Resources and capacity for management


Investment in management of the land environment includes financial and in-kind commitments by all levels of government, private landowners and businesses, philanthropic and other nongovernment organisations, Indigenous Australians and communities. Each of these is considerable, but most—particularly the commitment of time by individuals, groups and communities—are difficult to quantify. Indigenous land and sea management activity can also be difficult to scope in economic terms, because much of it is ceremonially driven and thus private.

Natural resource management funding

Australian governments’ NRM expenditure includes expenditure on public lands, such as national parks, state forests and lands under local government control. The previous Australian Government’s flagship environment program, Caring for our Country, concluded in 2013, following an investment of $2.15 billion during the 5-year period from 2008. Another $316.7 million was paid in 2013–14 as part of the first year of Phase 2 of Caring for our Country. Since the mid-1990s, the Australian Government has contributed to the National Reserve System by investing $200 million in partnering with on-ground managers to purchase 370 properties for inclusion in the National Reserve System.

In 2014, the incoming Australian Government announced the establishment of the new National Landcare Programme, merging the previous Caring for our Country and Landcare programs, with a budget of $1 billion over 4 years from 2014–15.

The National Landcare Programme is based on the principles of ‘simple, local and long term’. It supports communities to take practical action to protect and manage Australia’s important environmental assets and production landscapes. The program comprises a regional stream and a national stream. Under the regional stream, funding is provided to Australia’s 56 regional NRM organisations, which, in turn, have committed at least 20 per cent of their National Landcare Programme funding to help support local organisations. The national stream supports important initiatives such as the 20 Million Trees Programme, and continuing commitments such as World Heritage Areas and Indigenous Protected Areas.

The majority of investment through the National Landcare Programme is committed until 2017–18; funding and the approach beyond that time have not yet been determined. Development of a considered approach to NRM investment beyond 2017–18 would lay the foundation for long-term funding by the Australian Government. It would assist the Australian Government to make an informed, evidence-based decision about effective and efficient means of delivering on its priorities and international obligations. This would improve the Australian Government’s ability to report on outcomes and prioritise future investment.

Investment in the Landcare Programme has been supplemented by other Australian Government programs. Significant investment was directed through the Biodiversity Fund between 2011–12 and 2017–18, providing approximately $350 million to increase the condition, extent and connectivity of native vegetation in project areas. The Green Army, which launched in 2014, is a hands-on, practical environmental action program that supports local environment and heritage conservation projects across Australia. The program delivers environmental outcomes by working with communities and building partnerships at the local and regional levels. The Australian Government has provided more than $410 million for the program for the 5 years from 1 July 2014 to support a total of 1250 projects. Other sources of funding that contributed to the Australian Government’s investment in NRM from 2014–15 include the Working on Country Indigenous Rangers ($238 million over 4 years from 2014–15) and the Reef Trust (currently $180 million over 6 years from 2014–15).

Biosecurity is supported through initiatives such as funding of the National Wild Dog Action Plan, and resources to support national emergency responses to newly identified incursions of pests and diseases.

The Emissions Reduction Fund provides an additional source of Australian Government investment in land. The fund provides incentives for greenhouse gas emissions reduction activities across the Australian economy, including both carbon sequestration and emissions avoidance activities. Sequestration opportunities for the land sector include management of grazing land to increase soil carbon, expanding opportunities for tree planting, and farm forestry. Emissions reduction opportunities include adopting fire regimes that reduce fire extent and intensity (see Box LAN8), and managing cattle to improve growth rates and reduce lifetime methane production.

Investment in Indigenous land and sea management

Indigenous lands include some of the most biodiverse lands in Australia, which also contain species of national significance that are at risk (Altman et al. 2007, Altman & Jackson 2008). Indigenous land interests contain large areas that are of high conservation value—that is, significant portions of the Indigenous estate remain relatively ecologically intact and have not been subjected to the intense level of development pressure experienced in many other areas, particularly in southern Australia. Finally, much of the Indigenous estate (particularly in northern and central Australia) features vast areas of relatively undisturbed, connected, ecologically healthy, functioning environments and waterways that provide a variety of habitats and ecosystem services. However, to date, no national study or reviews have been undertaken that provide a specific measure of the conservation value or biodiversity status of Indigenous land interests. Altman et al. (2007) provide a broad overview of some of the key conservation values of the Indigenous estate using existing studies, analyses and planning frameworks, by examining the relationship between the Indigenous estate and conservation values. A series of maps (Altman et al. 2007) visually represent the relationship between the Indigenous estate and conservation values, and have contributed to a much more informed debate regarding the role of Indigenous Australians in land management.

The role of Indigenous Australians in land management is formally recognised by Australia’s key piece of environmental legislation, the EPBC Act, in terms of ‘a partnership approach to environmental protection and biodiversity conservation that recognises and promotes Indigenous peoples’ role in, and knowledge of, the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biodiversity’ (s. 3[2][g][iii]).

Indigenous land management is supported by a range of programs that provide an important source of employment, primarily for rangers, and resources for many groups in remote and very remote parts of Australia to look after Country (see Boxes LAN11 and LAN12). These programs must prioritise limited resources, and negotiate differences in values and perceptions for NRM (Weston et al. 2012, Muller 2014). Planning programs that enable Indigenous groups to manage multifunctional landscapes for biodiversity, culture and income generation can provide greater certainty for ecological, social, political and economic outcomes from looking after Country (see Ens et al. 2015). For example, ecosystem service payments have been made available for northern Aboriginal communities to manage feral buffalo (Bubalus bubalis)—one of the many pest plant and animal species. Zander and Garnett (2011) have recently estimated that Australians could be willing to pay $878 million to $2 billion per year for Indigenous people to provide environmental services, including feral animal control, coastal surveillance, weed control and fire management.

The Australian Government established the Working on Country program in recognition that protecting and conserving the environment is a shared responsibility, and provides sustainable employment for Indigenous people. Working on Country builds on Indigenous traditional knowledge to protect and manage land and sea Country. Almost 700 Indigenous rangers across 108 ranger teams are employed across Australia to deliver environmental outcomes. Australian Government funding for the program was more than $192 million from July 2013 to June 2016. At least $475 million of investment in Indigenous land and sea management projects has occurred during 2011–16 at 543 sites throughout Australia, predominantly funded by the Working on Country initiative, but also through a range of other programs such as the Biodiversity Fund, Caring for our Country, Community Action Grants, the National Landcare Programme, Clean Energy Future, the Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund, Indigenous Protected Area management and business plans, and Wild River Rangers. Investment in Indigenous land and sea management has decreased from $106 million in 2011–12 to $81 million in 2015–16. Indigenous land and sea management projects supported through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy are funded through to 2018.

Figure LAN31 shows that investment in Indigenous land and sea management is primarily in the Northern Territory and other parts of northern Australia, and on Indigenous land and sea interests across Australia. However, there are noticeable gaps in South Australia and inland Queensland.


National SoE reporting began in 1996. In 2011, the fourth national SoE report concluded that, although a clear national picture of the state of Australia’s environment was still incomplete, the situation had improved. Investments through programs such as the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) have sought to pull together national baselines on, for example, the distribution of biodiversity (Atlas of Living Australia), vegetation cover (OzCover), and the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia (see Box LAN9). All of these examples rely on multi-institutional collaborations involving collation and sharing of data, analytical platforms and modelling capacity. The future of NCRIS-like investment is being considered in the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap, which will report in 2017 on how best to support future investment decisions in research infrastructure.

In Australia, most environmental information relating to the land continues to be collected by public agencies through short-term projects. Loss of capacity as relevant Australian Government initiatives came to an end was identified as a management issue in SoE 2011. In 2016, we have found that, although there are still gaps, technological developments in remote sensing and cross-institutional collaborations are helping to plug them (see The changing nature of mapping, monitoring and forecasting). Significant quantities of environmental data are collected by individual land managers, community groups and private companies (e.g. to support environmental impact statements). Although the data are still rarely made available in information systems for others to use, there have been significant investments in building the infrastructure and capacity to facilitate sharing of data. Several of these are discussed below.

The changing nature of mapping, monitoring and forecasting

Lack of information affects our ability to assess the condition and trend of our environment, and limits management effectiveness by restricting accurate planning and monitoring of management strategies. For example, the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities commissioned a report, Building an open platform for natural disaster resilience decisions (Deloitte 2014), to help understand research and available data relevant to managing extreme events and natural disasters, in response to a series of floods, storms and bushfires that have devastated life and property across Australia. In addition to collaboration and data sharing, technological advances in capture, collation and analysis of environmental information are revolutionising the way in which land managers, agency staff and policy-makers can access and use information to support evidence-based decision-making.

For example, more than $50 million has been invested by the Australian Government in the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) through NCRIS to enable ecosystem scientists to collect, contribute, store, share and integrate data across disciplines. TERN encourages collaboration and nationally consistent data, building digital infrastructure to store and publish this information in forms that can be searched and accessed freely.

Another NCRIS investment has been into the Atlas of Living Australia, a national database that enables researchers and other users to find, access, combine and visualise data on Australian plants and animals. The Atlas of Living Australia has been collaborating with the Australian Government to develop a new Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement Tool (MERIT) to support project and program requirements of Australian Government NRM initiatives. Launched in 2013, MERIT will improve program transparency, increase efficiency and allow project data to be used directly to report on biodiversity conservation work—including in future SoE reports.

Other initiatives include the streamflow forecasts published by the Bureau of Meteorology. Flow in Australian rivers and streams is hugely variable, yet is relied on by irrigators, urban and rural water supply authorities, environmental managers, hydroelectricity generators and others. Seven-day and 3-month streamflow forecasts are released regularly, drawing on data supplied by the states and territories, and using modelling approaches developed in partnership by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.

Despite these investments to improve mapping, monitoring and forecasting, the effectiveness of management actions to improve the state of the environment is not well understood. However, the Australian Government is investing in systems that will better synthesise current knowledge, and identify gaps where monitoring and research efforts could best be targeted. For example, the Knowledge Bank of Management Effectiveness project run by CSIRO is currently systematically searching for, and collating, published studies on management effectiveness. The resulting ‘systematic map’ will provide clarity about the relative confidence we have in the effectiveness of a broad range of environmental management actions. Where sufficient studies with enough data are available, the Knowledge Bank will also provide the foundation for rigorous analyses across studies to explore exactly how effective actions are in which circumstances.

Difficulties still exist in collating disparate datasets and information because of differences in timing, scale and management, but ongoing investment and collaboration are helping to overcome these hurdles—for example, using remotely sensed data to monitor habitat condition (see Box LAN13). A framework for coordinated national wind erosion monitoring, the DustWatch Product Integration Plan, has been outlined (Leys et al. 2013). Other significant developments in collating, managing and making available national data include the Australian Geoscience Data Cube, CSIRO’s Data Access Portal and the Australian Soil Resource Information System. At the state and territory level, approaches such as the Queensland Globe provide public access to maps, imagery and spatial data inside the Google Earth application.

Metcalfe D, Bui E (2016). Land: Resources and capacity for management. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b6585f94911