MINISTERIAL VISIT: Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, with Big Scrub Landcare group president Dr Tony Parkes (right).
MINISTERIAL VISIT: Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, with Big Scrub Landcare group president Dr Tony Parkes (right). DOUG EATON

Grass-roots groups are 'missing out'

DR Tony Parkes didn't beat around the bush while showing the Federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, some bush regeneration work at Alstonville last week.

The president of the Big Scrub Landcare group was critical of the way the Federal Government dished out its last round of Caring for our Country funding, saying 99 per cent of the funding went to Catchment Management Authorities rather than grass-roots community groups.

The Big Scrub Landcare group thanked Minister Garrett's previous funding of $368,000 to the group, which will fund 80 environmental regeneration sites - 17 in Ballina Shire - for the endangered lowland Big Scrub rainforest over a year. It is the biggest grant for that purpose in Australia's history, he said.

The community group will co-ordinate the work to be done by local councils, Rous Water, other community Landcare groups and job agencies like EnviTE.

Dr Parkes said the Big Scrub Landcare group has managed several projects totalling more than a million dollars in its 17-year history, giving the management experience necessary for on-the-ground work.

He said it would be better if community projects like these were funded directly rather than through bureaucratic Catchment Management Authorities.

Mr Garrett said that the new Caring for our Country funding process was still a 'work in progress'.

He said funding to community groups through the previous government's Natural Heritage Trust was often based on 'pork barrelling' and had few targets and little accountability.

“The taxpayer didn't get value for their money,” the Minister said.

He said the new system for funding projects provided contestability, with national objectives to battle climate change in mind.

He said the funding was granted with specific targets and the funding mechanism was at 'arm's length from the Minister's office'.

An expert panel, he said, determined which projects would be funded.

“It (the new system) is far more rigorous and a better model than we've had previously,” Mr Garrett said.

Meanwhile, Dr Parkes said the Big Scrub needed four-year funding from the Federal Government to make a difference in saving a vegetative ecosystem that has, with the hoop pine, a genetic history that dates back 180 million years to Gondwanaland.


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