Land & Water Australia’s portfolio of significant public good research as an area where there are “strong grounds for large public subsidies [to] remain because that research is unlikely to take place in their absence.” “Now, the Government is to abolish the only rural R&D Corporation dedicated to public good sustainability research,” Ms Brazil said.

“This decision recalls that of Warwick Parer, Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Howard government, who shut down LWA’s sister body the Energy Research and Development Corporation in 1996,” Ms Brazil said. “At the time Australia was a world leader in solar energy technology. Today, despite our huge natural advantage, we languish amongst ‘other countries’, well down the list behind China, Germany, Japan, USA and Korea. Imagine where we would be in alternative energy development had that Research & Development Corporation survived. Can we afford to slip as far behind in the management of the natural resources that underpin our agricultural industries and water supplies?”
Abolition of Land & Water Australia will involve the cancellation of a large number of contracts with university-based and other researchers across Australia, closing down many partly completed research projects.

Further details: Dr Michael Robinson 02 62636007, Bobbie Brazil 0418 198 628