Legislative arrangements for the management of public lands continue to be relatively stable, despite flux in the names, structures and specific responsibilities of the government departments and agencies that oversee management. Similarly, although private and Indigenous landowners may be subject to varying levels of regulation and constraint, the institutional arrangements under which they manage land are relatively stable.
The previous Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program was implemented in 2008, partly as a response to criticisms from the Australian National Audit Office and others that it was difficult to assess the outcomes and impacts of natural resource management (NRM) investments. Caring for our Country recentralised decisions about NRM investment funding under 6 priority areas, and focused on measurable, short-term outputs. Caring for our Country, together with Landcare, were rebranded in 2013 as the National Landcare Programme.
The Australian Government is conducting a review of the National Landcare Programme to assess its effectiveness and achievements, and future options for NRM arrangements. This review will inform government decisions about the future of the program.
The 2015 Agricultural competitiveness white paper included a focus on ‘strengthening our approach to drought and risk management’, which made commitments to improving drought forecasting, and managing pest animals and weeds in drought-affected areas. It also supported ‘farming smarter’, including through funding of $50 million to boost Australia’s emergency pest and disease eradication capability. The National Landcare Programme’s Sustainable Agriculture Small Grants scheme, worth $2.2 million in 2015–16, complements the delivery of the Agricultural competitiveness white paper by facilitating the adoption of management practices that maintain or enhance the natural resource base.
Another area in which significant changes have taken place with overarching consequences for land management is biosecurity. The National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA) was signed by the Australian Government, and all state and territory governments in January 2012. NEBRA operates in tandem with the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement and the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed in providing national arrangements for eradication responses to pest or disease incursions (see Diseases, pests and weeds). In addition to these arrangements, private landholders are most likely (and, in some cases, required) to manage pests, diseases and feral animals that affect agricultural production.
In August 2014, the Australian Weeds Committee and the Vertebrate Pests Committee merged to form the Invasive Plants and Animals Committee (IPAC). IPAC provides an intergovernmental mechanism for identifying and resolving weed and vertebrate pest issues at a national level. It is a cross-jurisdictional committee with members from the Australian Government, and all state and territory governments. Priorities for IPAC have included reviewing and updating the Australian Pest Animal Strategy and the Australian Weeds Strategy.
The area with perhaps the greatest uncertainty is the ability of legislative and management arrangements to respond to future challenges posed by significant issues such as population growth and the impacts of climate change. A National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy (Australian Government 2015a) was released in 2015 to affirm a set of principles to guide effective adaptation practice, and identify areas for future review and action.